Before I properly launch into my review of the XIII remake, I feel that I have to clarify exactly what I am reviewing. This is not a review of the original game which came out back in 2003. Nor is this a review for the disastrous XIII remake released in November of 2020 developed by PlayMagic.
Development of that remake has since been commandeered by Tower Five following Microids’ promise to deliver a remake that fans of the original game can be proud of. Two years of fixing technical issues and overhauling visuals has yielded the product which is being reviewed today. This is our review for the recent re-release of the XIII remake for ninth generation consoles.
Even with all of that clarified, certain questions still remain: Will this offering satisfy fans of the original XIII title? Will it live up to the high standard of other remakes such as The Last of Us Part 1 or Resident Evil 2? Will it feel like a current-gen experience? Unfortunately the answer to all of those questions is no.
See, the issue here is that no matter how much Microids and Tower Five try to sugar-coat it, this is a salvage job and it is entirely the fault of PlayMagic. Way back when the contract for this remake was being floated to developers, the CEO and Creative Director of PlayMagic Group picked up said contract.
His name is Giuseppe Crugliano and he took this project on whilst knowing full-well that the team were not equipped to deal with a project of this scale. That may not have mattered though if the original plan for this project was carried out.
The initial development strategy was to retool assets from the original game using Unity plug-ins. However, when the time came to begin development, it was discovered that the source code for the original game had since been lost and so this remake would have to be created from scratch.
This led to the project being delayed and an underprepared and underqualified team of recently hired staff having to remake the character models, animations, cutscenes and coding based on the original game’s assets. The studio’s employees were essentially forced to figure out first person AAA game development on the fly as they went along.
This is a spoiler-free review.
Story: Mostly Intact
One of the highlights of the original game was the intriguing plot drenched in espionage and mystery. Surely the one thing that the developers of this remake cannot possibly mess up is the story which was already in place, right? Well sort of.
The version of this game which launched in 2020 began with an egregiously lazy and awkward scene in which an FBI agent watches the opening cutscene from the version of XIII launched in 2003 on a projector screen. It seems to have been included in some misplaced attempt to establish this universe to new players.
The failure to effectively establish a backstory to the forthcoming action should give you some idea as to just how lazy they were with that original remake. It also didn’t bode well for what was to follow it throughout the rest of the game.
In what appears to be an outstanding lack of care or respect for their audience, they literally pasted the exact same cutscene from almost two decades prior onto a projector screen and shipped it as a AAA experience in 2020. They clearly couldn’t be bothered to remodel or animate that opening sequence, so they called it an FBI dossier, whacked a grainy filter over the top of it and called it a day.
When playing through the XIII remake for review, I was disappointed to discover that this half-baked sequence is still present in the current-gen re-release. Re-watching it again recently just emphasised how stunted and cringe-inducing this misjudged attempt at an introduction is. The fact that they didn’t bother to properly remake this setup sequence for the re-release is disappointing.
After players push through the lazy intro sequence, for the most part the reused dialogue and story beats do still paint the outline of an interesting plot. The major way in which the story is lacking, (especially in comparison with the original game,) is in the pre-rendered cinematics. It is at this stage that you realise that it is perhaps a blessing in disguise that the game’s opening cinematic was left untampered with.
For whatever reason, PlayMagic decided to totally do away with the awesome 2D comic book cutscenes from the original game. They chose to replace them with awkwardly animated, pre-rendered cinematics using character models which look straight out of Fortnite. As you can imagine, they pale in comparison to the original versions.
Sadly, these far less engaging cinematics are included in this most recent re-release. The thing which makes their inclusion even worse is the jarring change of aesthetic of the pre-rendered cutscenes to the main game. This is because the rest of the game which is being rendered in real-time has had what is essentially a correction filter placed over it. The filter was added to the re-release so that the art style would more closely resemble that of the original game.
