BlackSite: Area 51 Review

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BlackSite: Area 51 Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Something has gone horribly wrong in the rural Nevada desert. An exceptionally well-armed force has seized a town near Area 51, driving locals into the protective arms of a nearby army camp. When Aeran Pierce leads his Delta Force squad into the thick of the action, he discovers the Nevada insurgency has a terrible secret... an alien secret.

Kyle Ackerman

BlackSite: Area 51It's bad enough that BlackSite: Area 51 is a lackluster sequel to a mediocre game that was itself based on a coin-operated light-gun shooter. To make matters worse, the game tries to insert heavy-handed partisan politics into a game that would be more entertaining if it was just about shooting aliens. It doesn't matter whether you agree with the game's viewpoint on the war in Iraq and the current United States administration's handling of certain disasters, it's as if the game were filled with cut-scenes in which I was asked to add three-digit integers. I'm not here to practice math, I'm here to shoot aliens. If you want to convey a powerful political or moral message through entertainment, it's important that it be seamlessly integrated and compellingly engaging. BlackSite: Area 51 has all the subtlety of a Thanksgiving play put on by fifth graders whose assignment was to convey why "hunger is bad."

What Happened to Shooting Sinister Aliens?

BlackSite: Area 51Midway's developers had a simple assignment: make a game in which you venture into a secret government base overrun with aliens and shoot those aliens. A lot. Somehow, they failed to deliver. The effort to make a juvenile political statement overwhelmed everything else in the game. I didn't even get into the secret underground government base until the last episode of the six in the game. Most of the game was spent running around the desert, be it in Iraq or Nevada, shooting conventional troops.

BlackSite: Area 51 just feels like it needed more effort. It takes a bunch of conventions from other recent shooters and implements them halfheartedly in an effort to have marketing bullet points without adding real fun. There's destructible terrain, almost exclusively in the form of concrete highway barriers scattered around the game that are virtually irrelevant to play. You have squadmates to help out, and they benefit or suffer from morale. Your health regenerates, making damage basically irrelevant except insofar as getting hit by enemy fire reduces your squad's morale and makes them less effective. Of course, you'll have to kill everything yourself anyway, so it hardly matters. And when morale is good, you'll get lots of macho exclamations from your squadmates when you kill things.

Needed More Cooking Time And a Different Chef

BlackSite: Area 51That's hardly the laundry list of BlackSite: Area 51's problems. The graphics don't remotely take advantage of the Xbox 360's capabilities (looking more like graphics from the original Xbox). The game froze repeatedly, and often suffered from painful slowdowns. The levels were unbelievably linear, but even gotcha moments failed because it was easy to send my squad ahead to draw fire and trigger ambushes.

BlackSite: Area 51 has unbelievably long loading screens. This isn't what people usually mean by long loading screens. These loading screens are so long that when I found myself suffering through them repeatedly after a few failures in the game's final battle, I actually pulled out another game on my DS to play while waiting for BlackSite: Area 51 to load. Also, the game's checkpoint continue system is dreadful. Occasional deaths required replaying long sequences. In fact, the only thing making the game take longer than around five hours is the need to replay vast segments due to the player's untimely death.

Not Even Other Live Players Can Save This One

It seems like the developers put a lot of stock in the game's multiplayer modes, but these are barely adequate, and will be quickly abandoned in favor of other games with more staying power. The maps are lackluster and the selection of weapons is so poor that the game relies on power-ups to make certain players briefly unstoppable. Multiplayer in BlackSite: Area 51 isn't enough to carry, let alone redeem, this game.

When it comes to the legacy of Area 51, just about the only thing that evokes the spirit of the original light-gun shooter is the fact that there's a little rappelling at the end of BlackSite: Area 51. It feels like development of the actual game was neglected to shoehorn a political agenda into audience's faces. There's not even an interesting selection of weapons, and it's supposed to be a first-person shooter! I'm more than a little disappointed that I'd rather play the last Area 51 game on the original Xbox than this game on the Xbox 360.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 29, 2007 6:30 PM.

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