First up on my tour of bad licensed games, I turned to a license that was dear to my heart: The X-Files. When I was a kid, X-Files was my favorite show on TV. I never missed an episode. Having been too young to appreciate Twin Peaks when it was first on the air, X-Files was my first exposure to a series with a continuing, long-running mystery with plots that (sometimes) carried over between episodes. For a sci-fi/horror show it had remarkable production value, two incredibly likable leads, and great (if a little schizophrenic towards the end) writing.
Going back to watch the early episodes of the X-Files reveals that they’re a little dated by today’s standards, but that’s hardly a significant knock against the show. The core mystery still holds up, and it’s one of the few shows of its type ever to hit more than miss with its monster-of-the-week episodes.
The X-Files: Resist or Serve for the Playstation 2 released in 2004, two years after the end of the show. That probably explains why I never played it, because the last couple seasons soured me enough that I wasn’t in a huge hurry to revisit the series. But for the start of my series, I thought I should take up a licensed game that I could really meet on its own terms. As a fan of the TV show, I’m presumptively the audience for Resist or Serve, which means I might enjoy it more, but also could be more critical of its missteps.
Those things didn’t matter, because The X-Files: Resist or Serve is not a good game.
Resist or Serve is, at its core, an unabashed Resident Evil clone. It looks like an RE game and it plays like an RE game, though mercifully 2004 was late enough that the developers didn’t further strangle it with tank controls. At the beginning, you pick whether to play through as Mulder or Scully, and like Jill/Chris they have different stories that take place concurrently, in the same environments.
The primary enemies—99% of what you fight throughout the game—are even mindless zombies that move just like in an RE game. This makes next-to-no sense in an X-Files game and the reason for all the zombie enemies is handwaved away with a sublimely unapologetic line of horror-technobabble.
Outside of boss fights, your primary challenge is ammo conservation because your pistol can fend off these shambling corpses but only if it has bullets. Progress is gated with puzzles that are more often than not merely pixel hunts through darkened rooms. And the game is really dark. You have a flashlight that mimics dynamic lighting nicely, which is one of the few technically impressive parts of the game…at least until you remember that it released three years after Silent Hill 2.
The controls, while vastly preferable to the aforementioned tank controls, are erratic at best. The game uses fixed camera angles, which can be nice and dramatic, but forced perspective changes always lead to confusion. If you’re pressing right on the stick to go right, then the camera shifts, suddenly you’re walking in a different direction than the one you were pushing. As soon as you correct, you veer off in another direction. This is an incredibly common problem with games from this era that use fixed camera angles (think Devil May Cry) and even recent remakes of tank-control games (RE, Grim Fandango) but it is particularly bad here for one simple reason: the boss fights.
Remember when I said that the game begins with choosing Mulder or Scully, and that this is like RE’s initial choice between Chris and Jill? Well, it’s exactly the same, down to Mulder’s side of the game being more combat-oriented and thus far more difficult. In fact, I’ve read people who say that it is nearly impossible. This isn’t because of the zombies, which are pushovers, but the handful of larger enemies you fight throughout the game. They are absolute bullet sponges, with each pistol shot taking only a tiny chip off their health. A full clip of shotgun or AK47 ammo takes them down to about half health, and there are only a few clips of that ammo in the entire game. That’s bad enough, but true to the series Mulder is something of a pushover in combat. I’d wager 5-6 hits from a boss are enough to kill him. A hit stuns him, usually long enough to prevent him from taking a shot before he can be hit again. You have to use the brief window after being stunned but before being hit to run away, aim again, and fire.
Several bosses have fodder zombies they can revive indefinitely to harass you (and draw your fire, because the auto aim decides to target them instead) and others completely paralyze Mulder if he gets too close to them, quickly draining his life. That’s a huge problem when every camera angle change makes you run in the opposite direction for a second!
I ended up playing through most of the game with infinite ammo. When I hit the first boss, a small town sheriff with a shotgun and a remarkable ability to create a shimmering purple vortex from his chest, And then, for the last boss—which has five different forms, the last of which heals himself constantly—I put on invincibility. The cheats are built right into the game. I wasn’t hacking or using whatever the ps2 version of a Game Genie is. I suspect that the developers knew how brutal an unfair the game could be and threw a lifeline to anyone who just wanted to see the story. And having played through that last boss now, I can safely say that I could have practiced for an entire year and I wouldn’t have done it legit. I might not have been able to do it with just infinite ammo. It’s that bad.
Of course, the game itself lasts only a few hours, so I suspect that the difficulty was a built-in way to lengthen the play time. That last boss felt like it was straight out of the NES era where you’d have to beat your head up against the wall a million times just to create a single crack. I don’t have the time or patience for that anymore, and it would have been the worst thing in the world for anyone to watch so I’m glad I took the easy way out.
But that’s enough about how the game plays. Being a janky Resident Evil clone with a nigh-unbeatable final boss wouldn’t be unforgivable. After all, the real Resident Evil was pretty grueling with Chris and it’s probably just my fault for not picking Scully. The real question is: how does it compare to the show?
Well, I’m going to start with the good: for a PS2 game, they do a pretty good job of rendering Mulder and Scully’s faces. That seems like a small thing, but it’s the the kind of thing you want to fuck up. Bad renditions of the two iconic characters would have been disastrous. And while the renders are good, the animation is disastrous enough by itself.
Every character is voiced by the actor who actually played them on the show, which is another nice bonus. Sure, they are either phoning in their lines or the victim of iffy voice direction, but it’s nice they are there. I don’t think you should even make the game if you can’t get Duchovny and Anderson, but Resist or Serve went an extra mile and retained Mitch Pileggi (Skinner), William B. Davis (Cancer Man), Laurie Holden (Covarrubias), James Pickens (Deputy Director Kersh), and Nicolas Lea (Krycek). That’s right, even Krycek is around. Which brings me to the story.
I came into this game blind, without having read anything about the story. The game starts up with a short scene in Tunguska, Russia, which if I’d remembered my particulars of the X-Files mythos would have been a huge clue where this was all going. Without those memories, it was just a mysterious vignette that could have meant anything. Then the game cuts to Mulder and Scully heading to a small town to investigate a murder and a couple girls accused of witchcraft. They stop at a diner and zombies show up, leaving them no choice but to shoot their way through town to find a sheriff by the name of Bud Smith (who may or may not be a soft-tossing lefthanded pitcher they want to trade for Scott Rolen).
At this point, because I didn’t remember the significance of Tunguska, I almost let myself believe that X-Files: Resist or Serve was going to be a stand-alone monster-of-the-week tale instead of being mired in the long-running mythos. That would have been kind of fun, though it would completely cement their excuse to run a full on zombie outbreak rather than anything appropriate to X-Files. But then when you finally find (and fight) Bud Smith his eyes go dark with something that looks an awful lot like Black Oil/Purity. I figured at that point we were getting an alien conspiracy story, and that was only confirmed when Krycek shows up to throw a wrench into everything. Because of course he does. (For people who don’t know the show, Krycek is a former FBI agent and brief partner to Mulder who appears in the core mythos episodes and betrays everyone at every chance.)
As for what happens after Krycek shows up… Jesus Christ, I just played the game and I couldn’t tell you. Mulder and Scully go to an abandoned mental institution that looks a lot like the house in Resident Evil. There they find the girl accused of witchcraft and Mulder kills her when she goes all black-oil on him. Then Krycek kills the scientists who experimented on her and leaves Mulder to kill a bunch of clones. An old man in a cloak shows up and takes a piece of an alien artifact. AND THAT’S JUST THE END OF PART ONE.
Part two takes place between Mulder’s apartment and the FBI, and is nothing but a weird fever dream of hallucinations and visions. He passes out, Scully tries to kill him, he wanders through maze-like halls of his apartment killing lizard creatures, ends up in a church with steps covered in blood, Scully tries to kill him again, he sees himself being experimented on by Cancer Man, and then BOOM he’s back in his apartment with Covarrubias where I guess it was all a dream? I don’t know. This section was 1/3 of the entire game and it was complete nonsense.
The final act wasn’t much better. Mulder wakes up after an 0ff-screen plane crash and Russians are trying to cut his arm off. He runs away from them but he doesn’t have any weapons so wolves try to eat him. The wolves killed me several times. He finds a pistol but he also finds a clone (I think) of the old man from earlier who can bring dead wolves back to life. Mulder has to kill the old man/clone and the wolves. Covarrubias betrays you but then helps you escape until she is either crushed or trapped by falling industrial equipment. Scully goes off to find a helicopter but the helicopter immediately crashes. You take a boat to another island, but that also crashes and you have to find fuel for a second set of boats. While on the lake, you are pulled into the water by a sea monster and fight Krycek in a giant tower. The X-Files Theme plays dramatically as you do nothing but backtrack through the tower after the fight.
Zombies with AK-47s ambush you as you and Scully enter a temple, then Scully goes off to solve a puzzle. Meanwhile Mulder finds an alien spacecraft and fights the final boss, which is actually all the other bosses one after another. Mulder and Scully escape and then literally re-enact the end of the film The X-Files: Fight the Future almost beat-for-beat, with a giant UFO rising out of the sea while Scully is unconscious.
THIS IS ALL WHAT IS REALLY IN THE GAME, I MADE NONE OF THIS UP.
Basically, the story itself is pure, unmitigated nonsense. And I’m not saying that in the way that some people are derogatorily dismissive towards sci-fi and horror. When I say it’s nonsense, I mean it’s barely coherent. Even Resident Evil plots make more sense than this. All in all, it’s supposed to tie in somehow with the overarching mythos plot of X-Files, with Cancer Man after a specific alien spacecraft and Krycek doing his Krycek thing, but other than that I had no idea what was going on from minute-to-minute once the second act and Mulder’s hallucinations kicked in.
Which brings me to the best part of all of this… This game was actually written by some of the writers who worked on The X-Files. Specifically, the story and dialogue (which veers between stilted cardboard and moments of decent banter that reflect the show) was penned by Thomas Schnauz, an X-Files staff writer from season 9. Schnauz would go on to work on the Lone Gunman spinoff, Reaper, and…uh… Breaking Bad.
In fact, Schnauz is credited for some of the best Breaking Bad episodes throughout its run: “One Minute”, “Bug”, “Say My Name”, and “Buried.” This dude started off in the writer’s room of the worst season of X-Files, went on to make this…uh…unique game, and then ended up writing some of the best episodes of one of the best-written television shows ever.
So it turns out that I was playing the origin story of a Breaking Bad writer so that’s pretty awesome.
Next up for Bad Games Played Badly, I will tackle one of the many gritty licensed crime games to spawn from the success of Grand Theft Auto 3,and one of the most bizarre choices for a video game adaptation possible: The Sopranos: Road to Respect.
Follow along at twitch.tv/RedbirdMenace