The first thing I noticed was the screen-tearing. At first, I thought it might be a weird stylistic choice to emphasize the game’s visuals, but it kept happening almost every time I moved my character or looked around. Then I noticed the sound bugs. Sometimes, weapons didn’t make noise when I fired or reloaded them. Then I started looking at the animations. They weren’t great, either. I wish I could tell you things got better. They didn’t.
This is XIII, PlayMagic’s remake of the 2003 cult classic by Ubisoft Paris and Southbend Interactive, which was based on the graphic novel of the same name. Got all that? Good. The original XIII was a unique game for its time, employing a cel-shaded art style (which, hard as it is to believe, was pretty rare in 2003), comic book panels, split-screen camera cuts, and floating words like “boom” and “bang” and “crash” whenever there was a loud noise. XIII wasn’t a masterpiece, but it had some interesting ideas and a unique style that made up for its fairy banal gameplay. It’s one of those games that seems primed for a remake: polish up what already worked and fix what didn’t, and you’d have an enjoyable experience.
"There is some cel-shading here, but the character models are largely unimpressive, basic looking things."
Unfortunately, this isn’t the game PlayMagic made. Aside from the laundry list of technical issues, the first thing you’ll notice are the graphics. The original XIII successfully captured the look and feel of a comic book. There is some cel-shading here, but the character models are largely unimpressive, basic looking things. Mostly, it looked like the artists slapped heavy black outlines on what are pretty standard “stylized” character modes and called it a day. Shading and shadows flicker on and off throughout the title, whether you’re playing or watching a cutscene. Animations aren’t any better. Character’s faces barely move, reloading a gun feels choppy, and XIII – the main character, for those not familiar with the game – opens door by pointing a key at them and turning it. Forget interacting with the lock. These animations are so jarring that it might better to just have the door swing open than to pretend we’re unlocking it.
And then there are the visual bugs. And boy, are there a lot of them. I already mentioned the screen-tearing, which, again, was so bad at times that it happened that it happened every time I moved or turned the camera, but the framerate might be worse. I reviewed XIII on an Xbox One X, which should be more than capable of running it, and every time I got into a large area or a big gunfight, the framerate dropped into what must have been the low twenties. It’s not a stretch to say that the original game looks and runs better, which is pretty damning when that game is 17 years old.
The story is better, largely because it uses the same vocal performances as the original game – David Duchovny plays the titular hero, and the late Adam West voices General Carrington – but the old and new audio sometimes feel like they’re not synced up properly, which can cause a disconnect between what you’re seeing characters do on-screen and what you’re hearing. Like the rest of the game, XIII’s audio is riddled with bugs, which only serves to make things worse. Sometimes guns won’t make noise when they fire, or you won’t have audio when you reload a weapon. I didn’t run into any issues where dialog wouldn’t play, but given the other sound problems the game has, I wouldn’t be surprised if such bugs exist.
" The plot revolves around the assassination of the president. Your character wakes up with a gunshot wound on a beach with a nasty case of amnesia and it’s obvious pretty quickly that you’re being blamed for the whole thing."
When the game functions properly long enough to allow you to enjoy its story, the narrative is actually pretty engaging, though it is enormously plot heavy and jumps around very quickly, which might confuse people who aren’t familiar with the source material. The plot revolves around the assassination of the president. Your character wakes up with a gunshot wound on a beach with a nasty case of amnesia and it’s obvious pretty quickly that you’re being blamed for the whole thing. With only a tattoo of the number XIII on his arm and some scattered memories to go off of, he sets out to find out why he’s being set up for the president’s murder, who he is, and what’s actually going on. The remake hews very closely to the original game, so you’re unlikely to see any new surprises if you’re a returning player. The narrative can be a bit convoluted, but it wraps up nicely by the end and answers most of the questions it poses. Like the original game, however, it does end on a cliffhanger that seems unlikely to be resolved.
While the story can be enjoyable, you’ll unfortunately have to slog through a lot of really tedious and uninspired gameplay segments to get there. Most of the guns you’ll find simply don’t feel good to use, with notable exceptions coming in the form of the sniper rifle, M16, and crossbow. The rest, however, lack any kind of impact, whether in terms of audio or visual feedback, when you fire them. Enemies take bullets without much reaction until they enter what seems to be one of the two death animations the game has, staggering for a second before falling forwards or backwards. Once, I got too close to an enemy and he begun freaking out, his model doing things you’d associate with a horror game. It was a nice change of pace from seeing the same canned animation over and over again, but it’s emblematic with the larger problem with XIII: everything about it is broken.
