No Sense of Self
The story of amnesia victim Steve Rowland, who awakens one day having survived an assassination attempt with his life but little else, has never been fully told to English-speaking audiences. Originally a French comic book series, every attempt at a full translation ends abruptly for various reasons; even the video game and TV adaptations cover but partial ground of the full original plot. It’s enough to make one suspect the involvement of foul play – much like the shadowy governmental, Robert Ludlum-esque conspiracies of the story, it almost seems as if the powers that be do not want the entirety of the plot to be disseminated amongst English-speaking populations.
Ironically, the story of the man who struggles to piece back together the veiled parts of his own past will continue to remain shrouded in mystery despite French developer Anuman Interactive’s recent crack at the XIII franchise. Titled XIII: Lost Identity, the game is no sequel to Ubisoft’s well-received 2003 first-person shooter starring David Duchovny. Instead, it is a re-treading of the same plot already familiar to anybody who’s played that first title, but this time having assumed the identity of a hidden object puzzler. Knowing that, story-wise, no new ground will be covered with this entry, it then remains to judge the game on its own terms, disregarding the previous game’s history. Sadly, even in this regard, Lost Identity clocks in as a sub-par distraction rather than a full-fledged experience.
The seek-n-find sections of Lost Identity are obviously the meat of the game, and, given the fact that the plot is a retread, the place where the developer could have made plus points with engaging puzzles, lively environmental scenes, and varied pixel-hunts requiring a high level of scrutiny and out-of-the-box thinking. Instead, what emerged is an extremely simplified collection of screens, requiring you to click on obviously placed and inane items, all of which is interspersed with a handful of whack-a-mole and block-sliding minigames.
To call the core hidden object gameplay a pixel hunt is giving it too much credit. Sure, the hidden items in games of this ilk can’t all be masterfully concealed, but Lost Identity doesn’t seem to even try at any kind of scavenger hunt feel; objects are often large and placed right in the foreground, just waiting to be clicked on, and are rarely if ever truly hidden. Is a clue woven into the pattern of the curtains? No. Does the wallpaper cleverly conceal a vital piece of the puzzle. Uh-uh. For the most part, everything you’re looking for is right where you’d expect it to be. Birds and airplanes are likely in the sky, boats exclusively on the water, etc. I know that realism is important in some games, but in a hidden object search-a-thon, looking in unexpected places is usually part of the charm.
Making matters worse, about half of the already mundane search tasks don’t require any actual searching at all. Navigating through the game’s world often takes you to a map screen, from which you must access the next location. But rather than making you work for it, a blinking map marker is always displayed, leaving absolutely no opportunity for clue-hunting. Each location is represented with a static screenshot, in which objects and items are placed. But whereas most games of this genre oversaturate the screen with jumbles and piles of items to sift through, in XIII: Lost Identity, if it’s on the screen, you’ll need to click on it. While at the army base, you may notice jeeps, walkie-talkies, rifles, and helmets lying around. You will soon be tasked with clicking on each of them in turn – no real searching required.
A Good Story Squandered
While the meat of the gameplay offers up far less entertainment than the competition, the game has one thing going for it: the built-in entertainment value inherent from the interesting source material. As already stated, the plot is basically a retread of what’s been included in the previous game, but having been released a good eight years after its predecessor, there’s a good chance many gamers will be new to the events of the story.
While Lost Identity has a more engaging story driving it along than do other games of its kind, it isn’t always done justice through the perfunctory dialog delivered by static cutout characters. New characters appear throughout the game, often lacking any kind of proper introduction or background build-up. Chief of these is the player’s meeting with Walter Sheridan, brother of the assassinated President. His appearance in the game is literally heralded by a line similar to “Let’s go meet Wally Sheridan; he’ll help us out.” Without any kind of prior knowledge of the story, it becomes at times difficult to maintain an interest in the convoluted plot of double-crosses and shady dealings, and the elementary dialog doesn’t carry enough of the character’s intent across to the player.
XIII’s eventual love interest, Jones, is another out-of-the-blue plot development that is about as subtle as being smashed in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle. The lack of connection between the characters is due in equal part to the stilted, sometimes oddly translated dialog; the static personalities (XIII’s approach to romance is a subtle dropping of cringeworthy one-liners, coupled with a distinct ’80s porn creep look); and the baffling lack of spoken dialog – yeah, it’s a small title, but replaying the same story with silent characters eight years after it was done with voice-acting seems like a huge step backwards.
The Final Verdict
Revisiting a previously published story in a much less popular format is puzzling in itself, unless perhaps to appeal to a (much) more casual audience. But with puzzles that include clicking names in a written list as they appear on-screen and matching simple single and alternating color patterns, there is absolutely zero challenge involved in proceeding through this game. In fact, the only instance I had any trouble finishing a puzzle was when I couldn’t find an object because I didn’t recognize the word it was named by.
The pieces for XIII: Lost Identity to be an entertaining yet simple seek ‘n’ find title were all there, but somehow what we got is about two hours worth (the extreme brevity being of special note) of no-thought-required hidden object puzzles coupled with a worthwhile story that just misses out on any sense of depth or believability due to an unappealing and archaic presentation. Had this been a continuation of the already existing story, it would have received a bit more credit, but as it stands, there’s really no reason to go with this game instead of searching for a copy of the old console title and giving that one another whirl.