Mac Game Review: XIII

Not many First Person Shooters distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack in this overcrowded genre. XIII is one of them. Developed by Ubisoft and ported by Zonic (who have ported a lot of games to the Mac) for release by Feral Interactive in June 2004, the Mac version includes all the game play modes from the console and PC iterations of the game.

Before XIII was a video game, it was a comic book. The adaptation is an extraordinary display of style. The cell-shaded presentation is entirely new to the FPS genre, and just as Jet Grind Radio before it, is a breath of fresh air.

Minimum System Requirements
Mac OS X 10.2.3
800 Mhz G3
256 MB RAM
1.6 GB HD Space

Recommended System Requirements
Mac OS X 10.3
1 Ghz G3
512 MB RAM
2.5 GB HD Space

Test Computers
Mac OS X 10.4.6
1 Ghz PowerBook G4
32 MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9000

Mac OS X 10.4.6
Dual 2.5 Ghz PowerMac G5
256 MB ATI Radeon 9800 XT

Instillation went by pretty much uneventful. The game is very playable on my PowerBook G4 with no hiccups. Thanks to the added power of my PowerMac G5, I was able to turn all the video settings up and even play the game at the native resolution of my 23" Cinema Display -- though the cut scenes look quite bad at this resolution, as they were never meant to be displayed at 1920x1200.

Although the controls felt fine on the PS2, they are quickly recognizable to anyone used to playing a FPS on the computer. Everything is mapped well. If you do not like it, the key mappings are easily changed.

As stated, XIII in video game form is very similar to the comic. Some of the characters and story are changed, but it is still a true representation of the original. Just like in the comic book, the conspiracy of a presidential assassination unfolds in front of you with speech boxes and visual sound cues, such as "Bam," "Pow," and "Ahhhh."

It is hard to believe that XIII is running on the Unreal Engine, but the style is pulled of well and the graphics engine does the job needed. Characters and interactive objects are truly cell shaded, with thick black ink lines and continuous tone shading. The environments are actually "faked" but it is hard to tell, unless you really look. The texture work is just done in such a way to blend well with the characters. Because of this, the environments lack the rich detail and flair seen in the well-modeled people and objects. This is a trade off for performance, as cell shading is not the easiest thing for a computer to render.

Adding to the impact of the story are David Duchovny, Adam West, and Eve. All three deliver solid performances that don't come across as over the top. The game would have done fine without the talent, but I could not imagine Agent XIII, voiced by Duchovny and played by you, sounding like anyone else.

The story starts you out washed ashore and suffering from amnesia. You are rescued by a lifeguard but quickly thrown into a black-and-white flashback that you also play through -- a story mechanic used throughout the game. Soon enough you faint on the beach, and wake up in a lifeguard building. No sooner does the lifeguard call for help than she gets riddled with bullets. Better pick up those handy throwing knives from the counter and get to work.

Just as you would expect, action and drama are rendered in multiple windows on screen. A headshot is even more satisfying when you see it three times in small windows, accompanied with a the visual "Ahhhh" from the now dead bad guy.

Along with your standard array of guns such as .44, sniper rifle, and submachine gun, you have fun alternatives such as the crossbow, and even non-lethal objects such as wooden chairs and bottles. On many stages you are required to neutralize, but not kill, so these environmental weapons come in handy. Stealth also plays a large role in XIII, but you still get your guns-blazing fun too.

The enemy AI is pretty standard, okay but not great. The game has its challenging moments, and this makes up for the average intelligence of the opposition.

The story really kept me going, all the way until the end. Which is more than I can say for most FPS games I have played through. The depth and style of the single player mission is unique enough to experience the game for yourself.

Multiplayer is not executed quite as well as the single-player experience, but I was not expecting a Halo-like frag fest from XIII. Along with a Bot Challenge, you can play both LAN-based and Internet-based games. The game utilizes GameRanger, a great game network that has been around for years.

Finding a XIII game is going to be a chore, but I was able to call a couple friends to test everything out. The balanced gunplay seems off in multiplayer. Shotguns should do more damage. Your standard FPS modes are here (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag) plus some distinctive modes such as Power Up and The Hunt. These Deathmatch variants change things up nicely. In The Hunt, you chase Death itself, the goal being to shoot, but not touch it. Every shot makes the target smaller, so the game gets progressively harder with each precise shot.

With well thought out level design, a deeply engaging story, great voice acting and fun multiplayer modes, XIII is easy to recommend -- if you have not played it yet. The fact that the Mac version of the game is the most complete, including all of the console specific multiplayer modes, makes up for the fact that the game was released seven months after the console and PC releases. It was worth the wait, as we don't see enough inspiring shooters these days.

(**** out of *****)

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