Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone




By Michael Palisano

Ubi Soft's XIII is a unique first-person shooter that blends traditional gunplay with an immersive storyline to create an original experience. The first thing that strikes you about the game is its unique graphic-novel approach, with stylish cel-shaded visuals where the plot unfolds in a series of comic style panels and word balloons. The gameplay itself is quite innovative and implements unique techniques such as hostage shields, sniper guns and interactive environments that give XIII an immersive feel. Its all pulled off remarkably well, with a seamless presentation throughout. XIII also includes an interesting multiplayer mode that offers an array of intriguing deathmatch modes. Overall, this is one of the more unique and interesting FPS titles to date, and definitely worth checking out if you're looking for something different.

Based on the popular French graphic novel series, Ubi Soft's evocative XIII transports PS2 gamers into a shadowy world of espionage and conspiracy. As the game begins, you find yourself alone and wandering a deserted stretch of beach with no memory of who you are and how you got there. You find out that you're the thirteenth secret agency in a secret spy organization who has somehow been double-crossed and were also somehow involved in an assassination attempt on the president Your amnesia was caused by a bullet that grazed your head and nearly killed you. As you begin to recollect your past, events appear through disorienting flashbacks. How you are connected to the conspiracy and what your exact role was is gradually revealed. XIII begins in a quite beach house, but the tranquility doesn't last and ends with a bang. Bullets fly and you're immediately thrust into battle with rival agents who have your death warrant in hand. After your escape, you'll find clues and you begin to unravel the reasons why so many people are after you. After your initial escape from the beach, you find yourself inside a New York bank when a sudden explosion rocks and you have to escape while the guards pursue you. However, these sequences are merely the beginning of your adventure as you try and unravel the mystery.

The single player game uses a traditional approach where the levels and plotlines unfold in a linear fashion. XIII's narrative moves forward in elaborate cut-scenes between rounds that slowly untangle the plot's twists and turns. The gameplay is predictable for a FPS, with a decent array of jumping and crouching moves. XIII's transparent interface is straightforward and shouldn't pose much of a problem for most players. The main screen shows you which weapon is enabled, and players can switch weapons and items by pressing down on the right shift key. During the game, you'll also see a number of action icons that allow you to open doors, use magnetic keys and pick up bodies. These also indicate when you can use a grappling hook or when an enemy is nearby, though this isn't always a failsafe, so you have to keep your wits about you at all times. The enemies in XIII are aggressive, so you'll definitely need to take cover by hiding behind objects or crouching to reduce the amount of damage you take during the mission. However, if you run into trouble, you'll find numerous medkits that will restore a great deal of your energy. Further helping things along are the frequent save points which helps to reduce the amount of backtracking you'll do if XIII is killed.

While the temptation to go right in with guns blazing, a more effective strategy involves moving around carefully to avoid detection. These stealth maneuvers allow you to sneak up behind guards and disable them without firing a shot. During the course of the game, players can select from an array of weapons including pistols and shotguns. You can also use throwing knives and your fists for basic combat if you lack a firearm. However, there are some non-traditional ways of combat, for example, you can pick up and use a variety of objects including chairs and lamps to disable, but not kill your opponents. This is important to understand because there are sequences where you are specifically required not to kill innocent people. Once you have disabled an innocent bystander, you can pick up their bodies and move them. In certain areas, you can also use a hostage as a human shield to escape enemy fire, though this only works against good guys, not the terrorist fiends who couldn't care less. XIII's sophisticated espionage-oriented gameplay adds to the realism and tension of XIII, giving the gameplay a lot more depth. The game's level designs are impressive with beautifully rendered indoor and outdoor environments that feature large areas to traverse. The game's linear structure means it's easy to anticipate enemy movements and correct mistakes, but this does lend the game a predictability and hurts its longevity, since there's little reason to play through XIII again once you've finished it. However, this doesn't mean that XIII isn't enjoyable or entertaining.

Even though its single-player mode is a bit too linear, the developers have implemented extra features In order to extend the game's replay value. XIII implements a number of multiplayer modes. You can play these modes in either split-screen mode or against other players online. Split Screen play supports two players. Here, you can compete with another player in Deathmatch or can work cooperatively chasing an AI character through a map in the Hunt mode. Players looking for a more challenging way to DM can check out the power-up mode, where the level of power-ups you find depends on your skill and ranking. This mode is quite unique and effectively balances the gameplay so experienced and novice gamers can play on an even field. Capture the Flag mode, where the object is to seize your opponent's flag and return it to your base before they can do the same to you. XIII also includes extensive online support using broadband connections with many of the same DeathMatch and Team Deathmatch modes as well. Connecting online is relatively easy, though the sign-in process is a bit of a pain. The game plays seamlessly online and doesn't suffer from much lag. These different online modes offer plenty of options and a variety of gameplay that extends the game's replay value significantly.

Many games over the past few years have used cel-shaded graphics but XIII transcends the gimmickry and makes the comic style look an integral component of its presentation. This approach is quite effective with primary colored environments and exaggerated explosions giving it an added intensity. What's most remarkable about this is how seamless these graphics look. The engine is quite impressive with the action unfolding at a smooth, fluid frame rate that makes for some frenetic action. The game's cool use of word balloons and panels gives it a stylish feel and unique appearance throughout, and stunning environments that showcase a remarkable level of detail. This approach gives the game a truly unique feel. The elaborate cutscenes are dramatic, moving the plot forward quickly and effectively while keeping a consistent feel throughout. Adding to XIII's impressive atmospherics are the excellent voice-overs and acting which brings the plot and characters to life vividly. Nicely fleshed out characters with sometimes hidden motivations definitely help to immerse you in the rapid-fire plot while the many twists keep you guessing. XIII's high-impact appearance is an impressive achievement and the polished presentation is one of the most impressive and imaginative seen in a PS2 game to date.

It would be easy to say that the game's cool visual style is enough to recommend it for gamers, and the unique feel and look is definitely worth checking out. However, this wouldn't be completely fair and would shortchange the solid gameplay underneath the style. Despite the game's occasionally overwhelming style, XIII's visuals enhance the solid play mechanics, involving plot and interesting features. The single-player missions are smartly designed and quite challenging, but the novelistic approach unfortunately leads to the game's biggest problem. Playing through the game becomes a bit predictable after awhile, with enemy movement and reaction easy to anticipate. This hurts XIII's single player replay value significantly but the extensive multiplayer and online modes more than compensate for this by adding depth to the experience. Don't be dissuaded by the license, because the straightforward plot is self-contained, meaning you can understand what's going on and enjoy this title even if you aren't a fan of the comic series. XIII is an innovative and entertaining title with a good mix of action and strategy that should appeal to all gamers looking for a mix of action and strategy. This unique FPS title is highly recommended for players looking for a unique gaming experience.

Grade: B

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