So when I heard about this remake I instantly wondered how many people out there, especially amongst the younger gamers, will remember this title from its initial release. It didn't get spun off into a franchise, it didn't spawn sequels, and as the initial release was WAY back in 2003 I felt that perhaps it wouldn't interest them as much as other remakes will. For older gamers like me, however, the original XIII was a quite memorable title. Its gameplay was fun, it had an interesting story with both action and stealth sections, but what it is remembered for primarily is its visual style.
You see, XIII used a look that, while extremely popular now, was pretty unique and unheard of back when the game was released. Originally based on a series of French comic books, the game drew on these roots to create an FPS with a distinctive cel-shaded style. It told its story through comicbook-like panels and even used floating words to show sounds like the tap-tap-tap of enemy footsteps, the KA-BOOM of explosives, and so on, making the whole experience feel like a playable graphic novel.
And now, 17 years later, Play Magic Ltd has decided to remake the game for a whole new generation and you're probably wondering how it compares.
Well, the answer is, unfortunately, not very favorably.
In fact, it actually feels like a step back in many ways with much of the game looking, feeling, and running worse than I ever remember the original doing it.
Let's start with the most obvious and noticeable problem, one that most gamers will pick up on straight away: the visuals. As said earlier, the original had a playable graphic novel look to it that made it stand out at the time. This version keeps that but somehow manages to look worse than its 17-year-old counterpart, with the comic book cel-shading being toned down seemingly without rhyme or reason. It's still there in character models and certain interactive elements but in others, like with parts of the background and environments, is missing and replaced with a thick black line drawn around everything to give a similar feel. It doesn't quite work though. Now admittedly it doesn't look all that bad when still or in screenshots but when moving the problems here become much more apparent. Character models look extremely basic with animations that are stiff and wooden. If you told me these were placeholders I would have believed you. Shadows are inconsistent as well, flickering on and off, disappearing and popping back in like they have a life of their own, with regular stutters and slowdown thrown into the mix too. Dead characters also regularly clip through level geometry with limbs, heads, and torsos disappearing into floors and walls regularly or stretching into unnatural positions like they're made of rubber.
And then there's the screen tear.
My god, the screen tear! I've never seen anything like it in a modern shooter, the slightest movement or turn of the camera causes jagged rips to appear on the screen and this happens almost continually, even during the game's quietest sections.
Gunplay is no better either. None of the weapons feel like they have any kick, with even guns like Magnums or shotguns feeling lackluster and unsatisfying to use. Every trigger pull also seems to cause a split second of lag that screws with your aiming and makes accurate firing a real problem. Collision detection also feels off, and I don't know if this is a symptom of the stuttering and lag, but damage seems to take a half-second or so to register. Enemies will take shots without them noticing only for the death animation to suddenly kick in out of nowhere. This is even worse when using nonlethal weapons like chairs or bottles. They would only seemingly register hits like 50% of the time anyway but, even when you do land an attack, the enemy would take a second to go down. This would lead to an inevitable "did I hit him this time?" situation after every takedown that quickly got annoying. There are entire levels by the way where you aren't allowed to kill anyone and go through this repeatedly.
Another thing is the A.I: it's all over the place and is inconsistent as hell. For the most part, they'll mindlessly walk their pre-assigned patrol routes and are either oblivious to you until the last second, or they'll notice you from a million miles away. They'll then run straight towards you, then back off, only to run towards you again, firing every few seconds. Or they'll simply stand still and open fire. They don't strafe, don't take cover, don't coordinate, or do anything you'd expect from an enemy in a modern first-person shooter. No tactical thought is required, for the most part, making even the act of combat rather boring for 90% of the game.
Basically, the entire game feels rushed and un-optimized which is surprising considering it was originally supposed to release much earlier in the year. In fact, I kinda struggle to call this a remake as very little seems to have changed or been improved. Completely upgrading the game to be a modern style FPS could have created something special but they seem to have just ported over the original game with bare minimum changes. Story-wise things are completely the same and although it would have been nice to see this presented in a more modern way, it's still one of the parts that shines a little brighter than the rest.
You wake up to find yourself washed up on a beach, suffering from a head wound, you have no memory of your past. The only clue to your identity is the number "XIII" tattooed on your chest and a locker key to an unknown location. Even though you don't know who you are, you quickly find yourself on the run from both a mysterious criminal organization and US law enforcement. Blamed for the death of a much loved President, you'll uncover a plot involving political intrigue, cover-ups, double-crosses, and more as you struggle to uncover the greatest conspiracy ever perpetrated on the citizens of the United States. It provides a decent reason to continue through the levels and finding out the truth of the conspiracy aids in motivating to drive you through the game. However, it is presented in a way that feels very old fashioned and shows every one of the 17 years of its lineage. It uses the original cutscenes giving a very bland and uninteresting feeling to the whole affair, especially in an age where FPS cutscenes have become cinematic as hell, grabbing your attention from the get-go. I worry that most people, especially those with no nostalgia for the original, won't bother to slog through the chore of the gameplay to finish the story and, even if they do, the bland presentation might make them not even pay attention anyways.
Now before we finish I would like to add one small caveat. The Devs have acknowledged the problems with the game and sent out an email to reviewers promising a fix is on the way. When this will come though is anyone’s guess and it's uncertain how much of the problems it will fix. As it stands right now, it's genuinely hard to recommend XIII in its current state. We can't review or score a game on what might happen in the future but I did want to mention that the developers have a roadmap for solutions but only time will tell how it affects the final product.
A disappointing remake of a game that is well-loved by some. Horrible animation, stuttering, lag, and screen tear all add up to make an experience that feels rushed and unfinished. Actual combat feels unsatisfying, with damage taking a second to register and AI that's basic and not fun to fight.
While the story can still stand on it’s own, the cutscenes and acting are so wooden that it kills much of the impact it would have and with gameplay being such a chore I can't see many sticking with it. It’s a remake that just made things worse. Avoid it, at least until you hear that patches have fixed it. If they ever do so.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 4/10
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