The X-Files Game opens with one of the most illogical puzzles ever presented in an adventure game. Your alter ego, FBI Field Agent Craig Willmore, sits down at his computer and is prompted to enter his name and password. The name part is easy. The password part, of course, is the puzzle. But why, if you are supposed to be this person, should you have to figure out your own password? This is your daily workstation, after all, so it seems you'd pretty much have your password committed to memory.
This puzzle (which, by the way, is not even original - it appeared before in Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh) epitomizes the confused nature of The X-Files Game. Most adventure games that attempt to create an atmosphere of suspense face a similar challenge: making you believe that you are learning and deducing the situation at the same rate as the character you control. Games like The Last Express handle it artfully, while games like The Beast Within find ingenious ways to incorporate the schism between player and character into the suspense. The X-Files game does neither, and the password puzzle provides early evidence that the designers aren't capable of tackling such a sophisticated challenge.
The game, it seems, is set sometime during the third season of the television show - an assumption based almost wholly on the fact that Special Agent Mulder's informant, the man known only as X on the show and who was assassinated during that season, makes an appearance. The fact that Willmore uses a Newton as a PDA is further evidence, since it's hard to imagine anyone still lugging around that outdated piece of gadgetry beyond 1996. Willmore is a field agent in the FBI's Seattle office, called away from his caseload to investigate the disappearance of two agents from Washington, DC. These two agents, it turns out, are Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, who have vanished while working on a mysterious case.
The story will be familiar ground for X-Files fans. While hunting for the missing Feds, Willmore uncovers some shady dealings that he thinks are shady dealings of the everyday, humans-breaking-the-law sort. But fans will already know the big surprise that awaits him: It's really about aliens and government conspiracies. Willmore doesn't figure this out until very late in the game, and we spend much of the early portion learning his personal history and watching two subplots unfold, including one involving a female police detective and some romantic tension. The latter seems particularly unnecessary, and it's doubtful that anyone purchasing a game about The X-Files will really care whether Willmore will score. The game plays out neither like an episode nor an entity unto itself. It's more like an X-Files primer, filled with cute references to events from the show and following a plot that the devout will be able to predict within the first 15 minutes of the game. Which poses yet another problem: If the game is aimed at X-Files fans, why tell a story they already know?
Technologically, the game moves from the excellent to the terrible faster than you can say "little green men." The full motion video is striking. The photography is great, and the quality of the video itself is some of the best ever seen in a game. The interactive segments of the game, however, are composed of dreadful, washed-out photographs that you must maneuver through using a silly-looking cursor that's unsuited to the game. There are only a few puzzles beyond the aforementioned password puzzle, which may be a good thing. At least they didn't resort to placing slider puzzles everywhere. The game portions, for the most part, involve nothing more than clicking on every possible area, hunting around the screen, making sure there isn't anything you missed. There's the occasional action sequence and the occasional need to access records from the FBI's database - but for the most part you just click on everything and you win.
Even the character conversations, which appear to be branching, aren't really interactive. In many cases, you'll be given a wide variety of possible statements, each of which elicits the exact same response from the person you're talking to. One area in which there is variety is in the conversation menus: There's one with text statement responses, one with emotion-based icons that allow you to choose a "type" of response, and one with pictures of evidence you can ask about. There's no real rhyme or reason for the three menus or when they are used; choosing one would have been sufficient. There is also a variety of discs, seven in all. This explains the quality of the video, but it certainly doesn't explain why the game only lasts, at the most, a dozen hours.
The game gets better when Willmore finally catches up with Mulder and Scully. Their presence considerably livens up the game and almost redeems the confusing endgame sequence. You get to interact with them - and that is, after all, what you're most likely here for. But beyond these brief interludes with the characters, The X-Files Game is nothing more than a throwback to the earlier half of this decade, when cheap Myst clones and interactive movies were a dime a dozen - and, perhaps, when it was conceivable that someone could forget the password to his workstation.