The Bin: XIII

Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks?  This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.

With the huge success of The Walking Dead game and The Darkness, which amongst many other things were praised for their visual style which made the player feel as if the comic had come to life, many players were wondering just why such a thing had never before been attempted in gaming history considering the endless possibilities on offer with such a style. However, if we cast our minds back to 2003, we come across XIII, a first-person shooter based upon an obscure Belgian comic of the same name and in all honesty, one of the best games of the last generation. Despite having all the ingredients for success, the game came and went largely unnoticed by the general public despite a stellar cast, graphics in a style that will never age, as well as an amazing gameplay experience that sucks the player in and doesn’t let go until the end.

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You play as Jason Fly, an amnesiac who wakes up stranded on a beach and is saved by a lifeguard with the only clue as to who you are being a tattoo on your wrist and a key to a mysterious locker box. Things take a turn for the worst almost immediately when several armed and very well trained mercenaries led by a hitman known as The Mongoose kill the lifeguard before turning their focus on you. You turn out to be not so harmless and manage to turn the tables on your would be killers and escape only to discover that you’ve also been accused of murdering the President. With nobody to turn to and no idea just who the hell you really are, so begins a game full of twists and turns and a story that puts most modern games to shame with just how well written and tight it is. The game offers everything you could ever want in terms of plot and in terms of quality and scope it can be considered one of the best written games to have found its way onto consoles, regardless of generation. For players with even a remote interest in stories being the main focus of games, XIII is a game that you must check out, just to see how far the medium can easily match many of the thrillers released by Hollywood. Indeed, it plays out somewhat like a mix between The Day Of The Jackal and The Bourne Identity and is just as riveting as both and is an example of just how far the medium can be pushed in scope and quality.

The most unique aspect of the game is of course the visuals which are amazingly cel-shaded and stand up as great, even today as the style is timeless due to just how close it comes to replicating what can be found on the page onto the screen. XIII takes this even further by integrating aspects of comics such as panels and SFX into the game making it stand out as truly special in comparison to other games which use the style. Knock a guy out with a blow to the head and you’ll get a thunk, shoot a gun and you’ll get a bang coming out for each bullet and most impressively, in action sequences where you land a head shot or manage to kill someone, a separate panel that displays the action up close, just like you would find in a real comic. Choosing to represent the world of the game this way is extremely innovative and gives the player an experience unlike one they’ll ever encounter in games again unless somebody wakes up and realises what huge potential there is for such stylised action. As such, XIII is distinctly individual and once you’ve played it, you’ll remember it for years to come (like this reviewer has) as a very special game that causes the mind to boggle as to why it wasn’t a huge success upon release.

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Aside from the fantastic single player campaign, XIII also features a versatile and interesting multiplayer with a wide range of maps and modes available. Indeed, it’s easy to see the game as a precursor to Team Fortress in terms of the overall look and feel of the set pieces. It’s clear that the game would be one of those few which came out too early and thus missed the enormous popularity of playing online and it seems a shame because it’s clear by playing the multiplayer that it had a ton of potential that went untapped. Add in the comic book style and it’s clear that the multiplayer could’ve gone down as one of the best around if not for the fact that it was released too early.

As a whole, XIII is a game that deserves more attention as one of the greats of the previous generation of consoles. It’s a wonder as to why the game was a commercial flop on release, especially considering the love that it got from critics and comparisons to the likes of Beyond Good and Evil as one of those rare undiscovered gems that critics continue to praise years after release. The game is (occasionally) available over at GOG.com and although an enjoyable experience on PC, it would be worth your time to get a copy for the PS2 so that you can experience its amazing visuals on a big screen. If you’ve never heard of this game or failed to catch it the first time around, check it out because you will not be disappointed by what you find — a truly undiscovered classic.

Dig deeper into The Bin. Head here for more guilty pleasures in gaming.