Why XIII is still a comic masterpiece

Underappreciated celshaded genius

Chances are you didn't play XIII. Hey, don't blame yourself. It was a celshaded shooter based on a Belgian comic book. And it was called XIII - that's '13' in roman numerals.

It ticks every box on the form headed 'How To Alienate Buyers And Make Sure Your Otherwise Brilliant Game Is Ignored' marketing sheet.

If such a sheet exists. Ubisoft Paris took a genuine risk when adapting the series from its comic book roots. With nods to 1995's Comix Zone on the Mega Drive, XIII makes you feel as though you're playing through the pages of an actual comic - though the visuals are just part of the game's unique stylings.


With each sound effect, words streak across the screen in bold white letters. Toss a grenade and watch it explode with a 'Baoomm!'. Guards collapse, 'Arrr' spewing forth from their lips as you mercilessly dispatch them with your terrifying shotgun.

It's a simple technique that works surprisingly well, giving the game a distinctive and unique appearance.

Points of interest appear as comic strips at the top of the screen and partially animated cut-scenes provide story telling between levels. It's a game you really need to see in motion to get the most out of it.

Then there's the fact that XIII is based on a Belgian comic of the same name. Forget that - banish all notions of Tin Tin to the back of your mind, and instead think about the fact that XIII's plot is actually heavily inspired by Robert Ludlum's thriller The Bourne Identity.

Ah, now we've piqued your interest. Superspy Steve Rowland, codename XIII, is washed ashore suffering from a crippling case of amnesia, with only the number 'XIII' tattooed on his chest and a key to a safety deposit box in his pocket.

Pursued by everyone from the FBI to shady cults for the assassination of the president, XIII sets out on the twin mission of clearing his name and solving the mystery of his past.

A man of few words, XIII's purring drawl comes courtesy of David 'X-Files' Duchovny. Adam 'Batman' West provides a hammy voiceover for XIII's main ally, Carrington, and singer cumactress Eve voices sultry friend, Jones.

It's these secondary characters that move the story along and deliver the increasingly complicated plot. This is a game that thrives on its story, providing twist after twist as you travel from the Appalachian Mountains to submarine pens in Mexico.

There's a modest arsenal of fi rearms in the game, and each is introduced in a specific level. The shotgun and sniper rifle are the most effective and - as an inevitable result - also the most enjoyable.


The throwing knives and crossbow are great for stealth kills, but the game's attempt at assault rifles feels disappointingly flat.

Each level is littered with items that can be used as makeshift weapons. Ashtrays, chairs and brooms can all be deployed to dispatch guards silently - an essential practice in any of the game's stealth sections.

The sound effect as you break one of these objects over a guard's head is as satisfying as watching their subsequent scream light up the screen in red lettering.

In many ways, it's a good thing that ammo is sparse in XIII, as the gunplay - fun as it initially is - is the game's biggest weakness. Even at the time of the game's release, the shooting mechanic was merely perfunctory.

Nowadays it feels sludgy and unnecessarily inaccurate. Although the controls are mapped to the COD layout, there's no aim-down-the-sights.

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