Blacksite: Area 51 (Video Game)
Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Available for PC, PS3, and XBOX 360 (reviewed here)
Rated T for Teen
Distributed by Midway Games
When the original Area 51 hit consoles a few years ago it managed to turn a few heads. The opening stage sucked you right in. You found yourself moving through a secret facility in Nevada that something really bad happened in. The walls were covered in blood. Shadows danced on the torn yet hanging curtains. You ran into your first enemy encounter and the gore began flying. Tack on a more than decent multi-player mode and we had ourselves a title well worth the fifty bones we had paid for it. Life was good. I've eagerly been anticipating a next-gen sequel. When it was announced I was ecstatic! The screen shots were nine kinds of kick ass and it looked like Blacksite: Area 51 was going to bring home the goods. Then I played it.
What the fuck happened?
Gone was the pea soup thick atmosphere. Gone was the splatter soaked mayhem. Gone was the visceral experience I had come to love. In its place? The video game equivalent of a badly entertaining Sci-Fi original picture.
Let's start at the beginning which oddly enough for an Area 51 game, doesn't even take place in this country. We pointlessly start in Iraq (just like every Sci-Fi channel sequel does nowadays. *cough* Bats 2 *cough* Stir of Echoes 2 *cough*). In Blacksite's opening moments we're dropped into what can only be described as a poor man's version of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon. We're fighting Iraqi soldiers with little to no onscreen violence and feasting our eyes on some of the most jaggy graphics I have ever seen. Not a good start. The problems become apparent right off of the bat. Because Blacksite is trying to incorporate squad based elements you need to depend on your fellow soldiers in a lot of cases. Okay, fair enough. But what's this? I cannot even open a door by myself? I need to command someone to do it for me?! *blank stare* You're kidding me, right? Nope. You'll run into situations like this throughout the game. It's just silly.
Then there's some of the most unrealistic AI you could ever hope to find! Allow me to describe an actual scenario I ran into just minutes into playing: After commanding one of my teammates to open a door because I'm far too much of a diva to be able to do so myself, my squad encountered a room full of surrendering Iraqis. Me? I'm a bastard. Every game should come with a Bastard setting just so people like me can play as evil as we want to. Having decided that surrender was not an option I try killing the now cowering soldiers. Guess what? My gun wont fire. Okay. So then I try to paste them with a melee attack. Nope. That doesn't work either. Time to break out the grenades. I chuck one in, it explodes, and still they just stand there looking at me. Now I know why the war has gone on so long -- Iraqis are apparently impervious to all manner of explosives! Who knew?!?
Again, you'll run into situations like this over, and over, and over again. Yet, you'll also run into something else too -- Silly run and gun action. There's no denying that busting into a room chock full of E.T.s and mutants and then introducing them to their new found lead headaches can do a lot to get the old adrenaline pumping. Even if said aliens have a tendency to blow up into a confetti like substance instead of painting the walls red or even green (Thanks T for teen rating!).
Blacksite: Area 51 is a total B movie experience complete with moderately funny dialog and a never taking itself too seriously tone. The trouble is grade B material rarely yields grade A results.
The graphics range from eye popping to awful. The textures from a distance look pretty good but get up close and personal with something and you'll see what I mean. As for the character models themselves, everyone looks like a plastic soldier who has been lit from below. Odd. In addition to the blast 'em up action bits, you also have the ability to drive many vehicles in the game and although the control is pretty tight, you'll be noticing a whole lot of graphical pop up around you. The one good thing I will say is that the fully destructible environments are pretty cool. You can really wreck shit if you want to and honestly I found myself doing more of that than playing the actual game.
You'll finish the campaign mode in a brisk six to eight hours depending on how much sight seeing and room wrecking you decide to do, and once every thing's all over there's really no reason to come back to revisit past events. Which leads us straight to the multi-player aspect of the game. Could this at least push things even slightly over the top? Not really.
With games like Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 ruling the online roost you're not likely to easily find anyone to get dirty with here. If you do, we get the very standard fare. There are four game modes to choose from -- Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Abduction. The first three are pretty much self explanatory. Abduction is where the real multi-player fun is had. One player starts as a "reborn" (silly term for an Alien infected mutant). Whenever a reborn kills a human, said human becomes a reborn and then joins the hunt for the remaining humans. Points are awarded to whomever gets to stay human the longest. Once every one's been abducted, everything starts over again and we keep going until the time runs out. Pretty cool, but this game mode can also be found in any number of other first person shooters out there including the aforementioned Halo 3 and even the tried and true, Counter Strike, from years ago. In short, there's not much reason to hang around Area 51. If only there were an online co-op mode or something.
Or maybe if the ultra-violent and seriously scary tone of the original game were kept in play things would have panned out a little differently. At least then there would have been something to set this one apart from the throng of good games out right now. Then again, we still have the amazing Bio Shock to deliver the frights, but come to think of it, there's no multi-player fun in that one at all. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a game so affected by a Teen rating.
Midway tried to deliver a game that's both enjoyable and fun to play. They almost hit their mark. The game's dialog is witty at times and some of the alien encounters will leave you wanting more, but that's about it. Mainly this game lacks the polish needed to have made it good. Things aren't all bad though. If you're looking for some slightly above average alien ass kicking fun, Blacksite: Area 51 may quench your thirst. Anyone looking for something a bit more meaty to sink their probe into will just have to keep looking and lubing.
3 out of 5
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