Kicking off a month of special Random Selects celebrating the spooky, macabre and generally supernatural in games is a look at the first stab at translating one of the geek touchstones of the 90s.
The Game: The X-Files Game
Developer: HyperBole Studios
Publisher: Fox Interactive
System: PC, Playstation, Mac
Buy It On Amazon: HERE
The Premise: Seattle-based FBI agent Craig Willmore is tasked by Assistant Director Skinner to track down Mulder and Scully, who were last seen in the Everett, Washington area. Partnered with police detective/potential love interest Mary Astadourian, Willmore acquires a mysterious weapon from a shadowy agent and encounters a sinister black oil that seems to be becoming pretty important to the franchise. Snarking and sexual chemistry ensues. Willmore starts out a skeptic. That doesn’t last long. Throw in a few cameos and you have something to tide fans over till the movie while not really doing anything of lasting importance.
Is it any good? While technically impressive at the time, these days The X-Files Game would probably only appeal to either hardcore X-Files lorehounds or fans of simplistic FMV adventure games – in other words, a very small market indeed. The FMV fad of the 1990s could be seen as the gaming industry’s first stab at making inroads into what would come to be known as the casual market. Designed for non-gamers who were assumed to be more interested in simple games with cinematic visuals than the more traditionally stylized and mechanics-heavy fare enjoyed by gamers, they ended up coming across more like the interactive equivalent of mixing your drinks: a great idea at the time, but ultimately ending in vomit. The X-Files Game was one of the last outings for the genre, and as such boasted a video quality miles above the postage stamp-sized pixelrama of your Night Traps et al.
The problem was, the gameplay hadn’t seen the same degree of evolution. While it had some quite prescient elements, most notably the multiple-response dialogue system that could influence other characters’ attitudes and lead to one of several possible endings to the game (Sound familiar?) it was still the same old clunky FMV fare with flatline pacing, insta-death around every corner and rage-inducing puzzles. In fact, the game’s opening puzzle, which tasked Willmore with working out the password for his own workstation, was so confusing Fox Interactive ended up simply posting the answer on their own website.
The game also suffered from the absence of Mulder and Scully, who don’t turn up at all until late in the game (And even then as NPCs) due to Duchovny and Anderson working on Fight the Future at the time. Of course, you may speculate that it may have occurred to them (And/or their agents) that working on a major motion picture release was far more gamorous and lucrative than turning up for some silly video game thing on a much lower budget, with a script that didn’t really push the narrative forward and directed by a bunch of game developers with no previous filmmaking experience – but that would just make you a big nasty cynic, and damn your black heart for even thinking such a thing.
It’s an undeniable problem, though. As the show itself would later prove, you take away Mulder and Scully and you remove the heart and spine of The X-Files, and Tropey McCypher and Detective Mightshag make for poor substitutes. Also problematic is the alien/black oil angle, which purports to elaborate on lore already established in the show, anticipating a film that itself does the same job only with more actual elaboration. While it worked as a story tease at the time, the game was a narrative wheel-spin that became utterly redundant once the film released and these days is of negligible use even to the most enthusiastic of lore fans.
Bonus Points: The production of the game was notoriously difficult (Covered in impressive detail in retrospectives by Edge and Gamasutra) with Fox continually interfering with the project. Even the developers’ first meeting with Chris Carter started on a bum note, with Carter skeptically kicking off proceedings by asking “What can you do that I can’t?”. Carter quickly changed his tune, providing the game’s story along with producer Frank Spotnitz.
The game is set sometime in Season Three of the show, somewhere between the episodes ‘Piper Maru’ and ‘Wetwired’. Where it sits precisely in the timeline, however, has never been confirmed.
A second X-Files game, 2004’s Resist or Serve, took the more traditional route of aping Resident Evil. It was released on PS2 to poor reviews, leading to a planned Xbox version getting cancelled.
MOAR LIKE THIS PLZ: Night Trap, The 7th Guest, Myst, The X-Files: Resist or Serve