XIII: Final Thoughts

By Shamus
on Feb 27, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I mentioned some of the shortcomings of this game in an earlier post. Now I’ve finished the game. Here is the usual list of observations:

The big thing in this game was THE CONSPIRACY. The bad guys were planning to overthrow the US government. There were 20 conspirators in all, including the main character. They were numbered I though XX, with the main character being the eponymous XIII. Throughout the game you work your way though the list, figuring out who everyone is. The big secret is: Who is number I?

Except, it wasn’t much of a secret. From the start I just assumed it was “Fred”. (I made that name up.) I thought it was pretty clear Fred was the guy. Then everyone kept asking me to find out who Number I was. You mean we don’t know? Gosh, I was sure it was Fred. Then I reached the end of the game, stopped their evil plans, and in a final ending cinematic they reveal the deep, dark, super-secret: It was Fred!

Yeah. Good one.

There are a lot of different sorts of inking and shading going on here. The lifeguard in the foreground is outlined in black lines (which are polygonal) and rendered with cell-shading, but the black lines that divide her suit and skin are texture-based. The curtain on the left uses a plain texture map for both lines and shading. Despite using different shading schemes, the lifeguard and the curtain still look pretty good together.  These different methods are combined to form a game that looks and feels like a moving comic book.
There are a lot of different sorts of inking and shading going on here. The lifeguard in the foreground is outlined in black lines (which are polygonal) and rendered with cell-shading, but the black lines that divide her suit and skin are texture-based. The curtain on the left uses a plain texture map for both lines and shading. Despite using different shading schemes, the lifeguard and the curtain still look pretty good together. These different methods are combined to form a game that looks and feels like a moving comic book.
Really, with all the talk of conspiracy and such, it would have been far better if they had actually come up with a real surprise. The main character lost his memory, so the world is a blank slate. You can do anything, story-wise, with a guy who can’t remember his own past. I would have liked to find out that *I* was Number I. Or that the assassination at the start of the game was staged, and that the president himself was Number I. Or that Number I never existed. Or that the woman in the flashbacks was Number I. Or… Geeze. Just about anything would have been more clever than the “twist” we got at the end. It was like getting to the end of the Sixth Sense and finding out Bruce Willis was… a psychologist!

This game has the best cell-shading I’ve ever seen. Zelda: The Wind Waker had cell shading, and I found it to be visually tiresome. Everything was bright, vibrant, and lacking in contrast. Meh. But XIII did it right by “inking” the frames, giving the characters dark black lines like you would expect to see in a comic book. It works really well.

Load times were great. Framerate was great. Always a bonus.

The final boss was predictably tough, with an annoying retry overhead. Each attempt required you to climb down a long, long ladder, and then sit through a cutscene before the shooting started. After ten tries I gave up and cheated. Note that my earlier comments on useful cheat codes applies here. I needed cheats, and the cheats in this game were just barely helpful. Cheating may break immersion, suck all of the suspense out of the game, and deny me the satisfaction of victory, but the same is true of fighting the same nigh-invincible foe thirty times in a row. If they’re going to ruin the end of the game, the least I can do is make sure they don’t waste too much of my time in the process.

The game requires CD swapping. Huh?!? What kind of idiocy is this? When they ported this thing from a console, this should have been item #1 on the to-do list. I don’t even see the point of it. The game installs to the hard drive, so what does it need the discs for? Worse, when it wants a different disc, the game minimizes, and you are yanked back to windows world with an ugly “Insert the next disc or exit the game” popup. Just shameful. And annoying. Really, someone should be whipped.

David Duchovny just doesn’t work as the voice of the main character.  When he speaks, it feels like someone is throwing their voice.
David Duchovny just doesn’t work as the voice of the main character. When he speaks, it feels like someone is throwing their voice.
David Duchovny is all wrong as the voice of XIII. He sounds too young, and his delivery doesn’t fit within the game. All of the other characters have an overwrought delivery, like William Shatner making a guest appearance on “Superfriends”. Adam West is one of the main characters, which should give you a good idea of the tone of the game. Duchovny sounds like a mellow, sleepy Steven Wright. It doesn’t work here. The result is unintentional comedy.

This game also features one of my pet peeves, which is dialog with poor rhythm. When two characters talk to one another, the gaps between their lines are too long. When one NPC is talking to the player, it works fine, when two NPCs speak to each other, it sounds like they are having trouble remembering their lines.

The combat is the now-familiar blend of seven or so weapons with an eclectic mix of stopping power, reload times, magazine capacity, effective range, and usefulness in stealth situations. However, the entire process of gunning down bad guys feels fresh and new because of the little comic book touches the game adds. When you score a long distance headshot, it is punctuated by the “slam cut” sound they use in movies, and a few comic panels appear around the edges of the screen, showing your target as he goes down. Likewise, if you nail someone on a high ledge and they fall, a little “death cam” panel appears and tracks them as they plummet. I’m amazed at how effective this was. Often I’d find myself going to additional risk to create these little moments.

I’m looking away from the water, but the game shows me what’s going on with this boat.  This way the game doesn’t need to bring the action to a halt for a “cutscene”.  The thing plays out and I can choose to watch or not.
I’m looking away from the water, but the game shows me what’s going on with this boat. This way the game doesn’t need to bring the action to a halt for a “cutscene”. The thing plays out and I can choose to watch or not.
These inset panel moments are also good for making sure the player sees important plot events. Some games just let things happen, and if you are looking the wrong way or in the middle of something else then you’ll miss it. Other games grab your head and make you look in the right direction, which always feels like a violation of player freedom. It’s also annoying if you’ve seen it before and you don’t particularly want to look right now. The game just puts the action into a little inset panel and lets the player decide what they want to look at.

I don’t know if it was by design or luck, but I never had an inset panel cover up a portion of the screen in such a way that it was a nuisance. It never hid a bad guy or got in the way. To the game’s credit, I didn’t even think about this until I’d beaten the game.

The save game system is annoying. It uses the hated “checkpoint” system for progress, but usually checkpoint games automatically save which checkpoint you’re at. This game uses checkpoints, but you must save the game if you want to come back to this checkpoint later. It’s sort of the worst of both worlds.

I picked the game up for $10 in the bargain bin, and at that price the game was a steal. I think I might think less of the game if I’d paid full price for it. I wish the plot had been a little more clever, and I wish the designers hadn’t occasionally leaned on the crutch of checkpoint-based DIAS gameplay. Still, there were some neat ideas in here and a lot of fun to be had if you can overlook these flaws.

A demo is available.

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4Four comments. Fantastic.

From the Archives:

  1. empty_other says:

    Holy crap, you write faster than i can keep up. 3 long posts each day. How do you manage to do all the stuff you write about.

    I tried the demo of that game once. A long time ago. Unfortunately, somewhy everything in the world ended in darkness 5 foot away from me. To bad, because i was really looking forward to that game.

  2. Shamus says:

    Holy crap, you write faster than i can keep up. 3 long posts each day. How do you manage to do all the stuff you write about.

    Secret #1

    I play on the evenings, write on the weekends. Over half of the weekday content is written Sat & Sun.

    Secret #2

    Images & captions make the articles look longer. :)

  3. Owen says:

    New posts each day work for me, it gives me something to read at work during my less busy periods. And when your job is to wait until something breaks and then go fix it you can have a lot of non busy periods. :)

  4. Kyle says:

    Just to let you know, your “useful cheat codes” link is pointing to the wrong page. ;-)

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