As the saying goes, ‘some stories are better left untold’. Or in this case, ‘left not remade’. But let me calm down a little bit because I am getting ahead of myself. Let us start this review with a short story.
If you have never heard about it, XIII is a Belgian graphic novel written by Jean Van Hamme and illustrated by William Vance in 1984 that tells the story of an amnesic man who tries to discover his past. This story has already been adapted to movies in 2008 with XIII: The Conspiracy and a follow-up TV series named XIII: The Series in 2011. But even before these live-action adaptations, Ubisoft has already turned this story into a game with XIII, an FPS published in 2003 for Windows, PS2, GameCube, and Xbox (this last one developed by Southend Interactive).
In this title, always reminded by its beautiful cell-shaded style that represented the origin of the story (a visual novel), our amnesic protagonist finds himself framed for murdering the President of the United States and wanted by the FBI. As you progress in the story, you discover yourself in the middle of a conspiracy promoted by a mysterious group aiming to overthrow the government. The game received mixed reviews (with an aggregated score of 74 in Metacritic when we talk about its Xbox version) and didn’t achieve high sales numbers, nevertheless raising a legion of fans (and this humble writer of yours is part of that legion).
In 2007 the game received a mobile follow-up by Gameloft entitled XIII²: Covert Identity, a side-scrolling action game. In 2011, Anuman Interactive (now Microids) released a reimagination of the first title as a hidden object game (!) by the name of XIII: Lost Identity for Windows and iOS.
Now fast-forward to 2020 and you will discover that Microids is once again involved with the series, bringing a remake/remaster of the original title by the hands of the Maltese/Ukrainian studio PlayMagic: in XIII you will relieve the story of the amnesic character created by Van Hamme and Vance in search for his identity.
Promised a short story and here it is. Now let us wait no more and take a closer look to see how PlayMagic treated and improved this title to the current (now last) generation of consoles.
What we liked!
- Music: If there’s something I wasn’t expecting to enjoy so much in this game (or I didn’t remember it was so good in the original), this thing is the music! The soundtrack of this title is worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster, creating the perfect atmosphere for this adventure searching for our hero’s identity.
- Revamped visuals: For those of you that were worried about the visuals of this new version of the game (I believe everybody who played the original game and was looking forward to playing this remaster/remake was worried), I’m glad to say that PlayMagic managed to preserve all the charm of the original title and, as you would expect in this two-generation leap, the visuals are notably sharper and prettier. There are already dozens of videos covering this aspect with comparisons throughout the internet, but it’s really nice to see it right in the first scene of the game, where the developers used a character watching the intro sequence of the original title, allowing you to compare both versions side-by-side. As a remaster/remake from a 2003 title that I love, I was expecting to see a full renovation in its visuals that could maintain the beauty cell-shaded visuals that were so charming at the timing of its original release and that, my friends, PlayMagic delivered! With a frightening amount of problems, as we will discuss later in this review, but they did.
- Comics book visuals: One of the most attractive aspects of this game is the ‘killcam’ in the shape of comics panels. Sometimes, when you nail a headshot from faraway or your enemy falls to his death after you hit him, there’s a brief scene showing his demise in three small panels at the top of the screen. Nothing as elaborate as the killcams in Sniper Elite series (the best there are in my opinion), but still charming and worth mentioning!
- Sound… what sound? One of the most disappointing aspects of XIII gameplay was the sound of your guns. I’d be unfair if I didn’t say that the dubbing is good (as it was in the original game) and that hearing the footsteps of your enemies while going stealth (which is crucial for your advance) works very well, but the sound of your guns DO lack a punch. Their sound when firing is so timid and unappealing that I cannot even say if they are actually firing something. Prepare to hear disappointing pfffs instead of your traditional bangs (even when firing a shotgun) that lead to some very unsatisfactory gunfights! I can’t recall if the original was like it too, but if that’s the case, this is an area that deserved I remaster/remake as well because the sound of nerf guns used here doesn’t make this game any justice. And we will only keep my opinion about the sound here in the ‘Somewhere between’ section instead of the ‘What we disliked’ section in respect to the great voicework performed here (again, as it was in the original game).
- Multiplayer: Yes, this game has a multiplayer mode. Local only, unfortunately, but it does. I wish there was also an online multiplayer mode – especially in 2020 – but the local multiplayer will be your only option to enjoy this game with friends – if there’s someone to play it at home with you.
What we disliked
- The not-so-revamped visuals: Although we can see the improvement in its visuals, unfortunately not everything is a bed of roses in this title. Some character animations are very odd and I’ve run into numerous visual glitches (some very funny, actually), bugs, and game parts that don’t appear to have been remade at all. I’ve also been in areas with incomprehensible frame drops (important to mention that the game has been reviewed on an Xbox One X), which makes me believe that the game hasn’t been optimized or even tested enough before its release.
- Buggy AI: Enemies in XIII, sometimes, behave in incomprehensible ways. It looks like their AI has barely been salvaged from the original game, with no refurbishment whatsoever. Enemies are supposed to look for you when they see a dead body, but I’ve seen countless enemies passing by bodies lying down in corridors or ‘put to rest’ right after talking to them and not expressing a single wrinkle of concern in their foreheads. But when they are looking for you, you can bet they have a GPS tracking your butt – and they will hardly miss a shot when they find you. What makes me angry about it is how they can find you even if you are hiding away from their view angle. For instance, using a sniper rifle, I killed one of two enemies that were roaming in an open area and I hid my character behind some crates right after firing. The remaining enemy, after seeing his friend’s dead body (yes, this time he did see it), knew exactly where to find me to avenge his friend, even though he didn’t see me firing my weapon.
- Unfair gunfights: While you will face so many unexpected behaviors from your foes, they are also way too unfair during gunfights. I’ve lost account of how many times enemies could shoot at me from behind walls, doorways, and from angles in which they could not even see me. In other situations, I must add, I could spot frozen enemies aiming at the ground and even after shooting at them, they showed no reaction, tilting the balance to my side. Maybe they were wondering how things went so bad in this remake.
- Not all that challenging: There’s a chance I only had this feeling because I prefer to play shooters and FPS games in tougher difficulties, but I felt like my character was a true bullet sponge. Tried running into melee range to kill enemies with my bare hands for an achievement and, to my surprise, I managed to kill them quite easily on my first try. I believe these so-called special agents chasing me weren’t all that special after all.
- Problems with the autosave: Hear my advice and remember to save your game often or, at least, at every new stage. The autosave system decided to play some sort of prank with me and didn’t work when needed, so I had to repeat 5 levels from the last time I’ve manually saved my game the previous day. To avoid this risk, please, save your progress at the beginning of each level. Just do it.
- Problems with achievements: Maybe this is something that you won’t worry about, but as someone who cares about achievements, I was really frustrated with the game not unlocking some achievements related to my progress as I was playing it. And I only discovered this problem because the autosave system failed me and I had to replay a few levels. And now I am afraid this behavior can repeat in the last few levels I need to complete the game.
With a history of gaming that goes from his old man’s Atari 2600 to his Xbox One, Rafael or RAF687, our Brazilian editor, has a love for games as old as he can remember. He has already spent countless hours in many consoles (Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360) and is always ready for more (as long as his wife is asleep). Raf has been writing for LifeisXbox since 2017, with a passion for games of almost all genres – though we know he has a special place in his heart for RPGs, racing games and anything that includes pixel art. Writing about games has always been a childhood dream to Raf, dream that he has fulfilled reviewing games for you here. You can drop him a message at Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Live at any time.