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Saturday, October 1, 2022

XIII: The remake of the remake in review – Will everything really be better after the shitstorm?

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The disastrous remake of the classic shooter XIII gets a big patch that addresses criticism from fans. A connoisseur of the original assesses the changes.

Slowly things are not going right, so it must be the number. 13 has always been considered an unlucky number, so even hotels omit it from their floor numbering. Also, I can still hear my grandma saying that we don”t leave the house on Friday the 13th, in fact, it”s best not to get up at all. You see, I am struggling for explanations to understand what I have just played and how to classify it.

For that, I”ll start with the facts: At the end of 2003, XIII was released, a first-person shooter that was different. Using cell-shading technology and clever design, the agent thriller looked like a comic book. However, when an XIII remake appeared in 2020, all euphoria quickly evaporated. Not only did the new graphics have little in common with the original comic look, bugs and crashes made the game almost unplayable.

The technical state of the title, as well as community outrage, led publisher Microids to recall developer PlayMagic and commission French studio Tower Five to remake the remake. This was released on Steam on – what a coincidence – 13 September 2022. Owners of the first remake from 2020 get the new version as a free update, everyone else pays just under 30 euros.

Who is number 13?

The heart of the game is still the exciting story, unchanged in content, about the murder of the US president, a conspiracy up to the highest circles of society and the planned political overthrow.

XIII was an adaptation of the comic series of the same name by the two Belgian artists Jean Van Hamme and William Vance. What entertained me at the age of 16 I still find very good 20 years later, for example the speech bubbles drawn at that time, clever picture-in-picture scenes as well as all the “tap, tap, tap”, “RATATATA” and other onomatopoeias (designation of the stylistic device of onomatopoeia – educational mission accomplished!) stretching across the screen.

(Famous lighthouse: At the beginning XIII wakes up at the stand and remembers nothing)
(Famous lighthouse: At the beginning XIII wakes up at the stand and remembers nothing)

At the beginning of the game, the protagonist wakes up on a beach with a bullet wound and amnesia. The eponymous XIII tattooed on his chest and the locker key of a bank are the only clues to find out who he is and what is going on. Apparently, someone wants to prevent just that, because shortly after waking up, bad guys appear on the scene and hunt XIII down.

(Content-wise, the remake of XIII offers the same campaign as 20 years ago with a few changes as far as few weapon positions are concerned (throwing knives are sorely missed in the beginning).)
(Content-wise, the remake of XIII offers the same campaign as 20 years ago with a few changes as far as few weapon positions are concerned (throwing knives are sorely missed in the beginning).)

This is the prelude to an exciting story in which baller and sneak passages alternate lively. If you liked the story back then and have a few gaps in your knowledge due to advancing age (like me), you”ll get your money”s worth here. But the excursion doesn”t take too long: I was through after less than six hours. But since I knew everything from the previous original run-through, I estimate the playing time at six to seven hours if you are not “fully into it”.

There are a total of four difficulty levels, the first of which focuses on the story. Anyone who has played another shooter should at least start on the third difficulty level. Everything else is far too easy and the AI does the rest with its shooting gallery-like behaviour.

After the campaign, the air is almost out. Since the update, there is a multiplayer mode again with deathmatch as the only game type. It was entertaining and fun back then and it still is today. But it is not really necessary.

In the levels there are the now obligatory collectibles such as figures and files, but these should only be relevant for Achievement hunters. Speaking of Achievements: Here, too, the work has been done sloppily. After finishing the game on the second difficulty level, I received the achievement for exactly this difficulty, but not for the easy mode, as is usually the case. Conversely, I received the achievements for the other (i.e. also the hardest) modes when, thanks to the implemented level selection, I only finished the enemy-less epilogue on the respective level after completing the campaign. Really true.

(The new graphics are less comic-like, but look more like 3D graphics with a comic filter. That''s a great pity, a lot of atmosphere is lost because of that. Apart from that, Major Jones has his eyes closed and ruins the photo.)
(The new graphics are less comic-like, but look more like 3D graphics with a comic filter. That”s a great pity, a lot of atmosphere is lost because of that. Apart from that, Major Jones has his eyes closed and ruins the photo.)

 

It”s stuck in every corner

The remake from two years ago was full of bugs and the community was annoyed by the poorer graphics quality compared to the original from 2003. Anyone expecting significant milestones in the latter point will unfortunately be disappointed. Although the graphics look a little more “cell-shaded” thanks to the reworking, the graphics style of the new edition from two years ago, which for my taste goes far too much into 3D, dominates.

