The events in XIII are based on a popular European comic book of the same name (hence the comic book style). The game begins with the main character on a beach, with complete amnesia, but combat skills come to him quickly - which is good, because armed men are already after him. He has a tattoo on his chest that reads "XIII." As the game progresses and important people are rescued from the conspirators, more of the plot is uncovered and more clues revealed as to what's really going on, who the main character really is, and why these jokers want him dead.
The main character learns that he is a top agent of General Carrington, inserted into a mysterious conspiracy to find out what they're up to; within the group, each conspirator is known only by a number. There are twenty conspirators. Number XIII was the man who assassinated president Sheridan, but he was betrayed by the other conspirators and killed. The main character was given plastic surgery to pose as agent XIII, and surprise the other conspirators with his survival, but Carrington's plans to find the truth went awry when his agent developed amnesia.
Now, not only must the man known only as XIII investigate the conspiracy, he must also investigate his past. Remnants of his memory occasionally pop into the game in highly stylized cutscene flashbacks, giving him insights as to how he got into this mess in the first place.
The game ends at the exact point where the comic's fifth volume ended, and as such, the complete story is unfinished, leaving room for a sequel. The ending of XIII directly implies ("To be continued...") that a sequel is planned. However, currently no announcements have been made regarding it.
XIII has a very interactive environment. Aside from armaments including fisticuffs, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, grenades, sniper rifles, and crossbows, XIII also has access to pieces of the scenery - like shards of broken glass, beer bottles, ash trays, and wooden chairs - to use as impromptu weapons. An early level of the game trains the player in non-lethal combat through sneaking around and bashing people unconscious with said objects.
The game is no cakewalk. Enemies have incredibly good aim and can kill you just as fast as you can kill them if you aren't careful; stealth is a big part of the game, as is learning to shield yourself with your surroundings. It's almost a puzzle game, in the sense that you'll play a segment and die many times before figuring out and perfecting the proper course of action. Checkpoints are fairly frequent, so, most of the time, boring repetition isn't a really big problem.
The multiplayer over Xbox Live, PS2 Online, and System Link hosts a maximum of 16 players. The game features three standard game modes along with modes exclusive to each system:
- Team Deathmatch
- Capture the Flag
- Sabotage (exclusive to Xbox and PC): Each team is made up of two players or more, and each player has a specific skill. The offensive team must blow up the defensive team's checkpoints. The game ends when either time has elapsed or the checkpoints have been blown up.
- The Hunt (exclusive to PC, PS2 and GameCube): Players chase a running caricature of the grim reaper through a map attempting to kill him. However, if the target touches the player, the player is instantly killed. The more hurt he becomes the smaller he gets. All players start with a hunting shotgun.
- Power-Up (exclusive to PC and PS2): A variation of deathmatch in which random power-ups are scattered throughout a map for players to pick up. Pick-ups are chosen according to player's score position.
Each game type has different maps with a maximum of 16 players.
Cel-shading is used stylistically to depict XIII as a comic book. Outside of the main gameplay, menus, extras, and cinematics are organized in comic book panels. When something dramatic happens, like a strange noise or killing someone in a single shot while remaining undetected, small panels will appear to depict it in a comic book-like fashion. The graphics are well-polished and the effect works well with the action-oriented nature of the game. Seeing a knife go through a man's head in close-up comic book panels is ultra-cool.
- "XIII" (voiced by David Duchovny): The story's protagonist, and the main playable character. It is originally believed that his name is Steve Rowland, but later in the game, it is revealed that he is in fact Rowland's rival Jason Fly. XIII wakes up on a beach in New York City with a mysterious tattoo of the Roman numeral for thirteen on his shoulder. XIII learns that he is being targeted by a hitman called The Mongoose and his army of mercenaries. He is also wanted by the FBI for the murder of the President of the United States, William Sheridan. Throughout the game, XIII struggles to uncover his true identity and a conspiracy plot involving a group known as The XX.
- Jones (voiced by Eve): Jones is a soldier who works for General Carrington. She knows that XIII is not guilty of the President's murder and is willing to help clear his name. Jones is tough, courageous, and pretty good at handling The Mongoose's thugs. She is the inspiration for XIII, and helps him escape FBI clutches.
- Carrington (voiced by Adam West): An old war veteran, Ben Carrington is another one of XIII's few allies. He knows very valuable information about the President's death and is willing to help XIII. However, he was arrested and brought to a military station in the Appalachian mountains to be silenced by the conspiracy. XIII must infiltrate the base and free Carrington if he is to learn about his past.
- The Mongoose (voiced by Ken Starcevic): An infamous hitman hired by The XX to carry out assassinations and other evil deeds. The Mongoose is a cruel and cold-blooded murderer who carries out his orders with eagerness and glee. He commands an army of hitmen to do some of his dirty work. XIII encounters The Mongoose many times and must eventually face off against him near the game's end.
- Walter Sheridan (voiced by Eddie Crew): The brother of the recently deceased president, William Sheridan. Walter promised that he would finish the work that his brother had started. Walter helps XIII try to stop The XX's scheme near the game's end. It is later implied in the game's cliffhanger ending that Sheridan is actually the head of the conspiracy.
- Colonel Amos (voiced by Ken Starcevic): A wise and old one-armed man. Colonel Amos is in charge of the investigation into the President's death. Amos believes that XIII is guilty and attempts to hunt him down and bring him to justice. XIII must prove his innocence to Amos in order to gain his trust.
