Ever since I started this blog and started having more frequent conversations about mystery/puzzle/game topics with my husband, he has been constantly wanting to reference The X-Files Game, an adventure game based on The X-Files TV series which he played a lot as a kid but I had never heard of. We finally got around to playing it together a few weeks ago, finishing it up this week, and I really, really enjoyed it!
The X-Files Game came out for PC in 1998, and Playstation in 1999. It’s a point-and-click adventure game with a unique visual style—all the settings and characters are real, using photos for the locations and extensive amounts of live-action video for the player’s interactions with other characters and important plot points. It’s really a lot like playing a choose-your-own-adventure version of a TV episode, which I’m sure is what the developers were hoping for.
In this game, agents Mulder and Scully have gone missing. You play as Seattle FBI agent Craig Willmore, assigned to investigate their disappearance. Your investigation takes you to lots of different spooky locations and introduces you to colorful characters, including several cameos by characters from the show.
The progression of the game really does feel like an FBI investigation (or at least a TV episode of one), and not just a point-and-click game with an FBI investigation theme slapped on top. You have to think logically and make responsible decisions with the items in your inventory (one of which is a gun), all while being aware of your surroundings and being careful who to trust. The video footage makes interactions with other characters feel real, and those characters feel less like cardboard cut-outs waiting for you to act. You get e-mails, phonecalls, and faxes throughout the game, and in general it somehow feels like the world is turning and things are happening independent of you, the “hero”, and that makes the game’s world feel so much more real and immersive. I really wasn’t expecting the gameplay to be worth noting, but I think they did a really good job overall. I would love to play another game like this one, and I kept imagining how cool a Twin Peaks game in this style would have been.
Of course, the game does suffer from several design flaws. As with any point-and-click adventure, it can be really hard just to get around. Even in the opening location of the game, the FBI field office, I found myself quite disoriented as the rooms were laid out in a very unintuitive way. This problem cropped up again and again, and was compounded by the need to sometimes search every nook and cranny of a room and find the right perspective to see a key object. I’m sure part of the reason for this problem was that the developers used several real-world locations in the game and were confined to the layout of those locations, but I think a little more effort could have been made to make the settings a little more logical in the player’s limited perspective. Navigation is often a challenge in these types of games, but does it really have to be?
There are also a few parts in the game where it’s hard to determine the next step, either because the game isn’t being very clear, it wants you to do something you haven’t really done yet in the game (like use a certain item), a key object is too well-hidden or hard to access, or some combination of all of these factors. Between the tricky navigation and the narrative-driven gameplay, it can be really easy to get completely stuck.
Fortunately, the game handles this problem beautifully, providing several options to keep you moving along. First is the PDA in your inventory. Your character keeps detailed notes on all the major events of the game as they happen, so you can always check back on the name of that guy you met or what your character said he needed to do next. Second, you can always go back to your field office and ask your boss for help on the case. He’ll “review your notes” and give you a hint about where you might have missed something. Lastly, the game has an optional feature called “artificial intuition” which provides more direct visual feedback and hints about the next step. (Luckily, we only had to use that option once!) I really liked the way the game gave several options for hints, neither giving them too explicitly nor leaving the player stranded.
Full disclosure, I’ve never actually seen an episode of The X-Files, so I can’t say anything about this game in relation to its franchise. But Nick says it was fun to see the real actors from the show appear in the game, and to feel like you were working on a case under Walter Skinner. I can say that this game has probably been the final push I need to start on the entire 9-season X-Files catalog waiting on Netflix Instant Queue.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I didn’t really expect much going in, especially since I’m not a big fan of the show or anything (hopefully that will change soon!), but it turned out to be super entertaining. You can actually pick up the original version on Amazon and eBay, and it seems to be compatible with today’s machines with a little tweaking. If the price seems high, remember this game is 3.5 gigs across 7 discs and features performances by award-winning actors and actresses! If you’re not convinced, maybe this sweet promo video will win you over: