The fact that I’ve been staring at the screen for hours trying to motivate myself to write a review of The X-Files: Resist or Serve should tell you all you need to know about the game. I’ve played the game as both Mulder and Scully, and while I suspected one would play better than the other, little did I suspect the game would not be fun either way. But as I’m prone to doing, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m going into hard-core geek mode for a little bit here, so please bear with me and understand that what I’m talking about does have relevance to the game as I’ll be discussing characters and plot twists from the show. My sister and I watched The X-Files from the first episode on, and at the time we felt like we were the only ones watching it because it seemed no one was talking about it outside of Usenet or AOL chatrooms. It wasn’t until the second season when the ratings started picking up for it, and the core fan base (referred to as X-Philes) had their faith vindicated as the show grew in popularity. The show had two sets of stories, the “mythology” episodes and the stand-alone monster episodes, each of which had their fans and critics. Dozens of characters would appear and disappear over the years, but it was the protagonists Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, FBI agents trailing a government conspiracy to mask alien influences on earth, that would be enshrined in television history. It’s just a shame the show was slowly destroyed from within, which is ironic considering some of the show’s eventual plot twists.
It should bear mentioning that one of the biggest strikes against Resist or Serve is that it’s incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t a long-time follower of the show. Things are spelled out, and long-time characters are re-introduced as well as possible, but if you have no idea right from the start who Assistant Director Skinner or The Lone Gunmen are, or why people seem to be afraid of an old guy with a smoking problem, then this isn’t the game for you.
The X-Files: Resist or Serve is referred to as a “lost episode” that fits somewhere in the later seasons, before star David Duchovney felt he should scale back his commitment to the show. It wasn’t until the fourth season that I came to realize the writers had nowhere left to go, so they started adding bulk to the plot instead of explaining things. As such, it actually became a headache to remember who people were and where the mythology had been. I am a big fan of episodic storytelling, but with new elements constantly added onto the old ones with no explanations anywhere in sight, I eventually fell out of touch with the show. On the other hand, I felt the show was also capable of being one of the strongest on television. Anyone who saw the episodes “Home,” “Triangle,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” or “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” knows that when the show was firing on all cylinders it was untouchable. So what does all this have to do with a simple game?
The game is so buried in the mythology of the series that newcomers will be completely lost. A second strike against Resist or Serve is that it’s not only part of a show that never explained anything, but it’s set in the middle of a show that never explained anything. If you’re looking for the game to answer ANY questions, you won’t find them. The show’s infamous tag line was “the truth is out there,” and it was sad to see the creators didn’t have any more of a clue as to where the truth was than the fans did.
Fans of the show recall just how much of it was filmed in dark corridors, at night, or with nothing but the wind and the tension to scare. All of that is in the game too, but it makes for a visually drab experience. Whether Mulder and Scully are running through back alleys of a small town, or walking down the halls of FBI Headquarters, or even across the tundra of Russia, the graphics are just washed out and bland. Nothing I saw during gameplay really stood out and grabbed me. There are plenty of background details like beakers, lab specimens, and instruments strewn about, but you cannot interact with any of them. The only way to interact with anything is to get near something, and when an X appears, then you interact with it by hitting the X button. The environments are diverse enough to be interesting, I just wish there was a lot more interactivity with everything. Maybe I’m just spoiled playing the latest games, but walking around and stumbling onto things you might be able to pick up or interact with is just getting… boring.
This would be all well and good, but when you’re playing in pitch frickin’ black it gets mighty hard to see what you’re doing, let alone the very tiny item in the far corner of the room that you need to unlock the next area. Mulder and Scully are only equipped with a flashlight, and in the darkest areas (of which there are plenty) I found myself having to shine the light directly at the screen in order to see anything. As such, I was frequently walking towards the screen while things were happening in the background, yet I was unable to see them unless I walking toward the screen with my flashlight armed. It’s a vicious cycle. At one point I encountered early on, the lights go out completely and you hear the sounds of something moving. It took me a while to recognize that I wasn’t waiting for a cutscene, the game was still going. I then fumbled about trying to access my inventory for some night vision goggles I’d just picked up, and when I activated it I was found I was being attacked. Of course, having an onscreen indicator of how badly I was hurt would have been too much to put into the game, so I had to guess how long I had to live. Oh sure, Mulder and Scully visibly take damage throughout the game, but it’s somewhat hard to tell because the damage is very faint and I was playing IN THE FRICKIN’ DARK.
As for the characters, they’re faithfully modeled on the actors right down to the mannerisms (or Mulderisms as fans refer to them). All of the old favorite characters are here, and the detail on all of them is pretty exacting. I have to point out the blockiness of their movement, however. While the character models themselves look very good, the illusion is pretty much discarded once they start walking. Everything then becomes just as stiff as the game Resist or Serve is most closely based on, Resident Evil. It’s also worth noting that none of the detail that went into the main characters has gone into the supporting cast. Secondary characters and monsters all appear like afterthoughts, so much so I actually wondered whether copyrights required exact replicas of the main actors. It’s not what I’d call a “good sign” when you think of things like that in the middle of an action sequence.
