One could hardly have missed The X-Files, the hit TV show, which catapulted David Duchovny (Fox Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully) to fame in the early nineties, as two truth-seeking FBI Agents who were bent on determining the existence of aliens and exposing governmental corruption. The show became a cultural phenomenon, spawning nine seasons, a major motion picture and enough merchandise to fill the whole of Area 51. In 1998, The X-Files Game was released, promising to immerse the player in an interactive episode of this cult sci-fi saga.
The game opens with Special Agent Craig Willmore being drafted in to locate the renegade agents Mulder and Scully, who have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Clues lead Willmore to an abandoned warehouse, with the plot soon escalating to include a smuggling ring, unexplained cases of radiation poisoning, governmental cover-ups and the possibility of alien visitation. The search for Mulder and Scully drags Willmore into a search for the Truth, littered with shadowy informants, duplicitous double agents and intense paranoia.
From the outset, this game oozes style. The admittedly lengthy installation process (the game is spread over seven CDs) is complimented by an illuminating voice-over by Dana Scully on the basic premise of The X-Files. Even the packaging is stylish, with the game’s seven CDs presented in a file-cabinet type wallet, while the manual adds a degree of authenticity in providing an FBI code of conduct and background information on your character.
The interface is similarly slick. The game alternates between first-person photographic stills supplemented by additional animation and seamless third person FMV sequences. Although using similar technology to Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within, in The X-Files Game the cutscenes are more smoothly connected to the main action of the game, in contrast to the slight disjointedness of cutscenes in Gabriel Knight II. Furthermore, the locations selected by the designers, from FBI offices to secret military facilities, really helps to create the look and feel of the series. This immersive quality is enhanced by an unobtrusive interface, with a central window in which a smart pointer highlights spots of interest. Inventory is available by clicking on the bottom half of the screen, while exploring the area above the central window enables you to return to the main menu. Mark Snow, who was responsible for creating the musical themes in The X-Files, was wisely hired by designers to capture the same eerie quality as the programme, composing ambient looped themes and sound effects which enhance the atmospheric quality of gameplay.
The X-Files Game devotes a great deal of effort to providing an authentic experience as an FBI Agent. Therefore the puzzles which this game comprises are generally of a highly logical nature, centering on interviewing suspects, investigating crime scenes, conducting stake-outs and researching possible leads. To complete these tasks, Willmore is armed with an arsenal of high-tech gadgetry, including a lock-pick, binoculars, flashlight, night vision goggles, cell-phone and PDA. This personal digital assistant allows navigation between locations, remote email access and helpfully records notes on the case as you progress, which you can access later. Although the game is highly linear, it is designed to make the player feel firmly in control. In certain situations you can select an emotion for Willmore to respond with, from “angry” to “serious” or “funny” and the branching dialogue trees allow you to decide who you can and cannot trust. There is however a pleasing degree of realism, so that characters will ask to see your FBI identification before answering questions, and abusing your cell-phone will result in receiving an email about wasting Bureau resources! It is these small flourishes that provide the realism necessary to offset the surreal and paranormal in the game, rendering it believable. Unfortunately sometimes the crime scene investigation sequences are reduced to mere pixel hunts, as in the early stages of the game where you are required to search an abandoned warehouse for evidence. The dark environments and depth of detail in the photographic stills presents a particularly arduous task. Fortunately this was anticipated by game designers, and offset with the inclusion of an Artificial Intuition function, an icon which glows blue at certain points and provides hints on how to continue. This field work is interspersed by action sequences -- a necessary evil in the life of any Special Agent. Fortunately these are clearly sign-posted with adjustable difficulty to suit individual preferences, and will pose few problems, even to the most dedicated adventure purist.
One of the major criticisms of The X-Files Game is the decision to use an original character as the central protagonist, while limiting interaction with Mulder and Scully who are conveniently ‘missing’ for the first part of the game. This intervention is actually a blessing in disguise, providing newcomers with the opportunity to be acquainted with the murky world of The X-Files at the same time as Willmore. Jordan Lee Williams (Willmore) gives an excellent performance in his portrayal of a divorced civil-war enthusiast, increasingly bewildered as he is drawn deeper and deeper into a world of conspiracy and danger. With a story concept by series creator Chris Carter, the plot utilises various elements of X-Files mythology, but in a way that is accessible to non-fans. However, if terms such as ‘Black Cancer’ and ‘Extra-terrestrial Biological Entity’ mean nothing to you, you’ll miss out on the vast barrage of in-jokes, designed directly for the devoted fans. Fox Interactive is distinguished from many companies marketing franchise games, in that it never forgets its fan-base, with cameo appearances from season regulars including the Lone Gunmen, Assistant Director Skinner and the mysterious informant X.
The game’s major failing is its length, with seven CDs yielding relatively little content, and a game easily completed in twelve to fifteen hours. It is also plagued by the curse of other FMV games in terms of strict linearity, where actions must be completed in a certain order for the gamer to progress. Although the seasoned fan may be tempted to return to the game in search of further references and in-jokes, it offers few incentives for non-fans in terms of re-playability.
The X-Files Game will delight fans of the series by placing them wholly inside a world of lies and conspiracy, complete with a torrent of in-jokes and interaction with their favourite series regulars. Even non-fans will enjoy this spooky sci-fi romp, due to its slick interface, gripping plot-line and highly immersive quality. This franchise game succeeds in appealing both to established fans and the wider market, while stretching the limits of FMV technology. As an interactive episode of The X-Files the game is an undeniable success, and that’s The Truth.