Cutting from the pop of the decent-looking visuals featured in the gameplay sequences to the flat, bland-looking visuals used in the cinematics is an abrupt reminder of the state that this game was released in. It totally distracts the player from whatever is happening in the cutscene. As I played through the XIII remake for review, those cinematics felt like relics, serving as sore reminders of a dumpster-fire that we would all rather forget.
Gameplay: Actually Playable
The improvements over the original state that this game was released in are undoubtedly most noticeable in the gameplay. Unlike how it was before Tower Five took over, walls now function as walls should, death animations don’t look like someone decided to lie down for a nap and enemies no longer glitch through the floor or turn into something from a David Cronenberg movie.
Yes, despite PlayMagic’s best attempt to make the XIII remake an unplayable mess, Tower Five has achieved the impossible and actually managed to get the game to function as it should. Whilst they should be commended for doing so, the fact that they are being commended for making a game playable and the fact that the game was initially released in a nearly unplayable state just goes to show the state of the modern gaming industry.
The enemy AI was a hugely negative factor when the game was first released in 2020. Thankfully, the AI has been improved a great deal since then. Enemies will now actively try to flank the player and use different combat tactics as opposed to standing in the corner of the room facing the wall whilst you mow down all of his buddies.
Many of the animations in the game have also been improved, including those previously awful death animations. Enemies now fall down dead in a smoother, more realistic manner. With that said though, there are still certain animations that still feel fairly stiff and stilted. The animation which plays when the player takes a hostage still looks particularly awkward.
At least Tower Five has undone the complete mistake of limiting how many weapons the player can carry at one time. This has been remedied using a weapon wheel and the remake also graciously includes all of the weapons from the original game. This means that enemies can be dispatched with everything from dual pistols, to a shotgun, to a crossbow, to an LMG.
Audio and Graphics: Cel-shaded Goodness
Other than moment to moment gameplay, the other significant improvement which I observed whilst playing the XIII remake for review was the visual aspect of the game. Unfortunately, I still do not think that this most recent version of the remake looks as good as the original game from 2003 and it is ridiculous that a 2022 title can’t match the aesthetic of a game that is almost twenty years old.
With that said though, whatever cel-shaded filter that Tower Five have put over the gameplay sections of the XIII remake is a vast improvement over how it looked before. The same character models which looked as flat and uninspired as a Fortnite character before, now have some pop to them and look a million times better. The visuals were such a huge part of the original game, so it was vital that this was remedied for the remake and for the most part, it has been.
As I touched on above, the significant difference between the two graphical styles is most evident in the pre-rendered cutscenes in the game, which unfortunately still use the old look. They serve as an embarrassing relic of a past mistake which has hung over this project for the last two years. The only positive takeaway from these sequences is that their inclusion will hopefully serve as a stark reminder of how not to design the visuals of your game.
Out of all of the components which make up the XIII remake, it is probably the audio which felt like the most dated element when I was playing through it for review. One of the only things salvaged from the original game were the voice acting files. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Sure, it would have felt weird to have someone other than David Duchovny voicing XIII, but hearing those recordings again is a sore reminder of how poor voice acting standards were back in the day. For most of the game, he sounds like a robot who is dead inside, clearly reading lines from a script with minimal effort. Rapper Eve doesn’t fare much better either.
With that said, it is phenomenal to have the voice of the late, great Adam West included in the remake. His performance provides a much needed, bombastically cheesy nature which is much needed. His pantomime performance fits in perfectly with the game’s retro, comic book aesthetic.
Outside of the voice acting, the other audio components of the game are somewhat questionable. The original game was notable for having a jazzy soundtrack reminiscent of classic spy movies. Due to the sound mixing being all over the place in this remake, that soundtrack has been turned way down to be barely audible underneath the overly loud voice acting.
The lack of ambient background noise in the remake is also notable and again this is something which wasn’t an issue in the original. When I was playing through the XIII remake for review, there were multiple instances where there was no audio playing at all. And not even in quieter scenes, even in intense moments when I was holding a hostage, the silence between gunshots was deafening.
The XIII remake was reviewed on PS5, with a review key provided by Microids.