With baited breath we waited for a giant shadow to rush at us from the horizon, but gazing through the gloom at layer upon layer of grey cloud culminated in a slight darkening in the sky and a few confused looks from seagulls and old people. Witnessing a total eclipse of the sun may not be entirely relevant to paranormal activity and little green men in flying saucers, but it remains a pretty ‘spooky’ occurrence, nonetheless. For ‘total clips’ of a more foreboding nature, Sony has dusted down a old copy of The FMV-rich X-Files game on PC, speeded up the interface considerably and added a bit of polish here and there for a totally ‘interactive’ X-Files episode. It’s not quite as interactive as we had hoped though. More a glorified slide show with puzzles, but once you get the better of the awkward interface and suss out the tools of the FBI trade, there’s investigative shenanigans aplenty to dive into. You play Craig Willmore, a promising FBI Agent assigned to a special case involving the disappearance of two agents. No prizes for guessing who they are, but other than a brief appearance in the latter two discs, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully single-handedly redefine the term ‘cameo performance’.
This is irrelevant though, as the game is awash with authenticity; the rest of the cast from Chris Carter’s award-winning series play a major part in your investigations. Walter Skinner, AD Walter, X, The Lone Gunmen (Frohike, Byres and Langley) and the Cigarette Smoking Man each play their own part in either a passing of consultative capacity. The X-Files is quite a difficult game to categorise, however. Put simply, it’s an investigative adventure, but not in the traditional sense. You’re an active participant in an unfolding live-action episode of The X-Files, where spooled footage and repeated conversations are rife. As is the nature of FMV-driven games, interaction is extremely limited and somewhat linear, although multiple outcomes lead Willmore down separate and sometimes deadly paths. For example, it’s quite amusing (in the short term) to ask the same question two, three or even ten times. Typically, the recipient will reply sternly the second time of asking, or lament this default answer to repeated inquiry, “Haven’t I just told you…” Pursue it further and they either don’t answer or claim that there’s something wrong with you.
Dodgy spools in the FMV is something you learn to deal with, as is the stuttering front end. It’s bizarre and insufferably complicated, but you soon adapt to systematic collation of samples and other evidence.When you come to a loose end as to where to go next, it’s advisable to pull up a chair at one of the many computer terminals a process some of the collected data. Using the Intelligence Network Gateway (ING), you can receive emails, process character and telephone details and trace car license plates. Think of it as your electronic partner and about the only thing you trust. Trust no one, remember. The quality of the footage is excellent as is the plot and acting. This is what keeps you interested and makes a change to the serving of ham we usually have to put up with. Humour, sarcasm and even a bit of sexual tension between Mary Astadourain – a feisty female cop – and your good self adds further to the strange experience of negotiating a photo-realistic flick-screen world. There’s certainly nothing technically praiseworthy in The X-Files, but given the obvious shortfalls, such as the way you vainly look over certain areas with a fine tooth comb for a cigarette butt in a dimly lit warehouses, it holds together well. Sony has taken an old formula, cleaned it up and even reduced the number of discs from seven to four, for a thoroughly involving delve into the unknown. The truth is out there…