Area 51, also known as Groom Lake, is a secret military facility about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. The number refers to a 6- by 10-mile block of land, at the center of which is a large air base the Government will not discuss. The site was selected in the mid-1950’s for testing of the U2 spy plane due to its remoteness, its proximity to existing facilities, and the presence of a dry lakebed for landings. Groom Lake is America’s traditional testing ground for “black budget” aircraft before they are publicly acknowledged. The facility and surrounding areas are also associated — with varying levels of credibility — with UFO and conspiracy stories. In 1989 Bob Lazar claimed on a Las Vegas television station that he had worked with alien spacecraft at Papoose Lake, just south of Area 51. Since then “Area 51” has become a popular symbol for the alleged U.S. Government UFO cover-up.
That being said, how do you make a game based upon classified subject matter? Simple. Guns, plus invaders, equals a blood drenched shoot ‘em up that will make those little green bastards sorry they ever even thought of the Anal Probe™! *shudder*
Midway Games brings the battle for Earth into your living room this month on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. However this isn’t a port of the stilted arcade shooter from 1995. No, my friends, what we have here is a balls-to-the-wall first person shooter that comes really close to giving the Halo franchise a run for its money.
The story is simple and a lot better than that shitty Roswell TV show: You play as Ethan Cole, a Hazmat commando sent to investigate some horribly awry goings on at the infamous military installation Area 51. One thing becomes clear after just a few minutes of gameplay: You had better find some strong firepower because all hell is breaking loose, and it’s happening fast.
Right off the bat it is apparent that Midway really put some effort into making this game. This was no half-assed attempt (*cough* Wrestlemania 21 *cough*) at delivering the gory goods. We are treated to absolutely gorgeous graphics during both gameplay and cut scenes. The character models at times seem a bit “jaggy” to the eye, but they animate nicely and suit the game’s purpose just fine. The atmosphere is thick, and the lighting effects do more than their job of sucking you in and immersing you in a world full of intergalactic chaos.
Sound is another strong point for this title as well. David Duchovny, Powers Boothe, and Marilyn Manson lend their voices to a particularly well written script, and if you’re playing on an Xbox, the 5.1 Dolby Digital is bound to have your neighbors alerting police to “shots fired.” The music, sound FX, and graphics all work to bring the gamer quite the package, but what about the gameplay?
Here’s where things get a tad iffy. The camera is more than competent, but the crosshair of your weapon seems to have a bit of a mind of its own, especially in tense multi-enemy situations. This doesn’t distract you too much, but if you’re like me, when there are a half dozen enemies charging at you, you kind of want things to feel a bit more precise. From the get-go it’s apparent that the gameplay is going to be straight run and gun. Truth be told, you barely even have time to breathe. The storyline takes a few twists and turns here and there, but rarely are your objectives anything more than “find this,” “get that,” “go there,” etc. It’s simple, plain, functional, and fun; there really isn’t that much to complain about.
I know what you’re thinking: This sounds pretty cool and all, but isn’t this more of a sci-fi game? Shouldn’t you be covering horror games for Dread Central? Let me say this – This is every bit a survival horror game. It works as a horror hybrid the same way that the original Alien did way back in the 1970’s when it was released in theatres. Genre fans will have much to give praise for with Area-51.
And the best part? After you’re done unlocking the game’s many extras offline, take this baby out for a spin and start fragging your friends online! All the usual modes are here: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and a franticly fun mode called Infection. I think you can pretty much draw your own conclusions on what that is just by its name; needless to say, a simple needle from the doctor won’t clear up this bug. However, a well-placed headshot will more than do the trick.
So that’s it! You have your orders! Suit up and head out to your local videogame retailer and start helping our government clean up this mess. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t try stealing any UFO debris from the crash site. While you could probably make some crazy cash on eBay with your smoldering treasures, prolonged exposure to such materials could result in the shrinking of your peni… Oh wait! Sorry! That’s classified!
PlayStation 2, Xbox (reviewed), PC
4 out of 5