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XIII Remake is 'the room' for video games

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XIII had a complicated life. The comic-turned-videogame ended with a glaring cliffhanger and next to nothing to follow it for two console generations. That is, until Playlogic’s ill-fated remake, which was such a mess that publisher Microids hired a new developer, Tower Five, to rework the remake into something playable. Even better, it would feature online multiplayer, restored mechanics cut from the original game, and full visual redux to better match the original game. but better. Was it worth the wait?


Oh darn Nope! But in a weird way, it’s okay.

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I made peace with XIII Remake (technically it’s now XIII Remake: Remake, but who’s counting?) being barely functional media. In fact, I like it that way. The closer this latest update brought it to basic skills, the less entertaining it became. That’s not how it should work, but every generation of every media needs its Bedroomand XIII Remake might just be the one for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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XIII Remake is beautifully broken. It’s like navigating an abstract art installation that’s accidentally a puzzle game. You don’t play the sections like you’re supposed to, but you still have to do it to reach the end. For example, instead of using a cannon mounted in a turret section, you simply sit behind the object you are supposed to protect because it is more invulnerable than you. Load guns into a stealth section to protect alarms like it’s a King of the Hill match in Halo, or smash everyone as they point their guns so far at your nose that they cut your face when you’re supposed to pass through corridors so as not to kill anyone.

When we inevitably reach the point where there’s an AI that can just generate game code like Midjourney generates images, that’s the kind of release I expect. It’s close enough to a working game that you absolutely can play it. Yet the impetus to do so arose only out of the finest morbid curiosity. It’s not eurojank – it’s a real train wreck that you can explore at your leisure. It’s the kind of game that, at launch, puts more detail on a deer’s genitalia than combat balance. Yeah, really, that’s a thing, and it’s not even the weirdest occurrence I’ve had with the game’s non-hostile wildlife.

The update improves balance, for what it’s worth. The guns hit hard and have vastly improved sound effects, and the enemy AI is also so comically inaccurate now that the threat they once posed as AK-47 strap-on roombas has been negated in utter incompetence. You’ll see men shooting shotguns at you from a building out of cover, the bullets visibly flying so far around you that there’s no way they’ll hit you. This game operates on its own pseudo-logic which is downright odd. It’s probably the closest thing to a Naked Gun tie-in game (David Duchovny’s deadpan voiceover is even a fitting stand-in for the late Leslie Nielsen).

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What’s less of a laugh riot are the new shaders they’ve included in addition to retexturing each element. The textures are great. The shader is not. Look at this canyon:

This level it hurts watch now. The staggering amount of excessive detail is absurd, serving as a perfect example of why most cel-shaded games simply add a single broad outline around entire objects, not each individual crack. Borderlands didn’t add a thick, inky line to every detail for a reason. I wish they’d spent some time fixing the enemy AI or at least their animations rather than…this. Every rock in this canyon stands out as a blatant attack on artistic design. Even a comic book artist would say that so much detail is too much. And it wasn’t so bad before. Look at the same level, pre-patch:

Sometimes less really is more. Especially when talking about giant dazzling outlines added to every edge of any object in view.

Speaking of things no one asked for, there are somehow more physics bugs, which means you can get stuck in geometry in whole new places! Your weapon loadout now resets every level, while other aspects are completely unchanged. Each cutscene is still pre-rendered in low resolution with the remake’s early art style, which creates a strange dissonance between cutscene and gameplay, while multiplayer is an absolute ghost town with only one mode available. The resulting game is a chimera of different teams desperately trying to complete a project that unfortunately has little chance of landing successfully. At this point, the bugs are part of the feature list.

XIII Remake, as difficult as Microids tried to save it, is apparently beyond all hope of redemption short of a complete rebuild. Their overall lineup of recent games has actually been pretty solid, from Syberia: The World Before to adaptations like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s easy to see why they would want to polish their one flaw. XIII on paper is the perfect candidate for a modern remake, but Playlogic literally just rebuilt the same 6th-gen levels without any tweaks, let alone adding a base trim level. Tower Five brought the textures and gunplay up to speed, but it’s still the same static levels that are so brief you can play the whole game in one sitting.

What’s fairly faithful to fans of the original feels dated, and what’s new is incredibly pedestrian by modern FPS standards. The art style is sometimes both an upgrade and a downgrade depending on the level. The reduced difficulty certainly makes playing easier but only serves to speed you up before exploring the potential of any scenario. Only by being so thoroughly laughable through glitches and bugs can you really get anything out of it. I appreciate the dedication Microids has brought to XIII, but at this point a sequel would be better than trying to fix this game further.

The original is still available to its fans, and this remake is just here for a good lark. It’s the absolute gold of comedy. If you want a “so bad it’s good” game, there’s little better on the market, though of course that comes with the stipulation that you buy it on sale, because $30 are far too high for this level of nonsense. It truly is one of the most hilarious experiences I have ever had, if not absolutely the thrill ride it was meant to be.

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