XIII Remake Review
XIII reasons why you should avoid this remake
In preparation for this review, I decided to do my homework and go back and play the original XIII, which was released back in 2003. While the original release was met with mixed reviews, XIII soon became a cult classic with a dedicated fan base and it's easy to see why. The cel-shaded visuals have aged incredibly well, the gameplay is fun and the story is well paced with enough twists and turns for any blockbuster spy thriller. However, the game certainly shows its age with a lack of modern improvements in FPS games such as aiming down sights and the game takes pride in giving you as little information as possible with unhelpful hints. So, in summary, the original XIII is a good but flawed game. The same cannot be said for this remake.
XIII is based on a Belgian graphic novel created by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance. What follows is a tale of espionage, secret societies and plots for world domination. Clearly inspiration has come from the two JBs of the spy world: James Bond and Jason Bourne. In fact, the opening of XIII and Jason Bourne is near identical, with both characters being shot on a boat while on a mission and the amnesia that follows. Both the original and the remake are proud of XIII's comic roots with the cel-shaded graphics and comic panel-esque cutscenes which also appear during gameplay. They also use onomatopoeia alongside sound effects such as gunshots or death screams, for that comic book feel.
On first inspection, not much has changed from the original. The story is exactly the same, the characters haven't changed in design or vocally with the original voice acting being used, for better or worse. Obviously, when you have a voice cast that includes David Duchovny, in the lead role, and the late, great Adam West, you probably wouldn't want to mess with it. Unfortunately, some of the voice acting is in need of updating. David Duchovny doesn't have as much to do as the rest of the cast but he sounds so incredibly bored when he does pipe up, it's hard to connect with XIII. Some of the enemy voiceovers could also have done with an update. If I have to hear one of the two variations of the enemies shouting “alert” again, I might have a nervous breakdown.
Visually, the original still stands up but this remake is a definite improvement. The cel-shading looks good in HD resolutions and there is plenty of colour and variety to keep things visually interesting. The variety comes from the levels with visits to snowy mountains, city rooftops, army camps in South America and more. The characters look good and are full recreations of the original game models. However, technical aspects of the presentation are poor, with glitches being a regular occurrence. During one level, I was able to see beneath the ground just from crouching. Another glitch is caused by being near eye level with water which causes the edges of the screen to distort and stretch.
Audio design also has some issues. While playing, you will notice the audio randomly cuts out. At one point in my playthrough, I tried to hide a body by dumping it in water and there was no splash. Little details like that are enough to ruin any immersion the game manages to build. Certain actions such as reloading or firing your gun will be oddly silent or sometimes the gun audio can glitch out and become distorted and garbled. It's hard to describe, but my issue started when I fired a grenade launcher and then my audio just became distorted and distracting whenever I fired my gun. The issue doesn't solve itself either and you have to restart to fix it. Beyond that, the sound design is disappointing. Guns sound weak and lack any real audible punch. The handguns are the biggest offender with the 44. Magnum sounding more like a toy than a powerful revolver of Dirty Harry pedigree.
The actual meat of the game, the shooting, feels sluggish and slow. You can't play a fast and frenzied style like the original. Certain weapons make this downside more apparent, with the 44. Magnum being a particularly slow gun to fire. This issue is not as pronounced with automatic weapons but is still there. This sluggish feeling extends to your movement. XIII controls as if he's being weighed down by concrete boots. After playing the original, the slow movement really bugged me as it was not conducive to fast-paced gameplay, which this game should be. There also appears to be an input delay. This is most noticeable with slow-firing weapons, as well as hand to hand stealth attacks, as you usually wait a second or more from input to see the action carried out. Stealth attacks should be simple but they don't always work when the prompt pops up. All too often you'll press the button, just for them to either walk away or turn round and take out a decent chunk of your health. This bogs the game down and makes the combat feel cumbersome.
The poor gunplay extends to the mounted machine gun which is tactically placed at certain sections of the game when you're about to be assaulted. However, using it makes things much harder. For some reason, it has no aiming reticule whatsoever. This makes aiming more about luck with some trial and error mixed in for good measure. It appears as though the actual gameplay was ignored during development.
This remake does add some quality of life improvements to XIII with new objective markers, ability to aim down sights and a more forgiving checkpointing system. There is also some regenerating health which goes up to 50% once you go below halfway. This makes the game somewhat easier than its 2003 counterpart but to counterbalance this, most levels have more enemies that is especially noticeable in the stealth missions. A new weapon wheel has been added which is a further helpful idea. It is now easier to switch between weapons on the fly and it allows you to change tactics in the middle of a firefight. However, the weapon wheel isn't as responsive as it should be and you'll often find yourself pulling out the wrong weapon.
