Ubi Soft has always been one of the bigger names in the gaming industry, long known for their Tom Clancy shooters. However, with the release of the critically acclaimed Splinter Cell and the announcement of a next generation installment of Prince of Persia, Ubi Soft has been enjoying the spotlight with increased frequency these days. Another game that is responsible for the French based company's hype is the upcoming First Person Shooter, XIII. Not just another FPS, XIII features some rather unique characteristics that should easily set it apart from other games in the genre. The first, and most obvious, is the use of cel-shaded graphics, which may seem odd to use in a Mature rated game, but given the history of the XIII franchise, it is surprisingly apt.
XIII started out as a French language comic book back in the early '80's, authored by Jean Van Hamme. The story in the comic, which is still running today, revolves around the adventures of an amnesiac who finds himself in a boatload of trouble, for reasons unknown to him. What is clear to him, however, is that everyone and their mother seems to want his head. Finding out who he is and why he's a wanted man is the meat of the XIII story, as told through the game. The setting for the game, however, is set in an alternate timeline, one shaped by the assassination of a United States president, and throughout the game, murder, deceit and paranoia play large roles. XIII is a story full of twists, surprises, and reversals of fortune, and players will now get to experience all this in the first person.
The single-player mode in XIII will lead players on a quest broken up over 13 separate missions, each one taking place in a different locale, each one with a unique mission objective, ranging from infiltration and theft to assassination of important targets. Throughout the game, players will be able to uncover new and improved abilities by learning more about the character you control. For instance, reading a military file on your character may remind you of certain skills you possess, but forgot that you did. After being reminded, those skills will then be at your disposal.
One of the more interesting premises behind XIII is how you can use the environment to your advantage. Your character will have a hefty arsenal of 15 different weapons, but at times you might find yourself ill equipped for a task. In those cases, you can use things around you, such as chairs, shards of glass, etc. to take out your enemies. A little context-sensitive cursor, somewhat but not too much like that found in Conker's Bad Fur Day, will alert you to when there is an item around that you can use to your advantage. Another interesting twist on the gameplay is how you interact with the levels around you, as you will have access to grappling hooks and other cool gadgets not normally found in FPS games. This will allow you to access areas otherwise inaccessible, and should also give more of an adventure feel to the game, a la Metroid Prime.
Of course, the biggest buzz concerning XIII is the visual style, which is quite a dramatic departure from other Mature rated games. The cel-shaded approach may seem odd, and not too smart a move, at first. Other games have tried to incorporate cartoonish graphics with Mature content before, such as Mark of Kri, with little success. However, unlike other games that have tried such in the past, XIII actually has an artistic premise behind its look. Since it is based off of a comic book, the cel-shaded look actually works to the game's advantage, allowing Ubi Soft to remain faithful to the source material. Also, the style allows Ubi Soft to include some of the usual artistic effects found in comic books easily, such as visual cues to audio sounds. For instance, when you crack an enemy over the head with a chair, a visual cue will appear, adding to the overall effect. Remember the old Batman show? Something like that, only not nearly as cheesy.
XIII will also include multi-player features and it is online compatible. Fortunately, the PS2 version is being treated with an exclusive online mode called "Power-up". "Power-up" is a deathmatch spin-off mode, but with bizarre power-ups thrown into the mix. Classic multi-player features, such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, etc. will be available for all systems.
XIII is currently scheduled for a late October release, and we'll definitely have more information on the game as it is made available.
9/30/2003 Ryan Hartmann