DEVELOPERS: Ubisoft (original)/PlayMagic (2020 version)/Tower Five (2022 version)
REVIEWED ON: PlayStation 5 from a copy purchased by the author.
Second time’s a charm?
In 2019, publisher Microids, seemingly out of nowhere, announced that they were going to publish a remake of the 2003 cult favorite shooter XIII. Though it wasn’t a sales or critical darling like Ubisoft’s other output upon its release that year, XIII still managed to stick with those who gave it a shot, namely because of its cel-shaded visuals that made it stand out from many first-person shooters of the era. After getting delayed a full year from its original release date, Microids’ XIII, to put it mildly, was a disaster. Gone were the colorful and stylish visuals from the original, replaced with characters that were trying to trade off of Fortnite and backgrounds that were completely missing details like majestic mountains that might as well have had “to be completed in post later” on them.
During our full playthrough of XIII (2020) at launch, it was also full of bugs. Death came from falling through the environment, batons would find themselves magically floating in the air, sound effects would drop out, and at one point progress was halted briefly because an important event trigger wouldn’t activate. In our review, we also stated that XIII (2020) was headed to the Nintendo Switch but that never happened despite being announced for that platform.
Given its release year, XIII (2020)’s woes were blamed on the pandemic and issues transitioning to work from home, but the reality was far worse. Fanbyte released a piece in 2021 wherein they investigated into PlayMagic, the studio charged with resurrecting XIII, and found a studio fraught with a toxic work culture, poor management, and excessive crunch. Matt McMuscles similarly did a video on XIII (2020) for his “What Happened?” series where he also came to many of the same conclusions, even going as far to cite fanbyte‘s article.
Given what happened with XIII, it was surprising then that with little fanfare, Microids released an updated version of the remake with the assistance of a new studio, Tower Five. Not only were players who purchased the 2020 game on all platforms awarded a free upgrade, but the Nintendo Switch port also came to market as well. For those who somehow missed out on XIII (2020) because they were saving up for a next generation console, Tower Five also ported their update of XIII for both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series platforms with a smoother framerate and a 4K visual upgrade. While XIII (2022) still can’t be considered the remake die-hard fans of the original wanted out of this endeavor, Tower Five has done much to make good on broken promises.
Given that this is our third review of XIII, we won’t get into its story as it’s the same as the 2003 original down to the phoned in David Duchovny voice acting. Some unfortunate DNA from the 2020 remake carries over, like an FBI agent watching the opening cinema from the original game, but Tower Five has cleaned up the visuals in just about every other regard. XIII (2022) isn’t what you would call a project that near perfectly recreates your nostalgic memories like a Shredder’s Revenge does, but it skews much closer to the source material. Characters and environments don’t pop like they did in Ubisoft’s work, but they’re far more colorful than what PlayMagic managed to produce and manage to evoke the comic book source material more. You can really notice just how much different the visuals are when pre-rendered cut-scenes carried over from PlayMagic’s version play as they clash greatly with Tower Five’s changes.
XIII (2022) is far, far more stable at launch than the title of the same name in 2020. During our playthrough, we encountered no bugs, the main character didn’t spontaneously fall out of the world, nor did we come across any instances where our progress was halted. From a glance at the mountains in the early snow level, you can see actual rock formations too and not just a traced outline where they should be.
Tower Five did a lot to fix the remaster of XIII, but they could only work with what they were given so the experience still is not without its problems. There’s still no vibration or feedback when firing your guns for instance, so shooting still feels loose and weightless. The enemy AI is improved, so being stealthy is far more useful this go around, but generous checkpoints and health regenerating slightly on the medium difficulty mean that shooter veterans should consider knocking up the difficulty to at least hard.
If you already own XIII (2020), you’re automatically upgraded to the latest version at no charge, at least on the PlayStation 4. At launch, we put our copy of XIII (2020) into the PlayStation 5 and an update downloaded that applied Tower Five’s enhancements. At least from the PS5 console itself, the dedicated version for that machine wasn’t on the PlayStation store on day one, though it was when browsing on a PC. A day later, it showed up on the console at full price, but by the weekend, it was knocked down to, funnily enough, $13 before taxes. Whether this was due to owning the 2020 game remains unclear. As we don’t have the Xbox One game, we’re unclear whether that gets bumped to the Series S/X platform via Smart Delivery, nor can we comment on the performance of the Switch game.
It’s common, especially when it comes to licensed games, for them to come out in rough shape only to have their publisher wash their hands of them. To see Microids try and salvage their remake of XIII is commendable, and what Tower Five managed to turn around with what they were given deserves similar praise. XIII (2022) is still not the remake that truly gets what made the original stand out, and with the crowded fall season approaching, it’s a tough sell, but if you’re looking for a decent shooter you can knock out over the course of a weekend, you could do far worse than XIII (2022).
XIII (2022) is available now on the PlayStation and Xbox family of consoles, Nintendo Switch and PC.