- Kim Rowland (voiced by Jodi Forrest): The wife of the deceased Steve Rowland. Kim and her husband were both members of the conspiracy. Kim was Number XVII and Steve was Number XIII. But now that XIII has returned, despite claims that he was shot by The Mongoose, Kim believes that her husband is still alive and tries to explain to XIII the mystery surrounding his identity.
- William Standwell (voiced by Mike Morris): An American general with a fiery temper. Standwell was appointed Chief of Staff and had replaced General Carrington. Standwell has mysterious and shady ties to The XX.
- Seymour MacCall (voiced by Jerry Di Giacomo): A gruff and old colonel who operates an army base in New Mexico. He is Standwell's right hand man and always takes orders from him. He is also suspected of being involved with The XX. He is often referred to as 'pin-head' by the petty officers XIII encounters through the game after one soldier found out MacCall is part of the KKK.
|II||Calvin Wax||U.S. Secretary of Defense|
|III||William Standwell**||Chief of Staff|
|IV||Phillip Gillepsie||U.S. Secretary of the Interior|
|V||Clayton Willard**||U.S. Senator|
|VI||Irving Allenby||Judge, involved with the Sheridan affair|
|VII||Franklin Edelbright**||Admiral, USS Patriot|
|IX||Jasper Winslow**||CEO, Winslow Bank|
|X||Orville Midsummer||Proprietor, Press Groups|
|XI||Seymour Mac Call**||Colonel, SPADS|
|XII||Lloyd Jannings||Advisor to the White House|
|XIII||Steve Rowland||Captain, SPADS|
|XIV||Harriet Traymore||CEO, Federal Steel Corporation|
|XV||Jack Dickinson||CEO, American Legion|
|XVI||Norman Ryder||Colonel, National Guard|
|XVII||Kim Rowland||Steve Rowland's widow|
|XVIII||Edwin Rauschanberg||CEO, CBN News|
|XIX||Elly Shepherd||Director General, Department of Defense|
|XX||Edward W. Johansson**||Director/Doctor, Plain Rock Asylum|
* At the end of the game, there is a strong implication that President-elect Walter Sheridan, brother of the assassinated president, is Number I. However, since he is never explicitly identified, that is only speculation. In the comic series, Number I is indeed proven to be Walter Sheridan, and the same is true of the miniseries, but, without a sequel to the game, the likelihood of this being clarified in the game timeline is unknown.
** These characters, along with the Mongoose, are battled during the game as bosses.
XIII's soundtrack is very jazzy, which makes the entire game feel very smooth as you play.
The main character is voice-acted by David Duchovny (Fox Mulder from the X-Files), and another primary character, General Carrington, is voiced by Adam West (Batman). A supporting character, agent Jones, is voiced by rap starlet Eve. Duchovny's voicing is hit-or-miss, and Eve's appearances are fairly infrequent, but West's performance is spot on 100% of the time.
In some relatively early levels, the effect of playing as David Duchovny, and rescuing Adam West from pursuing forces, is absolutely incomparable.
XIII attained mostly positive reviews. Reviewers often praised the game's graphical style and presentation, while criticising the gameplay. GamePro called it a "rejuvenating, jaw-dropping experience". IGN said "XIII has a great story-driven sheen, but at its core, it's weighed down by some occasional bewildering flaws, in addition to the lackluster weapons and simple combat". GameZone also criticised the combat, stating "If not for the graphics to carry the game through, XIII would have been a boring game. Gunfights are the best part of the gameplay. It also happens to the most unbalanced part". Edge said XIII had "true artistic merit: it never gets stale; every episode has been drawn with minute care and attention. It would have been an incredible achievement if the gameplay had matched the outstanding art direction". GameSpy criticised the graphics and the multiplayer mode, and concluded "When it comes right down to it, XIII is a fine game...Just don't expect the FPS of the year because, sadly, this isn't it". Gaming Trend praised the cel-shaded graphics, while finding fault with the "relatively low" polygon count and repetitive textures. Also singled out for praise were the voice acting and sound effects, while "The largest fault of the game is the save system". Game Informer praised XIII's "unique look", and concluded "I am glad that I played XIII, but came away longing for the great game that this could have been, rather than the merely adequate game that it is". gamesTM said "It's one of those mixed-bag situations - flashes of genius and genuinely enjoyable moments of success, occasionally mired by unbalanced weapon damage, clumsy AI and the odd bit of unfair level design that requires astounding feats of memory". Eurogamer called XIII "a flawed masterpiece. A game brimming with variety and a freshness lacking from most of the factory farmed franchise exercises that pass through our offices with crushing regularity". Game Revolution complimented the game's story, graphical style, voice acting and soundtrack, while criticising the gameplay as "about as straightforward - and in some cases boring - as it gets for an FPS". Electronic Gaming Monthly scored the game 6.5/6.5/6.5: Joe Fielder, the first reviewer, said, "You'd be hard-pressed to find a more visually stunning game than XIII", but complained that "numerous frustrations pile up to make XIII more chore than thrill". The magazine's Greg Ford, who provided the third review, said that its "style, cut-scenes, and story are all great, [but] the actual gameplay is pretty mundane"; he concluded, "But if all you need is a solid shooter fix, XIII will do just fine. It has no fatal flaws, and the conspiracy-laced story should keep you going".
Sales performance for XIII were lower than expected, despite its positive reception. As such, a sequel is unlikely, though no announcements have been made.
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