08 February 2010
XIII - Xbox, PS2, Gamecube
I was living in Philadelphia, running the bar at a Greek restaurant in a ritzy neighborhood called Manayunk. Actually, just the main street in Manayunk was ritzy - Manhattan salons, upscale restaurants, expensive boutiques. A few blocks up the road where I lived with my wife (then girlfriend) was a working class neighborhood with narrow streets and a lot of churches. (The part in the movie Unbreakable where the kid is playing football in the park was filmed there.)
I'd come home at 3 a.m. after closing the bar and get in some gaming before passing out. One of the games I remember fondly from this period was XIII. If Manayunk was a working class neighborhood fronting a fancy facade, XIII was a B-list shooter fronting a spectacular veneer.
Sometimes style is enough to trump substance.
It's rare, but it happens.
In XIII, a daring title from the previous console generation, the attention to style overwhelmed everything else. For me it was an obvious buy: I love first person shooters and I'm a big fan of cell-shaded graphics. XIII had both, and it played out like a 1960s espionage film.
You wake up on a desolate strip of New England beach. The near-fatal impact of a bullet has left your head pounding, and your memory erased. And you've got the number XIII tattooed on your chest. A pretty lifeguard in a red swimsuit helps you along. In your pocket is a key to a New York City bank box. You struggle to your feet and get assaulted again. You're shocked with how easily you're able to dispatch the bad guys.
It's not the most original beginning to a thriller (game, film or novel) but it's intriguing and it gets better.
And the game features Adam West in what was probably his last serious role before playing the mayor on Family Guy. (Come to think of it, it may be his only serious role. Ever.)
XIII took a lot of criticism for having more style than substance. I can't argue that. But I can say that at 3 a.m. when I would come home from work it was nice to have a game with a great story, good looks and gameplay that I could easily master before my eyes fell shut under the weight of the day.
By Victor Paul Alvarez