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  • Roberto Nieves

Review: XIII

Waking up on the beach with no memory, a wounded man is brought to safety and nursed back to health. Suddenly, gunfire erupts, and heavily armed assassins jump from helicopters, all intending to eliminate you. Fighting your way off the beach, you barely survive the encounter. You have no name, no ID, absolutely nothing to you except the Roman numeral XIII.


Based on the Belgian graphic novel by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance, XIII is a tale of government conspiracy in an analog world, coated in a visual style ripped straight from the graphic novel pages. XIII may not be for everyone, but what it has is pretty solid.



Unlucky XIII


XIII is an unlucky number, and if you have a pulse for the gaming space, there is a chance that you heard of XIII an odd number of times as of late. XIII was originally released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube in those early golden days of the sixth generation of systems. At the time, it was a bold, refreshing take on what a first-person shooter could be, fully embracing the comical violence seen on the pages of the novel.


XIII was one of the first cel-shaded games for systems, and with its exaggerated look, it became well-received by players. Movement and weapons had a swift polish and momentum. Shooting weapons had aggression and sensation, and the overall story was bold, with a Jason Bourne plot mixed in with a presidential assassination. With news of a remake, there was anticipation that the game would bring back some of that magic, especially in an age of microtransactions and games as a service. Regrettably, that was not to be the case.



Failure to Launch


XIII, the remake, originally released in the Fall of 2020, during the fever of the pandemic and a few short months before the launch calamity of Cyberpunk 2077. The game was released fundamentally broken, with braindead AI, stutters, and entire weapons not working. The terrible state rendered XIII unreviewable. A myriad of graphical, audio, and gameplay glitches put the game into the Overwhelmingly Negative review rating on Steam. However, publisher Microids felt responsible and issued an apology.


In June 2022, Microids announced a developer, Tower Five, was effectively remaking the remake of XIII. If the original remake was held together by paper clips and duct tape, this new remake of the remake is replacing the duct tape with reinforced concrete. Fortunately, the extra effort was worth it. While the new XIII doesn’t necessarily fix the more inherent issues of the game, the game is still a strong, albeit nostalgic, experience.


Shooting things the old-fashioned way


XIII plays as a more classic-oriented first-person shooter. The goal of each level is to accomplish each objective and eliminate anyone standing in the way. Players carry a variety of weapons and must retrieve health packs to heal. Some weapons are more stealth-based and are effective for taking down unsuspecting enemies one by one. Additionally, players can grab improvised weapons to use in the environment. A chair or smoke try can act as a strong melee weapon, even if they can only be used once.


Some weapons in XIII have a secondary fire mode. The assault rifle, for example, can launch a grenade, which is most effective against groups of enemies. The basic handgun can be dual-wielded for extra combat effectiveness. Throwables, from knives to grenades, can also be used for maximum effectiveness.



Sticking to the Formula


XIII wears its nostalgia on its sleeves. Each level is filled with enemies, and levels are more laid out as hallways, corridors, and small areas. There is plenty of ammunition to go around, but the enemy is still dangerous. Games like XIII were all about creating a satisfying experience for players, and while the shooting isn't anything special, it's still satisfying. XIII is most fun when jazzy music tunes accompany loud gunfire and satisfying explosions.


XIII is a case of tried-and-true shooting and action. Players are encouraged to have fun, kick some butt, and take just a bit of care for themselves. In 2022, this kind of gameplay is a delight. XIII feels genuine and fun. The game gets to the point and puts players through an entertaining romp of conspiracies and assassination. This is especially true with the game's multiplayer modes, which have a genuine throwback to earlier days.


For me, XIII is a delightful throwback to earlier games and times. Games of earlier generations didn’t have paywalls, microtransactions, or gimmicks. Games of this time stuck to a complete, cohesive experience. Games didn’t have to cater to an extremely small audience on social media demanding some kind of culturally sensitive change be made. Instead, games were what the developers wanted, and if it meant just plowing through assassins against a government conspiracy that could send the world into World War III, then that was what the game could become.


XIII was known for its presentation, with its thick graphic style. For the remake, the visual styles are rather divisive, as the game still sports a graphic, cel-shaded look, but it is a significant tone-down from its predecessor. Visually, the game leans into being more realistic, which is a bizarre take, given the source material. There are still plenty of comical effects, including seeing “BOOM!” erupt from an exploding barrel. Though, once again, it is toned-down comical effects, which is disappointing, considering that most shooting games opt for a more realistic approach or an approach akin to Overwatch.


Despite the visual tone down and the significant differences from its predecessor, the story is still strong. David Duchovny (X-Files) and the late great Adam West (Batman) lend their voices to the characters. The story is swift and easy to understand, with plenty of surprises and big stakes. The game puts the player into various locations, from a bank to a top-secret American military facility, keeping things fresh on a frequent basis.


Good, but could have been better


When everything is said and done, XIII is a strong game and unmistakably made stronger because of the new improvements. However, by comparison to the original XIII, it doesn’t quite meet the match. The remake of XIII is by no means a terrible game. It does what it sets out to do and does it well enough. However, as a remake, there was so much more that could have been done.


More levels, weapons, missions, and possibly even a more definitive conclusion to the game could have been excellent additions. A stronger leaning into a graphic, comical, more animated styling would have also assisted in this comeback for XIII. What the XIII remake ultimately does is remind players of the original. Once again, that doesn't mean the remake is bad. In fact, the remake of XIII is pretty good. It just could have been much more.



If it weren't for production woes, XIII could have been a remake everyone would be talking about. As it stands, XIII is a good strong throwback to earlier times and a satisfying experience. Its story and gameplay are still strong in the remake, and the multiplayer is a solid distraction for those that want to relive the split-screen days. Age is just a number, but it's clear that XIII has quite a strong history to it. The XIII remake is good, but when you have mastered the remake, give the 2003 classic a whirl. XIII is well worth your time.


XIII remake was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up by Microids Publishing


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