XIII (2020) Review – Lucky Number
“Corrupted by the darkness, now you fall into an endless sleep.”
I don’t even know where to start. You already know. I already know. It hasn’t been a month and already, this is a title that’s going to dominate the Steam Bottom 100. Is it going to take over Flatout 3? It’s looking likely, and it’s more than deserved. This isn’t just a bad game, this isn’t just something that’s been hyped up to a boiling point like Ride To Hell. Folks, I give you the 2020 remake of XIII.
XIII was an FPS from 2003, developed by the now-defunct Southend Interactive and Ubisoft Paris. The game was an adaptation of a Belgian comic from the 80s, chronicling the adventures of one Steve Rowland, also dubbed “XIII”, stuck in the middle of a major government conspiracy. Not only does it involve him as the killer, but it also involves the entirety of the US superpower.
See, it wasn’t just a generic shooter campaign with splashes of James Bond thrown over it. This had charm, pizzazz, intrigue, a well-thought-out spaghetti junction of twists and tricks, and it had Adam Fuckin’ West. All of it topped with the jazziest soundtrack this side of Jet Set Radio, and an aesthetic which, to this day remains completely unique. Still, this is all retrospective now. XIII didn’t exactly set the world afire, even though it had every right to, and to this day the cliffhanger of the game has yet to be resolved, even in the graphic novel.
This was an issue the remake could’ve potentially fixed, but as warning signs began to emerge, the build-up to XIII (2020) was like watching someone fall in slow motion. You had to pray that their parachute was going to work, pray that they were going to stick the landing. A trailer showing off the new look? Where’s the cel-shading? Where’s the comic book style characters and world? Pre-order DLC? We’re reaching terminal velocity here. 1,000 feet and counting. Cut to November 10th, and… they’re dead. They’re just straight-up dead.
XIII (2020) isn’t just a travesty of FPS design, this is a mockery of everything that Southend and Ubisoft built up from the original vision. There’s no style, no grace, funny faces, and absolutely none of it is enjoyable. From the moment you begin to actually play this thing, you begin to quickly realize that this is far more different than any other title that reaches such a legendarily awful status.
Take the Brighton Beach opening, for example. In the original, a rather attractive lifeguard finds you on the beach, patches you up the best she can, before she is immediately killed by assassins looking to end your life as well. The “RA-TA-TA” of the bullets, the crunchy smashing of the windows, the entire set piece was a showcase of everything XIII (2003) aspired to be: A comic book come to life.
Here, the attractive lifeguard looks like a Fortnite model made for GMod RP sessions, and the visible onomatopoeia and heavy cel-shaded graphics have been reduced significantly. In fact, it looks more like a Fortnite map than it does a remake of one of the most stylized shooters of all time, what is this? Are we chasing current trends? Why didn’t you just make the game into a battle royale?
If the excuse for reducing the comic book style integrations was so it didn’t clutter the screen, XIII (2003) never had this issue, and even if it was, it was a strength more than anything. The way the screen would shake during explosive fights, the cut-ins of a throwing knife piercing an enemy skull panel by panel, the panels showing a man atop a cliff falling to his death after being shot? This was all rewarding more than it was intrusive.
Now, there’s no reward. Enemy deaths are now awkward rag-dolls, never reacting realistically to their cause of death. It makes Half-Life 2′s Combine soldiers dying look like Pixar. When you hit someone over the head with a broom, or glass ashtray in XIII (2020), you imagine a comic-book explosion, a “BANG!” punctuating it. Instead, the NPC stays still for a second or two, then they register a devastating blow to the head and fall down. It’s like the broom has dial-up.
Gunplay has also been downgraded, morphing into a nebulous shooting gallery akin to the Bulletstorm joke Duty Calls. Iron sights aiming has been added, along with an extremely limited weapon wheel that’ll only let you have one of each weapon category. If this were a less demanding shooter, this wouldn’t be a problem, but a couple of issues crop up.
For one, the iron sights haven’t been tweaked properly, with all of the guns having next to no recoil when you aim down the sights. This makes gunfights an obviously intense match of laser pointing, lacking weight and precision, mostly due to how awfully the game controls. Steve Rowland aims his guns like he slept the night before with his arm hanging off the bed, numb as he attempts to slowly train his sights over an enemy’s noggin’.
XIII (2020) also hosts one of the worst shotguns ever put into a video game. It holds 5 shells, may not reload properly, is extremely stiff when it comes to the fire rate, and is about as accurate as historical events in Call of Duty. If you hit a shot on someone, however, be prepared for it to do absolutely nothing, since one-hit kills only ever seem to register with clear headshots. It makes DOOM 3‘s shotgun look like the VK-12.
