The PlayStation debut of The X-Files in 1999 was a real crapshoot -- and that was just if you wanted to catch a glimpse of Fox Mulder or Dana Scully. It was also crap-py
, as in no bueno. The two star actors from the eponymous TV series were not the central characters in that game, nor did they appear for more than say, 5-10 minutes -- and the cheesy FMV adventure was one measly step away from pure stink. Needless to say, that videogame premiere flopped.
Learning from its vast mistakes, Vivendi Universal Games and Fox Interactive got a lot of things right for this new X-Files, from the voice acting, story writing and settings, to actually obtaining the full rights to the likenesses of both Jillian Anderson and David Duchovny as lead characters in the game. The result? The X-Files: Resist or Serve is, without question, a shameless Resident Evil clone carrying all of the best and worst implications of that formula. But without a doubt, developer Black Ops has created a true-to-the-series, fan-centric game steeped in X-Files lore and, despite its failures, is an endearing survival-horror endeavor that plays like one of the better X-Files episodes.
VU Games' survival-horror game has arrived very late in the game, a few years in fact after the final episode of the show, which incidentally had faded quite rapidly after the so-so movie and Duchovny and Anderson had all but left the show. So, timeliness it does not have. But that doesn't mean that X-Files fanatics aren't still around, they're just sort of sitting there smoldering, waiting. My son and I watched the series religiously all the way to the final episode and though I didn't rush out to buy this game, I was eager to get to grips with it.
In getting things right this time, VU Games hired X-Files writer Tom Schnauz (who wrote on the last two years of the series) to pen the story, which fits neatly between season 6 and 8 in the long-running series. It stars the likeness of both Duchovny and Anderson with decent respectability, and both characters' likenesses are fully backed by their own voices. So, right away, a sense of authenticity is established. A very good thing, given the horde of clumsy Resident Evil-style mechanical problems that fly in your face.
Players have the instant choice of selecting the playable character Mulder or Scully, each character having his and her own specialties. Mulder is more of a man of action, fighting and shooting his way through things, while Scully approaches things as a scientist, examining patients and collecting facts. Like Resident Evil 2, The X-Files: Resist or Serve enables gamers to play the game once through as either character and then through it again as the other. So, players get two perspectives on the same story, treading familiar territory but engaging in different tasks each time. This offers gamers the ability to take on the role of the two characters, adding excellent replay value to boot.
The third-person perspective game offers a mixture of set cameras, giving the game that "cinematic" look and feel, but those same cameras move near invisible borders, following Mulder and Scully and freeing players from the infuriating rigidity of Capcom's survival-horror classic. They can be annoying, but generally the angles do a decent job of providing the right angles for adventuring, sometimes less than decent jobs, however, for combat.
The game takes place in a slew of locations from the TV series, and it stars all of the major characters too. Krycheck, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the Lone Gunmen, Skinner, and a half dozen other characters make enjoyable cameos. While I won't reveal the original story, which is the game's best attribute (so as not to give away spoilers), it's worth noting that Black Ops did its X-Files research. The game enables players to investigate a possible X-File, which naturally turns into a much bigger story, involving the government, Black Oil, aliens, Mulder's abducted sister Samantha, mysterious artifacts, as well as hitting on a gaggle of other themes and topics with which fans of the show should be familiar.
While the major details are well executed, the level of little details is also smartly handled. Street names are named after episodes, the video store has a porn collection (wherein both Mulder and Scully offer different asides regarding Mulder's well-known collection), the names of the movie posters relate to episodes, and the Wetwire store also bears relevance. Keys have special numbers on them, and pretty much everywhere you look, a reference to some X-Files episode is made.
Although the game might be steeped in X-Files goodness, the gameplay itself leaves gamers wanting. This single-player survival-horror title does nothing to evolve what some would say is the very broken and irrelevant Resident Evil model. The set cameras often force players to fight enemies off-screen, shooting and aiming at enemies is a chore (since it's often difficult to find them from the set camera angles), and the game is filled with Black Oil-infected "zombies," who lurch slowly about like Goth ADHD kids after their Ritilin has worn off.
I've watched hundreds of The X-Files episodes, and I must say that less than 1% of the X-Files episodes featured zombies. Zombies are not only a cliché in the videogame industry, like the abundance of mine cart levels and flame throwers in every other game, but for the The X-Files, which was filled with great creatures, insects, aliens, demons and the like, there must have been something more original than Black-Oil infested "zombies." And incidentally, Black Oil infested humans were not slow or zombie like in the least, they were actually quite fast and nimble. Shame on you, VU Games.
Resist or Serve is not scary at all. In fact, just he opposite, it's often hilarious. If you liked the nasty, incredulous birds and bats in Resident Evil, then you'll love the Black Oil infected cats and dogs here. Strangely, the game starts off pretty weak, and one of the first offerings of the infected little creatures is an example of absurdity. One of them jumps out from an ice chest at Mulder at a gas station. It's bloody and skanky looking, looking not very cat like at all, and it's attack is that it bites his chins. Frickin' hilarious stuff, these cats. And just like in the Resident Evil games, instead of getting scarier, the zombies evolve into the stuff of humor. In several instances, when a zombie "jumped" out at me, I laughed out loud. Old zombie women jump from secondary rooms, and even older and skankier zombie women take shotguns out to blast your smug face into bits. You just have to see it when a decrepit old zombie mamma aims her shotgun at you. It's better than most of the gigs on Saturday Night Live.
The even mix of action and puzzles is respectable. Players wander about searching for clues, which unfold the story, enabling both Mulder and Scully to progress through the game. There is a solid support of weaponry, ranging from an AK 47, rifle and shotgun to the XXX. The Molotov cocktails are horrendous, and usually end up hurting and you and Scully more than anyone else. They're a laughably bad addition, and aren't worth using at all.
The bosses aren't necessarily that hard, some are stupidly frustrating (sometimes randomly easy) and there are few variations. In most cases, you'll just be playing harder versions of previously encountered bosses. Later on (and once early on), however, you'll have to team up with Scully (or Mulder) to take on a horde of baddies. For example, as Mulder you must fend off half dozen or more zombies from attacking Scully as she quickly analyses a corpse to obtain an antidote for his condition. The necessity to protect Scully while not dying yourself creates a good gameplay tension.
The puzzles are simple. They mostly involve collecting the right item in the right order, meaning you'll be scouring every nook and cranny for shiny objects just like in Resident Evil. Black Ops implemented an excellent mechanism for doing just that, giving Mulder and Scully the ability to use flashlights in conjunction with their handguns. Character torsos swivel at the hip, so just like in Alone in the Dark 4 and Pitfall: The Lost Expedition, players can seek out items independently of the direction of their character. Also, to give players extra help in finding items, when the flashlight rolls over a keycard or 9mm clip it flashes, and when a character is near an item a spinning X-File icon appears on the bottom right-hand side of the screen.
Resist or Serve is by no means a great looking game. The rather low-resolution textures, simplistic designs and simple backgrounds are a little too campy, even for a survival horror game. The character models are truly bizarre in their nature. The texture work and face modeling on both Mulder and Scully is instantly recognizable; the hair, facial shapes and clothes are all near picture perfect.
But the character motion is marionette-like, the lip-synching is average, and the characters' eyes are whacked. The first time you see Mulder his eyes look like they're rolling up inside his head. When he looks at Scully as they're driving in their car together, he's looking up at the moon. More often than not, Mulder is cross-eyed. It's a little sad, actually, how goofy and doll-like these characters look and move. At least their voices are good.
Luckily, the sound in this mildly botched survival-horror game is good. Mark Snow created the music for the show and the original use of his soundtrack is perfected executed here. Though the gameplay itself isn't scary, the music is authentically creepy, giving the entire gameplay experience a feeling exactly the same as if you were watching the show, i.e. a kick in the pants. It's interesting when an average game is lifted up by its production values, and in this case, the music, and the voice acting, upgrades the overall experience to a higher level.
The real voice support of Jillian Anderson and David Duchovny make the game's vocal experience authentic, but it's the supporting cast that really adds color. The appearances of the Lone Gunmen as well as Skinner, Krychek, the Cigaretter Smoking Man and a host of others in digital form is an excellent touch for fans of the series, but its their voices and the authentic dialog that makes the interactions just one notch better.
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