The game tries to make up for its mundane gunplay by throwing a lot of enemies at you. Unfortunately, they’re dumb as bricks, mostly standing around and waiting for you to kill them even after you’ve killed one of their buddies right in front of them. When they do notice you – which often happens for no discernable reason – they’ll charge at you, firing mindlessly until you mow them down. The game is incredibly easy on the standard difficulty, so I’d often switch to my fists to give them a chance. Unfortunately, the melee combat feels just as uninspired as the gunplay, and enemies are still pathetic whether you’re beating them to death or filling them full of lead. There are some cool visual touches here – shooting someone in the head triggers a series of comic book panels at the top of the screen that tracks the shot and its impact – but they hardly make up for how poor everything else is.
"The game tries to make up for its mundane gunplay by throwing a lot of enemies at you. Unfortunately, they’re dumb as bricks, mostly standing around and waiting for you to kill them even after you’ve killed one of their buddies right in front of them."
If you tire of the game’s traditional combat, and you will very, very quickly, you try to go about your business stealthily. If it’s possible, XIII’s stealth is even worse than its gunplay. You can pick up chairs or ashtrays and whack people over the head with them to knock them out, and that part works well. If you don’t have an instrument of blunt force trauma available, you can also sneak up behind someone and give them a karate chop to the back of the neck. This works great – until it doesn’t. Often, the game will unequip whatever weapon you’re carrying and you won’t do anything. Generally, this led to me mashing the karate chop button – which did absolutely nothing – until the enemy noticed I was behind them and started to shoot at me and I had to beat them to death because the game had unequipped my weapon.
You can also take hostages, though that’s just as useless as the stealth kills. The one time I did it, which was when the game forced me to, XIII informed me that enemies wouldn’t shoot at me as long as I kept the hostage between them and me. So I took my hostage, walked out the door in front of me, and every enemy in the place, all of whom were in front of me, opened fire. This didn’t seem to affect my hostage, who took bullet after bullet without complaint, sound, or anything else, but getting shot hurt and holding the hostage did make me move more slowly and prevented me from reloading my gun, so I eventually dropped her so XIII could get on with murdering everyone in the room. I never took another hostage during my time with the game because I assumed that, like almost everything else in XIII, the mechanic wouldn’t work properly.
There’s also a multiplayer mode, but since it’s only split-screen, I wasn’t able to test it. It offers team deathmatch and normal deathmatch, and like the rest of the game, I assume it’s a technical mess. While I’ll normally sing the praises of anyone who includes local multiplayer in their game, it seemed odd to only include local multiplayer and no option for online play.
" I hope PlayMagic and Microids keep their promises and turn XIII into a game worth playing, because there is potential here. Doing that, however, will require more than just fixing a few bugs."
Both PlayMagic and publisher Microids are more than aware of the game’s technical issues, and have apologized for the state of the game. They blame the COVID-19 pandemic for issues with the game’s production, as well as the Day One patch, and have released a roadmap for upcoming patches that includes new levels, modes, skins, and multiplayer maps. All of that is understandable, and it’s good that both the studio and publisher have apologized, but the state of this release is absolutely unacceptable. The game is a mess, even after the Day One patch. Instead of apologizing and promising to fix things, PlayMagic and Microids should have delayed the game, or at least pulled it from storefronts until they’ve fixed it. It’s nice to promise fixes and updates, but as anyone who has ever seen a studio promise something and not deliver knows, there’s no guarantee what they’re saying will come to pass.
In the meantime, you can still buy XIII, and PlayMagic and Microids can still profit off of it. If you do, the game you’ll play is a broken, buggy mess. You can’t play a promise, and you certainly can’t review one. You can only review the game as it is right now, and right now, XIII is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. I hope PlayMagic and Microids keep their promises and turn XIII into a game worth playing, because there is potential here. Doing that, however, will require more than just fixing a few bugs. It will involve updating the way it looks, enhancing the enemy AI, making the guns feel good to use, developing stealth gameplay that actually works, and so much more.
XIII might be a good game one day, but it’s infinitely more likely that it will simply be a mediocre one. Right now, it’s outright bad. If you want to play XIII, I suggest that you go buy the original release. It’s flawed, but unlike the remake, it’s a finished product, it looks better, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. PlayMagic and Microids can promise all the fixes they want, but until they actually deliver, we’re left with a bad game that they chose to release anyway, and absolutely no reason to take them at their word.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Uses the original audio from the original cast. A couple of cool visual touches. Supports local multiplayer.
Boring gunplay. Enemies are incredibly stupid. Countless bugs. It doesn't look as good as the original game.