REVIEWED ON: PlayStation 4 (Slim) from a copy purchased by the author.
Ubisoft dominated the fall of 2003 with hits and cult favorites like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Beyond Good & Evil, the former of which is getting a reboot due early next year while the latter’s sequel remains in perpetual limbo. Nestled among these was XIII, a stylish first-person shooter inspired by a Belgium comic book. It didn’t quite make a dent in a market still obsessed with Halo: Combat Evolved, but it still managed to stand out due in part to its colorful, cel-shaded visuals that evoked the medium in which it took inspiration from.
It’s for that reason that it was exciting when it was revealed that publisher Microids, along with development partner PlayMagic, were set to bring XIII back to a new generation through an overhauled remaster . Originally slated to release late 2019 before getting delayed almost a full year, XIII has finally arrived but like the well known superstition, it’s an unlucky number for both the parties involved and players. Even with the allotted extra development time, XIII is an absolute mess, somewhat hilariously so, that has no right to exist on store fronts in the state that it’s in.
XIII is essentially a beat-for-beat remaster of the 2003 original down to the phoned in performance from David Duchovny as the title character. You play an amnesiac who finds out they’re the prime suspect in the murder of the President of the United States. On top of trying to uncover your past, you’re also embroiled in a vast conspiracy surrounding similarly numbered individuals who are trying to overthrow the government whose plans you must stop at all costs.
With the remaster of XIII, there was some hope that perhaps the new development team could’ve went in and perhaps cast a new set of leads to help punch up the spy thriller story. For better or for worse though, this take on the material is faithful to the original in that regard. Where the changes were mostly made is in the visual presentation and it’s one of XIII’s numerous faults.
The opening cinematic of the original XIII introduces its beautiful cel-shaded visuals and stylish cut-scenes where shots move as if you’re reading a comic. In the 2020 remaster, this same cinematic is playing on a projector being viewed by an FBI agent while the audio comes nowhere close to matching the lip synching of what you’re watching. It’s near immediately that you begin to realize that things are somewhat suspect.
The remaster of XIII isn’t an ugly game per se, and it tries to utilize the rich color palette that made the original stood out, but it comes nowhere close to impressing or standing out like the 2003 title. Save the opening projection that you’re literally watching someone watch, the cut-scenes are remade with the in-game graphics and lose a lot of the kinetic energy from the comic book inspired panels. Then there’s the case of in game vistas like a few stages that take place in snowy, remote locations where mountains are little more than lines drawn in the background.
In terms of gunplay, XIII had a fairly standard arsenal of weapons like pistols, machine guns and shotguns. What made them fun to fire though was that shots would be accompanied by onomatopoeia like a RAT-A-TAT-TAT from an assault rifle and that is all but gone here. Firearms largely feel worse to fire in this remaster as your weapons have no kick from the controller vibration and feel near weightless, so much so that XIII (2003) had to be briefly replayed for comparison sake. Not only did weapons appropriately buck when fired, they also lit up the rumble motors.
It honestly harkened back to the days of playing early PlayStation 3 titles like Resistance: Fall of Man when Sony was prohibited from having rumble. Added to this update are welcome user experience enhancements like a weapon wheel and the ability to aim down the sight of your weapons, but the AI has not been enhanced to compensate for this. In fact, XIII features some of the dumbest opposition in a first-person shooter in quite some time.
To break up the shooting, XIII threw in tense stealth sequences where you were tasked with keeping quiet else you would suffer the penalty of immediate mission failure. Here weapons like silenced pistols, crossbows and throwing knives were favored over noisy automatic weapons. Where once a being down to a single throwing knife made you sweat, here they’re borderline useless.
In the 2020 remaster, you can head shot an enemy during these sections right next to a guard and they won’t even so much as get suspicious. Through all of the sneaking levels, you can be as loud as you want provided you can catch an enemy before they raise an alarm which is quite easy to do. When shot, enemies have less reaction than even games on the Nintendo 64 like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and GoldenEye 007, often just lifeless falling down after a well placed bullet to the head. In many instances, foes will casually stroll up to their fallen comrades and open themselves up like a carnival shooting gallery.
If you have even the slightest bit of experience with first-person shooters, you’re going to want to throw the difficulty to at least hard. On medium, you’ll breeze through the campaign in about a day’s worth of play with little to no trouble. There are numerous checkpoints here unlike the original so you don’t have to repeat somewhat long levels, but they also tend to make a lot of stages easier. You also recover up to at least half of your health on medium that when coupled with plentiful med packs mean you rarely stop to play things safe because frankly, you won’t have to.
When not dealing with XIII’s low difficulty, you’re going to be struggling with its bugs and glitches of which there are many. Playing on the day this game launched, the golden weapons voucher housed within the steel cased edition didn’t work so a support ticket had to be sent to the publisher. Sound effects that were meant to accompany reload animations sporadically dropped out, as did certain pieces of dialogues. Death came from more than one occasion from falling through the environment and a guard’s baton floated next to him as if magic.
At one point during a section in a cabin, a rocket launcher wielding enemy is supposed to blow a hole in the back that allows you to continue. This didn’t happen after many times of reloading a checkpoint until one time it miraculously did. Microids has since come out on their social media account apologizing for the launch of XIII and has stated they’re committed to getting the game into better shape. This is little comfort for anyone who have already bought the game based on their love for the original, especially considering it sells on a service like Steam for a fraction of the cost of the remaster.
XIII retains the jazzy soundtrack from the first release, which was a standout much like the visuals. That’s really the best thing that can be said about this poor attempt to reintroduce a cult favorite like XIII seventeen years after the fact. From the braindead enemies, visuals that do little to honor the source material, poor gunplay in a game mostly about shooting and countless glitches, don’t bet your chips on XIII.
XIII is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.