Luckily, the AI rarely forces you to think too hard. The only accurate way to describe the AI is that they are deaf, dumb and blind. Even on the normal difficulty, the AI seem to want to make the game as easy as possible. It doesn't improve at higher difficulties either. During one section of the game I was able to kill around 7 enemies with a crossbow as they all inspected a dead body and came right in my line of sight like lemmings. This idiocy also applies to when you go in guns blazing. On one occasion a room of guards knew I was coming but several of them just looked at the wall. They didn't even flinch when I entered the room and started shooting them. They lack any peripheral vision or the usual human instinct for self-preservation with enemies often loitering around their dead friends but making no effort to actually look for the killer.
The game hints that if an enemy finds a dead body, they'll sound the alarm, but all too often I watched a guard stand vigil over their friend and not actually doing anything. They're incredibly inconsistent with what triggers their alarm state. Sometimes, they manage to ignore sounds of gunfire coming from the next room or they can be alerted by shots from a silenced gun at a different area in the level entirely. This just serves to make the mandatory stealth sections all the more tedious with an unwanted element of luck. This stupidity also goes for your allies as well. In the levels where you have to protect a secondary character, they will never help you out in a firefight and just stand out in the open waiting to die or for you to finish killing everyone.
If you're hopeful that the AI is somewhat improved for the boss fights, then I have some bad news. The bosses are just as stupid. The biggest issue with boss fights is that they can become stunned if you shoot them long enough in the head. This normally wouldn't be an issue, but they stay stunned for so long all you have do is stand there and mow them down. I don't think a boss even managed to attack me long enough to take down any health. There's no working out their attack patterns or any strategical thinking. Just rush them and shoot them in the head. That's it. It doesn't make for varied or exciting boss fights and it is a major step backwards from 2003.
The game also has some baffling inputs. During the stealth mission in the Appalachian Mountains, if the alarm triggers, you fail the mission. So far, makes sense. However, when I came across an alarm, I was met with a prompt to push the action button. I figured this meant I could disable the alarm. Turns out I was wrong. The prompt was there for you to actually activate the alarm, for some reason. This meant I automatically failed the level for doing something the game prompted me to do. If the game actually outlined what I was doing, it would have saved a lot of anger and confusion.
The best aspect of XIII is the story, which is identical from the original release. The story is your typical super-spy fare. The president is assassinated by a secret group called the XX and the main character, XIII, is the prime suspect. To complicate matters, XIII is an amnesiac and not everything is at it seems. The story contains many twists and turns with information about XIIIs identity and the XX drip fed to you throughout the course of the campaign. The only downside of the story is that the final reveal is predictable but the journey to the end is an engaging one. It comes as no surprise that something copied from the 2003 original is the best aspect of this remake as nearly everything that was changed from the first game has been made worse.
The campaign also comes with some collectibles for you to find dotted throughout the levels. These can be dossiers on members of the XX or character/weapon statues but there is no incentive to search for them. The dossiers could be interesting by providing information on members of the conspiracy but you only get a small image of the member and one to two sentences about them. If they had a bit more information then it could have been an interesting inclusion, but as it stands, they're a waste of time.
XIII is a poorly optimised game. Even after lowering most of the graphical settings to try and boost my frame rate, the game still struggled at certain parts of a level. This was worse in large open areas. Some improvements were noticeable when freeing up some of my CPU usage but I still encountered drops in frames throughout my time with XIII. On top of this, the game is buggy. Some enemies get stuck and don't follow their assigned route; get busy looking at a wall, which I assume must be interesting, and some lose their weapons and freeze in place. Dead enemies often ragdoll in strange ways with their limbs being stretched and contorted. There are some glitches that actually stop your progress during the game. The most notable one I came across was during the submarine level where you need to pick up a key to finish the level. Yet despite picking up the key, I couldn't use it on the relevant item and I was forced to restart the level.
Cutscenes often freeze while the audio carries on playing, meaning you miss out on the full experience with the story. The narrative was one of XIIIs strongest aspects and this remake can't even manage to tell that story without issues ruining that experience.
During my time with the game, I was also met with some crashes. One crash completely froze my PC, forcing a hard reboot. To add salt to the wound, I occasionally had problems starting the game. Steam told me the game was running but I was unable to stop it and there was no activity on the task manager either.
I would talk about the multiplayer if I could. The thing is, I am unable to as I couldn't even play any of the two game modes on offer. My game simply froze on the character selection screen. There are only two modes: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. With those two game modes, you have the same 3 map options: Platform 03, Bristol Suites and Plain Rock. Even if I managed to get online, there just isn't enough on offer here to get excited about and it reeks of laziness. Just for comparison, the original XIII has 6 separate game modes and over 15 maps. The fact that the remake only has 2 modes and 3 maps on offer at launch is telling of the remake's quality.
The 2020 XIII remake is worse in almost every aspect compared to the original. The gunplay is weak, there is a multitude of glitches and audio issues and that is just the tip of the iceberg. XIII should be used as a guide on how not to remake a game as it fails on pretty much every conceivable level. It is a shame as I sometimes found myself having fun with XIII but it was always short-lived. Just when I would start enjoying myself, an audio glitch would occur or the AI problems would rear its ugly head and pull me out of the experience. If you want the best experience, just buy the original.