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Video Games I’d Like to See: The X-Files
Welcome to the second iteration of video games Flynn would like to see (and you should too). This time around I’ll be tackling something a little bit more ambitious than The Bigs 3; this time the video game I’d like to see is The X-Files.
I love The X-Files, so much so that for the last few months I have been working my way through the entire series (including movies) from start to finish. Of course I watched the series here and there as a kid and distinctly remember being kept up at night by a few episodes (“Home” in particular was one I found the most frightening), but my interest wasn’t really piqued until I was reintroduced to the series two years ago in a Gothic lit class. A whole week of the course was devoted to the series, during which time we watched the aforementioned episode “Home” and talked about the series as a whole—it’s overarching canon, its inspirations, how it covers a number of genres, and whether it was post-modern or post-post-modern. My yearning for The X-Files was rekindled, and lucky for me, the series has since been added to Netflix.
Over the course of watching the show, I have time and again found myself thinking about how it would make a great video game. This has been done twice before: The first attempt was a point and click adventure game that was released on PC and PS1, in 1998 and 1999, respectively. It was simply titled The X-Files Game and played like an interactive episode where the player took control of Agent Craig Willimore searching for the missing Mulder and Scully. Unfortunately the game was criticized for both gameplay and story elements (like the fact that you could control neither Mulder nor Scully). Fast forward five years later and The X-Files: Resist or Serve appears on the PS2 as a survival horror game. Whereas The X-Files Game placed the player in the shoes of a new agent, The X-Files: Resist or Serve lets the player play as either Mulder or Scully, with specific puzzles and story elements tailored to whomever the player chooses, in an intertwining narrative set sometime during the series’ seventh season. This second game received more praise than the former but sold fewer than 200,000 units (sales figures were unavailable for The X-Files Game).
Critics praised The X-Files: Resist or Serve for its tight-knit, compelling narrative, but took issue with the game’s controls. After watching a video of the introduction, I can see why. The story does seem interesting and tries to stay true to elements of the (show such as the familiar banter between Mulder (the believer) and Scully (the sceptic) debating the supposed supernatural). But once the game puts you in the shoes of the one of the agents, it is hard not to notice the clunky controls and fixed camera angles which aren’t the most player friendly (I should mention though that this seemed to be a hallmark of the survival horror genre prior to Resident Evil 4). Despite the game’s strong narrative, such shoddy mechanics would not be tolerated by today’s gamers who are, for example, used to having control over the camera.
This is where a new The X-Files game could come along, one that marries a strong narrative with strong gameplay mechanics. I think that this new iteration should take inspiration from games like Condemned (another series that needs a new entry) and L.A. Noire. Both games involve investigating crime scenes in ways that add to, rather than take away from, gameplay. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for the whole detective thing, but I really enjoyed examining crime scenes in both, and would love to see such a gameplay mechanic make its way into a new X-Files game.
Of the two detective games, it would seem obvious to align The X-Files more closely with Condemned, as both weave the paranormal into their respective narratives, but I think that a new The X-Files game could potentially gain more by taking inspiration from L.A. Noire. Investigating and interrogating were a huge part of L.A. Noire, and while some may feel it was a bit overdone, they were still enjoyable sequences. Now imagine those gritty interrogations transplanted into a game that involves the supernatural: infinitely more intriguing? Imagine applying the intricate detective methods of L.A. Noire as you play Dana Scully autopsying the vic of what appears to be a simple animal attack, but is in reality something much, much more sinister. The investigation sequences in L.A. Noire were like a puzzle, each clue adding a new piece; you would want to keep that in mind as you played Mulder uncovering, piece by piece, a vast conspiracy that can only build your suspense and fear.
Another reason that I think taking cues from L.A. Noire might be more fruitful is because of its story design. In The X-Files you deal with only a handful of episodes that serve as the series’ main canon, while the rest are unrelated (sometimes loosely), stand alone, monster-of-the-week episodes, which I think is better suited to the way L.A. Noire’s story was designed. In L.A. Noire we are dealing with a more open world than in Condemned. Sure L.A. Noire is fairly linear, but every so often you get the chance to stop a street crime. Such a mechanic would serve well in this imaginary X-Files game. There would probably be less driving, but you would get the chance to play both the main story elements (which add to The X-Files canon as a whole) as well as a few monster-of-the-week elements in the process. Perhaps as a service to fans, some of the more famous stand-alone cases could be thrown in—that way fans could virtually live their favorite episodes, whether it be the fluke man or the killer inbred family from rural Pennsylvania. Of course this idea, if it were similar to L.A. Noire, would need some tweaking as it would kind of be annoying to be on your way to the site of a possible UFO crash only to be tempted by the opportunity to chase down the wolf man. So while the specific way that side-quests are executed in L.A Noire wouldn’t work for The X-Files as I imagine it, taking that sort of open world, play at your own pace style would allow a balance to be struck between the main and monster-of-the-week storylines.
Of course we can hypothesize all we want, but if we want to ensure that the narrative really works, then we need the right people. That means getting everyone who made The X-Files what it is, from the actors to the writers to the series creator Chris Carter, involved to create a coherent storyline that stays true to the series. This is what was done with The X Files: Resist or Serve, which is why critics praised the game’s narrative. Next, we need the right developer and publisher, both of whom would have the vision and resources necessary to craft a technically and mechanistically superior video game. If both criteria came together, then I believe the new X-Files game could be a success not only for fans of the series but for all modern gamers in search of a strong game.
So why create a new game? I think now more than ever, the franchise could succeed as a video game. The X-Files has been successful on television and in film, but it hasn’t been able to translate that success into a medium for which it seems perfect: video games. Partly, the failures of the first two X-Files games are due to a poor marketing job (I had barely heard of The X-Files: Resist or Serve until I began research for this article). The concept though is solid. Solving mysteries, hunting down paranormal entities, preventing an alien invasion…these are common video game tropes and they just so happen to be central aspects of The X-Files. Equally central to The X-Files are the engrossing, frightening, thought provoking, and sometimes comical narratives that we gamers enjoy most. The time is right to take the chance, whether it is a full release, something episodic like The Walking Dead, or a simple arcade game, to attempt a new The X-Files game: a video game I would like to see.