|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Midway Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Midway||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 3, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Pending||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Au
January 30, 2007 - Way back when, during the times when you had to go to arcades to get your video game fix, players may fondly remember dumping their quarters into Area 51, that staple light gun game halfway in between the skeet-ball and ticket counter.
Almost a decade later, in 2005, Midway released the console version of Area 51 although, except for the name and zombie/alien kill fest, the game received a major revamp in nearly all aspects of the game, proving to be a solid but forgettable FPS. Now, however, Midway hopes to leave its mark on the next-gen consoles with its soon to be released BlackSite: Area 51, the next sci-fi FPS in the series.
BlackSite: Area 51, as the title suggests, takes place in and around Area 51 which, as any conspiracy theorist will tell you, is the breeding grounds for secret extra-terrestrial activities. And indeed, as the leader of a four man squad, it is up to the player to prevent and contain an alien/virus outbreak/invasion, which in all likelihood is the key to saving the world.
The game, like its predecessors, is a first person shooter so the player can walk, shoot, crouch, jump, melee, throw grenades, and view all through the squad leader's eyes. This is nothing new, but BlackSite has even more to offer extending the genre to include squad based tactics. As the squad leader, you can give commands to the three other AI controlled members of your team. By viewing at a certain object and selecting a command function, your squad members will act accordingly. For example, command in the direction of the side of a wall, and your team will take cover against it, or command in the direction of a door and someone will open it for you. In addition, further emphasis is placed on squad control as the squad's performance is constantly dynamic and based on their morale. By boosting morale through such means as getting headshots, keeping your squad mostly out of harm's way through environmental cover, and generally playing smart and effectively, the team will enhance its performance and fight with more gusto. However, neglect your team's safety and they will become sheepish and ineffective. This intriguing aspect of the game may turn out to be a challenging addition that could really support gameplay and set the game apart from many other FPS's.
Squad tactics aside, the actual gameplay seems to be fast paced and cinematic. Players are pitted against various types of aliens/zombie-like enemies, with each one probably having a specific strength, weakness, and strategy to defeat. In terms of weapons, it is not known exactly what will make an appearance; however, it may be safe to assume from its predecessor that a large arsenal will be at the player's disposal. And, of course, some may be of extraterrestrial origins. Also, vehicles, although to what extent is unknown, will have an integral presence in the game as well. Although not fully non-linear, the game does allow the squad to take various routes to the designated location suggesting that certain amount of strategy is involved in choosing which path to follow for better firefight positioning. In addition, the environment plays a large part in the firefights as, like many games, more focus is being placed on coverage. But don't expect to hide forever as objects will take damage and shatter or blow away when enough damage is taken. Gone however, are the days when taking a single shot at a radiation marked barrel will blow apart everything onscreen.
Initial reactions towards the presentation are positive as the atmosphere plays out to be both epic and horror-esque. Dark and shady environments seems to be the norm in reflecting the storyline as written by Sarah O'Connor whose other works can be seen in the console Area 51 and the very successful Gears of War, along with many other games of that nature. The game will progress through dramatic cinematic cutscenes which, along with the rest of the game, are well rendered to fit with the higher graphic standards and details of the next generation consoles. Also, the sounds and music of the game seemed more than impressive, with sound effects being accurate and boastful and the soundtrack sounding nothing short of one straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. One of the finer selling points from Area 51 was the strong voice acting, including that of X-Files alum David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson. If BlackSite: Area 51 were able to replicate the strong voice-overs of characters as in Area 51, then gamers should be in for a treat. The detailed but shadowy environment combined with the epic sounds and voices of the game create an extremely cinematic feel to the game, as it seems to unfold like an interactive movie. Also, although with efforts focusing on creating an engrossing single player mode, BlackSite: Area 51 does boast both a co-op story and multiplayer modes including both deathmatch and objective based games such as Capture the Flag.
With such strong FPS titles out or upcoming such as Halo 3 or Rainbow Six: Vegas, and already established success in the alien invasion genre such as Gears of War, it'd be interesting to see how BlackSite: Area 51 will pan out with the competition. Perhaps with the help of its unique squad-based action, along with the epic yet dark cinematic feel to the game, Midway may have turned a decade old arcade classic into a legitimate and successful console game.
CCC Freelance Writer