As for the weapon wheel, why do the M60, Harpoon, Sniper Rifle, and Bazooka take up the same weapon slot on the wheel? When it comes to the 9mm and .44 Magnum taking the same slot, it makes sense, but there are moments where a Sniper Rifle and Bazooka are both necessary in the same firefight. Forcing the player to choose a single weapon for each slot seems like an artificial difficulty cap, especially when the original title retained a difficulty curve with such a large arsenal.
Speaking of difficulties, this review is based upon a playthrough on the hardest difficulty, dubbed “XIII”, doubling down on muscle memory only to find out it isn’t necessary. Not only is the gunplay insultingly simple, but the A.I has also went through several lobotomies over at Plain Rock. The strategy the A.I possesses isn’t exactly mind-bending either, resorting to a tried-and-tested method of missing the first few shots, then hitting you with a flurry of headshots.
A stealth option is viable, but that’s only because the A.I is so fucking stupid, they won’t notice you walking up to them. You could come in, strapped with an M60 and blowing nearby soldiers to bloody pieces, and they’ll still need a second to register the dead body before attacking. They may not even register it at all, because they’re too busy registering a bullet they heard 10 minutes ago. What I’m trying to say is that the game has some bugs… Jesus Christ, does this game have some bugs.
Sound clipping. No sound during cutscenes. Frame rate dips. Missing music. Broken body models. Clipping through the map. Soft-locking. Failing to climb up or down ladders. Removing your inventory if you reset to a checkpoint. Idle animations repeatedly playing during flashbacks. Spawning you into a floor. Failing to pick up weapons. Game crashes. All of this and more is available to you if you decide to play XIII (2020). No hyperbole is in use when it is stated that this is the most broken game of the year.
The major issue with the performance of this game, however, is that it retroactively taints the original’s performances. In any other light, David Duchovny’s lazy deliveries and quiet voice would be cause for concern, and accusations of a hack job would be thrown. In XIII (2003), it was a personality bought forth by the aesthetic, and the timing of the gameplay. The pacing and the style damage XIII (2020), and not just in how it looks.
Take any glitch from any other monumentally bad game, whether it’s Ride To Hell, Drake of The 99 Dragons, Remothered: Broken Porcelain, SHiNY, Tyler: Model 005, Hello Neighbor, Gene Rain— None of these games have even half of what XIII (2020) possesses, and I wish I was kidding. It is extraordinary how pitifully mish-mashed together this game is.
Why not tell me the best glitch you saw in the game? Mine was during the helicopter boss fight in the docks, which saw the helicopter get stuck on overhead cranes, forcing it to spin in place whilst not being able to fire accurately. After several rockets were shot at the chopper, it was freed! Only for it to spin in place once again, except this time it wasn’t stuck on anything. It just died, and there’s no other way to put it.
To call XIII (2020) “dead on arrival” is nothing short of an understatement. Before the door was even opened, the funeral went ahead, and there’s no way Playmagic or publisher Microids are going to be able to resurrect it with patches. This will always be known as a travesty, a mockery, and a pitiful attempt to bring back a title that deserved a spotlight for the past 17 years. Now, it’s in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Whether you’re a fan of the original XIII or not, this isn’t a game that’ll make you angry. No, this is more of a dejected adventure through an inferior version of the most stylistic and revered shooter that never got the respect it deserved. What creative decisions have been made to either mute or remove the original vision aren’t for the better, and there is no way that this game can be fixed to be “better”. Whether it’s in 60FPS or 30FPS, whether the audio was consistent or not, this is inferior in every way.
One could ask why it even needed to be remade in the first place. A port is not only cheaper, but also a better way of getting a sequel to figure out THAT BLOODY CLIFFHANGER. The effort of completely changing everything seems confusingly delusional, both from an economic standpoint, and when it comes to appealing to fans of the original. Nobody was asking that this game would stop showing off its looks.
Even the multiplayer has been completely butchered. It’s gone from a maximum of 6 players to 4, 14 maps to 3, is local only even on PC, and features no bot support. None of these changes are improvements, moreso when it comes to the baffling omissions on PC. Who huddles around a computer screen for a PC game, especially when one of you are going to be forced to play with a game-pad? Madness.
Remake-wise, this is the antithesis to Resident Evil 2. Graphically, this is the antithesis to the original XIII. Gameplay-wise, it’s the antithesis to TimeSplitters 2. It is one of the worst remakes ever made, one of the worst FPS’s ever made, and one of the worst games released this year, and will be sure to arrive in a decades-end list in 2030. I don’t write this with rage, I write it with regret, but at least the original is still commercially available.
It goes for pocket change on Steam almost all of the time, and it’s timeless. Great combat, wonderful set pieces, that goddamn jazzy soundtrack, an enrapturing story, a diverse and brilliant cast of characters, consistently entertaining stealth sections, so on and so forth. Not enough praise can be thrown at the original, and the only silver lining to the insult that is XIII (2020) is that more people check out the blueprint.
Thanks for that, I guess.
This Review of XIII (2020) is based upon the Xbox One version of the game.
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