The best part of The X-Files: Resist or Serve is hands-down the sound and the music. I have always been a huge fan of the show’s theme song, and composer Mark Snow deserves huge accolades for creating one of the most easily recognized pieces of music in the last 20 years. Every episode, and the game included, have very similar themes running throughout. What I liked most about Snow was how he would take those themes and weave them into new songs in practically every episode. He could hit the right amount of scary, intense, romantic, thoughtful, and somber depending on whatever the story was, and Resist or Serve is the better for it. You gain a sense of isolation and loss of hope in just the right moments, and the remainder of the music is strong enough to pull you right in.
The voice acting is also top-notch, or at least as good as the actors are allowed to be. The show’s acting could be about as engaging as a two by four, but sometimes the actors were allowed to cut loose and have fun with their roles. The actors expressed more and more range with their characters as the years wore on, and Resist or Serve is much better off being right in the middle of the series. I just wish the writers weren’t so blasted obsessed with using every big word in their thesaurus. Every time the characters start blathering on about psychological conditions prevalent in pre-existing conditions involving extraneous scenarios, I felt I should be charging admission to a spelling bee.
I can’t think of a single game I’ve played in the last 10 years with controls as truly horrible as this one. What makes Resist or Serve so monumentally awful is just how badly the developers screwed up the control scheme on a PS2 controller. Adding to the fun is a fixed camera that periodically moves with you. Naturally, the camera is always placed in a position that’s “cinematic” to watching the on screen action. However, the camera angle is invariably placed at the absolute worst angle for living through the on screen action. As for the control scheme itself, that’s a whole other dimension in pain.
How the bloody hell is it that after reading the instructions three times and diving right in, every time I have to make a quick decision I fumbled over the buttons trying to accomplish anything? With all the monsters coming at you on both paths, yes even the puzzle-oriented one, you need to have some good dexterity to lock your aiming on the target, hold the light to see where the hell the target is in the first place, and then shoot your target enough to kill it. I’m sure that sounds plenty simple, but considering just how slow your character is compared to the fast shuffling of the monsters I found myself perplexed and puzzled at my complete lack of response to being repeatedly eaten.
The standard use button is the X, naturally. Anytime you see a floating X appear on screen, you hit that button and you can interact with the environment. You run by holding down the R2 button, unless you have both your flashlight and gun drawn at the same time, in which case you can only walk slowly. The square button is your attack, except when you’re holding your gun and the attack button is then the triangle button. You press and hold the R1 button to target enemies, and to target and fire your gun you hold the R1 button and hit the X button simultaneously. The L1 button reloads your gun, but be careful if you want to switch targets because that scheme is R1 plus the L2 button. If you want to see your health, then just hit the Select button which brings up your inventory and stats screen. I’m not even going to address this further as it’s not worth it.
I’ve played games that were less fun than Resist or Serve, but not that many. I tend to try and block out bad memories and just remember the good times, but my memory thinks it’s funnier to do just the reverse sometimes. As such, I keep seeing Mulder and Scully walking or running around bland scenarios chasing bad guys that leave only clues that lead to more clues that in turn lead to yet more clues. As a nostalgic return to something I loved several years ago, I got an immediate kick out of the “best of” collection of scenes from the show that plays over the game’s menu. It’s just a shame that once I started playing, I was immediately reminded of why I stopped watching in the first place.
Above all, I didn’t find the game to be fun. I found it to be little more than a half-assed clone of Resident Evil written by people with an obsession for the $10 word when the $.10 word would not only suffice, but would actually come from someone who wasn’t acting in a second-rate horror show. For what it’s worth, the game does have its moments here and there that are so true to the show it really did feel like I was playing an episode. I just wished more and more that the episode was one of the better ones, instead of one of the episodes I would intentionally skip over while watching the seasonal DVD’s.I could see the truest fans enjoying themselves with Resist or Serve for a while at least. The interplay between the actors is still as sharp as ever, even while the writing remains as stiff as ever. A lot of the smaller character tidbits come into play at the least expected moments (like Mulder’s porn obsession) which helps lighten the mood, and the writing is pretty good for a series of mythology-based episodes. I lost interest a long time ago in the mythology of the show, but if you’ve kept up with it then this fits nicely into the continuity. Average viewers won’t get anywhere near as much enjoyment out of it, nor is a good starting place for new fans. What is worth playing for are the unlockable movie galleries showing behind the scenes footage of the actors in the studio, or art, or assorted other goodies. The footage in the studio is hilarious.