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Area 51 (PC) artwork

Area 51 (PC) review

"Midway originally released Area 51 as a lightgun game several but, when all of the sudden remaking old games became popular, the good people at Midway decided that they would modernize Area 51 and turn it into a traditional first-person shooter and dropping the lightgun gimmick (and the arcades) which made the franchise popular. I blame Nintendo and the Gameboy Advance for causing this phenomenon to sweep the video gaming world, but I wonít get started on that. There are very few s..."

Midway originally released Area 51 as a lightgun game several but, when all of the sudden remaking old games became popular, the good people at Midway decided that they would modernize Area 51 and turn it into a traditional first-person shooter and dropping the lightgun gimmick (and the arcades) which made the franchise popular. I blame Nintendo and the Gameboy Advance for causing this phenomenon to sweep the video gaming world, but I wonít get started on that. There are very few similarities between the original game and this modern update, except that they both happen to take place at the same secret-shrouded facility in Nevada. This particular incarnation of the franchise stars Ethan Cole, who is sent into the Nevada military base with a team of soldiers to rescue a previous team that disappeared after all hell broke loose inside the installation. Naturally, everything is far worse than expected and after his team is annihilated, Ethan is infected with a strange alien virus that he must utilize if he ever hopes to find a cure and survive the facility.

And as original and unique as the setting is, the gameplay is anything but. Area 51 has you trudging through all of the developers imagined nooks and crannies of this fabled military base, and a lot of their futuristic thoughts and ideas about how it looks on the inside are neat, even if their ideas are not necessarily realistic or practical. But while the developers had a lot of great ideas about how the facility could look, they didnít have as many great ideas when it came to the actual play of Area 51. Youíll spend all of your time ducking behind objects, popping up occasionally to shoot at your enemies, then running to push a button that inevitably will unleash a swarm of new foes. You do this from room to room, over and over again with no variation.

Thatís not to say that this isnít the formula for most first-person shooters. I think you could probably sum up almost every FPS, from the worst to the best on the market, with the same basic summary that I just provided. However, it specifically hurts a game like Area 51 because the game is so imaginative in some respects and so unimaginative in others that you actually feel the rigidity of the formula right from the very beginning. Where are the cool puzzles involving space-age gadgets the world has never seen? Where are all of the unique enemies that are genetically modified and experimented on? Theyíre not in this game, thatís for sure.

This isnít at all to imply that Area 51 is a bad game. Actually, itís a cut above a lot of the other first-person shooters on the market. Itís just incredibly irritating that they didnít strive for anything beyond aesthetics. While I criticize the rigid, linear gameplay, I enjoyed most of my time playing it. At one point in the game, Ethan is attacked by a foe that infects him with a virus. Of course, instead of killing him, this gives him SUPER POWERS that he can use. Mock them as I may, triggering Ethanís powers and slaughtering swarms of enemies all at once was actually redeeming. But the entire time, all I could think about is how they really could have done so much more with the game.

But what we do get is a challenging and mindlessly entertaining first-person shooter. One thing that I liked about this game is that Ethan only has an arsenal of about six weapons. There are your conventional FPS weapons, like a pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, and a sniper rifle, but youíll also get your hands on some alien weaponry, like a gun that shoots out plasma (think basically a gun that fires Haloís plasma grenades and youíre on the right track) and a powerful alien cannon that electrocutes everything. This small supply of weapons requires you to use even the most basic guns later on in the game and makes you much more conscious of ammo use. But with a small arsenal of weapons, all of them should be finely tuned, and I must say that the sniper rifle in this game was absolutely terrible. It was far too touchy and only offered two zoom options. Thankfully, none of the other weapons suffered from this problem.

Of course, your ďinfection powersĒ are three other weapons at your disposal. First, you get a powerful melee attack that presumably rips your enemies apart followed by two attacks which shoot infection out of your hands and into your enemies in a sort of biological warfare. The infection powers are limited by a meter that fills up through elixirs that mysteriously appear right after you get infected (you never see them early in the game and thereís no logical explanation for their existence later in the game either) or by killing your enemies with the previously mentioned melee attack.

The four or five enemies that this game offers (a few mutants and a few soldiers) go through the typical motions (ducking behind objects, attempting to flank), which isnít anything special, but at least they look good doing it. As Iíve mentioned before, Area 51 is a good looking game. Sure, itís not going to rival Half-Life 2 or FarCry, but as console ports go, I donít think many are going to complain. Part of the appeal of the graphics engine is that a lot of the rooms are very different and full of junk that really doesnít look like it does anything but damn, it looks cool.

Sadly I canít say the same for the voice acting. David Duchovny provides the voice work for Ethan Cole, and while Area 51 digs into the same material that Duchovnyís ďX-FilesĒ show dug through, he brings little to the character. He has no emotion and nearly every line he reads is monotone and boring. I think they probably could have made him more excited if just before every line they gave him a dollar since he was clearly involved for the money and not interest in the project. Either way, it was a massive waste of money to bring him in to voice Ethan. The rest of the cast, which includes rocker Marilyn Manson, doesnít do a much better job, but Duchovnyís performance is so lacking it makes them seem better by comparison. The music also failed to stand out.

Area 51 holds a lot of secrets if youíre willing to look for them. Memos and papers are strewn carelessly about as the facility is being destroyed that, when scanned by Ethan, unlock videos that offer a glimpse of what went on before Ethan arrived. But, this doesnít serve as much of a reason to play through the game a second time, even though your first trip through the installation will only take you ten hours. Once the effects of all the fancy environments wear off, youíll quickly realize that thereís not much to this game other than pushing switches and shooting the same enemies over and over again. Even still, though the lack of very original gameplay ideas hurts Area 51, it does have a lot of good things going for it, including a very cool graphics engine and a cool infection mode, which, combined with a low price tag, justify a purchase of this very superficial game.

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Community review by asherdeus (June 28, 2006)

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