XIII Classic – available again on GOG.com

I got a newsletter from GOG.com today, and in it was XIII – listed as “new”. Which is weird, because some reviews on the site date back to 2012. It looks like this title was unavailable for many years. I know this because as it happens, I’ve been looking for this very PC version for several years. I’m glad we can legally own it once again! Let me explain a bit more.

I used to love XIII back in the day, both for PC and consoles. I played the Xbox version when it came out, and have consequently bought the PC version (on CD, for only 99 pence back at HMV on Oxford Street, when they had it on sale). The graphical style attracted me, as did the intriguing story line. I had always wished for a sequel, but it never materialised (not counting the ghastly iOS “hidden object” version they made in 2011).

Years went by, I moved continents, and I lost my 99p copy of XIII. But I never forgot this game. One day I picked up the GameCube version to play on my old Wii, and that version just doesn’t compare to the thrill of the PC version, which has its own kind of magic. The comic-like insets of closeups when you shoot an enemy far away, superb (yet sparse) voice acting by David Duchovny and Adam West, the dramatic and adaptive soundtrack, the variety of levels, it truly was ahead of its time.

By today’s standards and viewing habits, we may look back at this thing and find the animations crude, the cutscenes pixelated and the aspect ratio of 4:3 on a 16:9 monitor seriously out of place. At the same time, we can see how far video games and interactive entertainment has come in over 15 years, and I for one think that preserving a version like this is an important step in video game history.

XIII was ahead of its time. It defined that the “shooter genre” was capable of more that just senseless murdering for geeks. It was cinematic. It was something to watch and play at the same time.

Written with the Unreal 2 engine, XIII was released back in 2003 for all major consoles at the time (original Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube), as well as Windows and what is now macOS. Due to the varying graphic capabilities and controllers, each version was slightly different so that players would have the same engrossing gaming experience, something that is often forgotten in game development. For example, enemies move slightly slower for console players, and faster for desktop players. Hardware with network connectivity would get the multiplayer features, including the GameCube version.

A remake of this title is due to come out for current generation consoles and Windows in 2020. I can’t wait! I wonder if publishing this version right now is a somewhat crude attempt to generate additional cashflow. Or maybe we’re given this original game now to make up for the fact that the remake has been delayed, so we can get in the XIII mood in the meantime. I wonder how we’ll be able to tell this version apart from the remake? Will it have different title? Or just XIII Remake? Only time will tell.

Granted, for the current PC version here on GOG.com (Version 1.0) there’s no native 16:9 support, but like a previous reviewer suggested, there are easy to add patches from the PC Gaming Wiki (thanks for the tip, Rodrigues520). Cloud saves are enabled though, and without patches you’ll get resolutions between 640×480 and up to 1280×960. PCs and consoles couldn’t handle much more than that in 2003 anyway. We also get Multiplayer support, but whose servers are used to play with others I cannot tell you. I’m not a multiplayer kinda guy.

Sadly there’s no native game controller support in this version, so if you’d like to play with such a device (like I do), you’ll have to map the keys with a utility like Xpadder. It’s like pressing the keys with your game pad. Not ideal, but it works.

Although far from perfect, I’m so glad that this original version is available again for those who care. I’ve been looking for years to get my hands on a legal version, and I’m glad we have it here on GOG.com. I give it 4 out of 5 stars for lack of controller support and lack of higher resolutions beyond 1280×960. Other than that, it’s a magical experience I’m glad to re-live.

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