The X-Files Game

To be frank, before I played The X-Files, I didn't know Mulder from Scully from Bullwinkle the Moose.

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To be frank, before I played The X-Files, I didn't know Mulder from Scully from Bullwinkle the Moose. Prior to playing this game I had neither seen the Fox series nor was I caught up in the hyperbole it encourages among its fans. Even after having completed this game and having finally watched a few episodes of the series, I still don't "get" what that intangible is that endears this show to millions of fanatic viewers. But it has captivated my curiosity and I would guess that is all that matters. Quite simply, with the exception of Gabriel Knight 2, this is the finest full motion video game on the market today. But is that a commendation or, considering the limitations of full motion video, a denouncement? Probably a little of both.

After a short intro featuring Scully and Mulder, the player assumes the identity of FBI agent Craig Willmore, a divorced Civil War buff. You are put in charge of finding two agents (guess who) from Washington, D.C. who have strangely disappeared while investigating a mysterious case. During the course of your investigation, you will elicit help from a female agent, have a simple search lead to shady dealings on the waterfront, stumble across a government conspiracy and, finally, team up with Mulder and Scully for the conclusion of the game, replete with aliens. While the plot eventually is involving, it drags on much too slowly for the first half of the game. The storyline gets a B+.

To aid you in your search, you are issued a host of nifty gadgets. Your inventory includes a cellular phone preprogrammed with speed dial numbers. A handheld Newton 2000 Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA, that is multi-functional. The PDA allows you to navigate the game location, send and receive e-mail and access your field notes and address database (I wouldn't mind having one of these myself!). Plus, you have night binoculars, a camera, a lockpick and other assorted high-tech gadgetry. What is most impressive about your inventory is that you can use any item, any time, anywhere. So even though I took about 40 useless pictures and then downloaded them during the course of the game, it was great that I was able to do so at my whim and not feel like the game was controlling my every action.Ease of inventory control: A.

The X-Files comes on seven CDs, and there is no disk swapping. This accounts for the high-quality, letterboxed digital video that lends the game a cinematic feel. You can choose to play with or without your inventory displayed at the bottom of the screen or with or without text captions. With the captions and inventory turned off, you would swear that you were viewing an interactive version of the television show on your monitor. But, along with this cinematic feel comes realism and, you guessed it, the dreaded action scene. Actually, they do add a nice touch to game. It is aggravating at first to attempt to shoot and kill the "bad guys," but once you realize that you have unlimited chances to continue from the same spot with no penalty in your progress for getting killed yourself, these scenes then lost their urgency. Action sequences: B-.

Unfortunately, though, the majority of the interactive segments are never more complicated than clicking on everything you see and at times playing hunt the pixel. When you speak with or interrogate other characters or suspects, you often view a static, photorealistic background to which there has usually been added some animation, such as rippling water or swaying trees, that adds a nice touch to the scene. Your cursor is context-sensitive, so as you move it around the screen it changes according to the appropriate action. The character conversations, comprised of extensive dialogue trees, are not very interactive. No matter what question you ask, and there are a wide variety to choose from, it eventually elicits the same response. To make things a bit more interesting, since the game is so dialogue-heavy, there are three different styles of questions. There is the traditional dialogue tree, or there are pictures of evidence in the top left of your screen that you can click on when you are questioning someone, or you can use emotion-based icons. These permit you to choose a type--angry, serious or humorous--of response. Thankfully, this option is available very little in the game as it never seemed to alter in any way the course of play. Full motion video: A+.

The acting in The X-Files is, as it should be, top-notch. Many of the characters in the game are regulars from the series. Even Jordan Lee Williams (Agent Willmore) and Paige White (Agent Astadourian), who are not series regulars, give bravo performances. As mentioned previously, you will feel as though you are guiding an interactive episode of the series. But this game lacks the small things that, if included, would have greatly improved the atmosphere and the playability of the game. There are sections of the game that just scream for some ambient sound effects. There are times, such as when you are interrogating the harbor master, that you can hear the water lapping against the shore or the distant sound of thunder, but there is not enough of these moments. An early scene in a warehouse would be immensely improved if you could hear the sound of your footsteps creaking across the wooden floor. Second, due to the limitations of full motion video, there really are no extraneous clips. Again in the warehouse, what is supposed to be a suspenseful scene, your spying on the bad guys, eventually becomes a boring pixel hunt. This could have been a "make you jump out of your seat" moment if only a stray cat would have screeched in front of you or if you accidentally bumped into and knocked over a barrel or board. A cheap thrill, yes, but it also would have been very effective. The music, like the sound effects, only appears sporadically. Usually at key moments. Never long enough to stick in your mind. While the acting receives an A+, the music and sound effects both get a grade of C.

Probably the biggest negative aspect of The X-Files is the short length of gameplay. A seasoned adventurer will, since the puzzles are usually so linear, finish this in under 12 hours (and I did). But even a novice will not have a hard time due to the Agent Artificial Intuition guidance system. This is a blue light in the upper right corner of the screen. It can be animated (you are in the exact location of something important), lit (there is something important in the environment, but not at your exact location), or dim (there is nothing else to be done in the area). This really is a welcome touch, but it makes an already easy game even easier. Length of gameplay: D.

Finally, I have some suggestions and some questions for Gary Sheinwald, the producer. I realize that The X-Files takes itself very seriously, but some Easter eggs on the order of those found in Black Dahlia would have been a welcome touch. Lighten up a little. Why is the game set in the year 1996? As far as I know, there was never an explanation offered. I know there are many "in" jokes in the game that I never caught, but they did not seem to hinder my gaming experience, and I am sure they increased the enjoyment for fans of the TV show. I have read other reviewers complaining about not being able to play as Mulder or Scully, but I would rather play alongside them than actually be their characters. Most important of all, what is the deal with the inside of the box? The first copy I bought had the inside of the box ripped and Scotch-taped back together. I returned it to the store I had purchased it from and gave them hell for selling me a rewrapped returned product as new. When I got my new one opened, the same rip in the same place! I then posted to one of the newsgroups, and it seems others were encountering the same problem. Is this just another unexplained conspiracy mystery in the X-Files mythology?

If you're a fan of the show, and even if you are not, you will enjoy this game. It is excellently done, if you keep in mind the limitations of full motion video. I suspect that the casual gamer would enjoy The X-Files a lot more than the hardcore computer adventurer who has cut his or her teeth on the Zorks of the world. If Fox were to release a sequel that was a little less linear, had more difficult puzzles and doubled the playing time, I suspect they would have a classic on their hands. In fact, the thought crossed my mind while playing that an X-Files script written by Chris Carter and programmed by the Gabriel Knight team could be the adventurer's ultimate dream game. Imagine, a game that played like Gabriel Knight, but set in the world of The X-Files ...

Final Grade: B-

System Requirements:

PC:
Windows 95 or 98
Pentium 120 (166 recommended)
16 MB RAM
250 MB free hard drive space
4X CD-ROM drive (8X recommended)
100% Windows 95-compatible sound card
100% Windows 95-compatible mouse

Macintosh:
Power Mac 120 MHz (180 MHz recommended)
OS 7.1 or later
250 MB free hard drive space
12 MB free RAM
4X CD-ROM (8X recommended)
Thousands of colors (millions of colors recommended)

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