(This picture sums up a lot of what goes wrong with the new graphics. After finishing these three level sections in the canyon, our tester had a headache.)
(This picture sums up a lot of what goes wrong with the new graphics. After finishing these three level sections in the canyon, our tester had a headache.)

However, this is exactly what made the original game so special and set it apart from the crowd. The comic effects with onomatopoeia, picture-in-picture and a blurred view are included, but too subtle in the background in my opinion. For example, I can”t understand why they removed such iconic writing as the shots at the beginning when the lifeguard dies. Also, the start screen of a level, composed of several comic images, no longer exists. Instead, the view is now “normal”.

Looking at the characters and their facial features, we unfortunately see 3D figures and not comic book heroes. With the new graphics, handovers, character moments and transitions seem somehow stilted and wooden – even though the new developers have been leaning more towards the original look since the update, a lot is still lost.

This is all annoying, but ultimately a matter of taste somewhere. What about the technical state of the game? It”s still not flawless, but at least the game could be played through without any major (!) problems. The fact that the barefoot lifeguard makes walking noises at the beginning as if she were wearing boots, or that the characters” expressions are not always lip-synchronised, fall into the category of “annoying, but not too bad”. It”s more annoying that characters” utterances very often just stop in the middle of a sentence or that I can still hear the dialogue of enemies who have already been knocked out. If friendly NPCs cross XIII”s path, it can happen that they slide under the character and the protagonist floats in the air – and stays there.

Multiple times there were situations in which I could not avoid reloading the checkpoint. For example, during the mission in Plain Rock, when XIII was stuck in the cell ceiling at the beginning, unable to move. The subsequent march with the guards was only a success with luck, because out of nowhere I received cane blows because the guard, instead of walking behind me, was stuck somewhere and I was thus too far away from him. Other times I got stuck in a spiral staircase of the monastery or was thrown up while trying to climb down a ladder.

Also, it often happens that after a checkpoint during a mission, the weapon inventory is adjusted. I can understand that XIII only has a few smaller shooting pistols at the beginning of a mission. But if I have accumulated a large arsenal during a mission, then run through a checkpoint in a corridor and suddenly only have two pistols and a shotgun at the end of the corridor, I lack any understanding for this.

It seems as if the developers want to “suggest” (not to say impose) a certain play style on me, but they are also inconsistent to the maximum. After a few kills and a few seconds, I have already captured the assault rifle I used before. What”s the point?

What the remake does well

I could go on like this for a while: The AI behaviour is lousy, the sneak passages (like in the original) can also be completed wildly shooting (with a few exceptions) and I won”t even get started on the helicopter”s wayfinding in the boss fight. Still, there are those things that the remake does well and that I was very happy to embrace during the playthrough.

(A big improvement is the context sensitive menu, seen here at the grappling hook.)
(A big improvement is the context sensitive menu, seen here at the grappling hook.)

This includes all the modern convenience features that didn”t exist 20 years ago. It”s a blessing to be able to use the grappling hook context-sensitively at hotspots with a keystroke on E. I don”t miss the awkward fumbling from the original and the bulky item management one bit. The shootouts are also fun and easy to handle. When AK47s or M16s dish it out and the satisfying sound of hit feedback can be heard, I”m right in the middle of it and playing “my” XIII again.

For a remake that has also been extensively reworked, however, that is far too little for a price of just under 30 euros. Especially because XIII Classic costs six euros on Steam and, apart from the lack of widescreen resolution, works perfectly – bulky controls or not.

Editor”s verdict

I have great memories of my gaming youth with XIII. When two years ago the remake was driven so disastrously against the wall, I thought that was a great pity for this still great game. I”m disappointed with the remake, because measured against the great effort, the price and the loud communication from publisher Microids, there”s frighteningly little to show for it. Yes, technically the game is in a better state – but still far from “very good”. Yes, the graphics have been adapted more to the comic look – but only minimally and effects have even been reduced compared to the original.

To be honest, I understand neither the sense nor the necessity of this remake. Moreover, because of the flaws, it doesn”t strike me as a loving transformation of a nostalgically valuable product into the modern age – that”s what remakes are supposed to be, right? – but still like a half-baked adaptation without reliable quality assurance. On the other hand, I was very happy to accept the grateful comfort features. But they alone in no way justify the quality of the game. The fact that after two years it can now only be played through with a few quirks is not something the developers should pin on their lapel.

Thomas
Thomas
Age: 31 Origin: Sweden Hobbies: gaming, football, skiing Profession: Online editor, entertainer

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