It sure must be tough to be a soap opera character or a spy. What do these tragic professions have in common you ask? The answer is that scourge of memory, amnesia. While rare in the general population, the rate of incidence of amnesia in these two groups is tragically high. To make matters worse, this unfortunate malady is all but ignored on the talk show circuit and late night cable charity pitches. Such is the sad fate of the protagonist in XIII. As the game opens, our mysterious secret agent is only known by the designation XIII and has no idea who he is or why so many people are trying to kill him. If he is going to rediscover his identity, heíll have to track down the mysterious I and unravel the conspiracy that lead to the assassination of the American president (hey reference monkeys, hereís one for you: Who is Number One? You are Number Six.) OK, so maybe secret agents with amnesia, shadowy conspiracies, and mysteriously named and numbered spies donít make for an entirely original story, but XIII has a unique presentation that makes it different from most other games.
The story in XIII is based on a comic book series created by French authors William Vance and Jean Van Hamme. To keep true to the spirit of its inspiration the game uses cel-shaded graphics with numerous comic book references and conventions - while many games strive to provide an interactive movie experience, XIII chooses to instead put gamers into the pages of a comic book. Machine gun fire is onomatopoeically punctuated by the words TA TA TA TA appearing on the screen, bringing to mind shades of the 1960's Batman series with its pows and bams. Cutscenes are made up of panel to panel segues, and even the game's menus require you to navigate between comic book panels. To add dramatic effect to headshots, the game will show the death of your enemy as a series of comic panel inserts. All of this makes the first cel-shaded first-person shooter to be a stylish affair with a very unique look.
Once you get past all of the comic book eye candy though, what you end up with is a very average shooter. The developers put so much time into the game's look that the gameplay is just a tad above mediocre. The first and foremost problem is that the game fails as a challenging shooter. The AI is not all that good, and there's nothing preventing you from walking straight through large stretches of the game and gunning down your enemies without the need to worry about seeking cover or carrying a low profile. At one point in the game I lowered myself to the ground with a grappling hook and winch type of device, but when I reached bottom for the life of me I couldn't figure out which button to press to let go of the rope and pull my weapon out. While I was helplessly attached to a yardarm by fifty feet of rope three enemies where firing at me - including one armed with an RPG - and yet I was never really ever in any mortal danger. I eventually freed myself and walked up to each enemy in succession to deliver a fatal head wound. There's not much tension in a game that features such poor adversaries, so many first-person shooter players may find themselves losing interest before too long. And it's not that the game requires too much patience anyway since it can be completed in about eight or ten hours.