January 15, 2019
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Publisher: Feral Interactive    Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.2.3    CPU: G3 @ 700 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    DVD-ROM    Graphics: 640x480 @ 32-bit, 32 MB VRAM

June 16, 2004 | Mark Satterthwaite

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Ubisoft released XIII, the video game adaptation of a long running comic book series last year across all three major consoles and the PC. Its unique cel-shaded graphics and labyrinthine plot helped it stand out from the current glut of mediocre shooters. Now it has been brought to the Mac thanks to publisher Feral and developer Zonic.

XIII runs on a heavily modified variant of the Unreal engine. Under normal circumstances this would allow the game to look almost lifelike in motion, but in order to retain true to the story’s comic book heritage the developers at Ubisoft performed a major overhaul on the graphics portion of the engine. Cel-shading has become more common in the intervening years since Sega used it for the first time in ‘Jet Set Radio’ for their Dreamcast console, yet it is still considered a mere ‘gimmick’ and a sign of a ‘kiddies’ game, the former in my opinion has never been true, XIII is testament that the latter is also false.

Only interactive objects and characters are truly cel-shaded in this game, due to the processor overhead inflicted by the complex processing required to generate the cell lines and the characteristic shading required to make them look like they belong in a comic book. The characters are also limited to only 7,000 triangles, but every last one has been used to create models whose angular and expressive features wouldn’t look out of place on paper. The environments are textured carefully to try and convince that everything is cel-shaded and by and large this works, except the environments use higher resolution textures, and they are not shaded in the same way as the characters, so the backgrounds look slightly at odds to the characters. Generally however this is not important. Some of the levels are quite beautiful, most notably the bank, but most are merely competent, with many of the indoor sections, the missile complex, hotel and FBI HQ being prime examples, suffering from the genre tendency towards very squared off and rectangular architecture which is deeply uninteresting and unsatisfying.
Of greater note are the comic book windows that appear on screen whenever a headshot is achieved or when the main character is watching a plot point from a hiding spot or hiding from patrolling guards. These little windows allow the player to see the death they are causing up close, or the faces and movements of the enemy as they patrol and plot just as a comic book would. It would be nice to say they don’t have an effect on performance, but rendering two, three and sometimes four of these little blighters as well as the main screen is sometimes too much and causes the game to slow to a crawl for a split second. On the Mac these comic book windows are rendered at a higher resolution than on the PC and console versions, and while that definitely improves their appearance it is a questionable benefit.
More usual effects like lens flare, fogging, particles and lighting are all used competently with the engine making good use of vertex shaders to create many of the effects on screen. Other neat effects include nearby explosions blurring vision, as do flashbacks and death leaves a layer blood in front of your eyes just thin enough to see your killer through.

Oh and last but not least there are the visual sound cues, the tapping of enemy footsteps cannot only be heard, but seen if only you move slowly enough. This allows you to judge, distance, speed and direction to get ready for the perfect stealth kill, or simple avoid that enemy. Explosions are accompanied by the usual ‘bang’ or ‘boom’; rockets are launched with a ‘whoosh’ and so forth. It all helps to make the game feel more like a comic book or cartoon rather than fake, hyper-real, film like world of most shooters.


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