"Blacksite: Area 51 is just another shooter. You’ve played this game before; you’ve played it better and you‘ve played it worse, but this doesn’t change the fact that, as a title, it simply exists."
Blacksite‘s going to get completely lost in the mists of time, and it’s perhaps a little bit of a shame, but, at the same time, it’s just another FPS that’s unable to distinguish itself amongst the throngs of other shooters. The game’s competent; it showcases some exhilarating set-pieces that fall upon an unfortunate backdrop of fumbles and buggy gameplay. I can end the review now for readers in a hurry -- Blacksite: Area 51 is just another shooter. You’ve played this game before; you’ve played it better and you‘ve played it worse, but this doesn’t change the fact that, as a title, it simply exists.
For the rest of you, I suppose I’ll start at the beginning.
Aeran Pierce is a standout marine who leads a small platoon of American soldiers that get cut off from their main group late in the Iraqi conflict. Things start off pedestrian: the three-strong group make short work of their oil-hoarding enemies, ending their lives in that slightly floaty way all four hundred and twelve games worked off the Unreal 3 engine tend to do, before things start to get weird. Grotesque mutated humans burst through the walls of a deserted desert town, soaking up enough artillery to open up their own second-hand bullet store, accompanied by hurried explanations about generations of breeding within a nuclear fallout. Oddities continue and the excuses start to sound more far-fetched; tales of radiation damage fail to justify the freak gallery that slowly draw a war-torn and broken Iraqi village away from a dilapidated graveyard of abandoned homes and drag it, kicking and screaming, into the surreal.
Every enemy slaughtered leaves their weaponry around for our rugged protagonist to claim as his own, but it floats in midair like it’s made out of helium-filled balloons instead of cold steel. Perhaps they are: I’m not an expert on the American military’s firearm manufacturing methods and being constructed by such a flimsy material would certainly explain why these weapons will arbitrarily disappear if not collected almost immediately.
It’s hard to take Blacksite seriously at times. Pierce is always accompanied by his small platoon that never ever features more than two, despite his ability to call on up to four troopers to help him out. The plot dictates who follows him and, should it ever call for the sassy Latino scientist chick to tag along then the rugged beardo with an attitude magically has somewhere else he pressingly needs to be. Feel bad for token black guy: the second he talks with affection about his young family back home and how he only has a few more days left until his retirement from the armed forces, you may as well shoot him yourself. You already know he’ll be dead before the game’s end credits roll.
None of this is flattering, and the deep chasm of hopeless cliché and jarring moments can rip you right out of any sense of immersion the game works so hard to build up. But even this can melt away under the relentless torrent of sci-fi sadism and beautifully-constructed set pieces. Iraq is used only as a training stage of sorts and a prologue into Blacksite‘s boring plot but also its oft-commendable slide into the macabre and the other-worldly. Most of the game is centred around the unfortunate town of Rachel, a sleepy little place hidden amongst the sand dunes of Nevada which blames its bad fortune on sharing its outskirts with the titular army base. Area 51 is a but a short UFO-trip away.
Some of the game’s highlights are expected. When you turn into a razed shopping district and see a five-stories tall monstrosity tailored out of the twisted and broken flesh of Rachel‘s former inhabitants, you know the only gentlemanly thing to do is eradicate it with a constant barrage of rocket-propelled grenades. To do this, you must partake in a desperate footrace across ruined rooftops to not only avoid one-hit-kill blasts of pure plasma issued from your quarry, but to try and find rockets for your launcher. Amid constant ambushes and game-ending emissions, you need to not only get yourself at an angle to pepper the beast’s always-present weak spot, but sack the dead bodies of troops who had the same idea as you, but pulled it off with less success.
It’s around here you’ll realise that Blacksite is a much better game when it’s not trying to force feed you its C-Movie sci-fi script until you start choking up little green men. Real stand out moments talk for themselves rather than drown in bad voice overs and rehashed conspiracy theories. Running through an eerily silent slice of suburbia sees you snaking around an urban maze made by burning back gardens and a network of grass paths connecting them all. You hear the innocent tones of a young girl, impervious to her danger, before rounding a corner just in time to see something blur past, grab her up, and vanish over the side of a whitewashed fence. You never hear from her again. A few houses on, and you’re saved by a local occupant with a handgun who tells you that he’s ploughed too much money into his estate to abandon it to a collection of freaks. His house promptly explodes in a shower of splinters caused by an eruption of tentacles, and he’s lost during the desperate fire-fight to bring it down. Pristine garage doors roll up on well-greased axles to reveal hordes of lumpy mutants who bull charge parked cars to barrel them into you while a house still under construction is haunted by enemy forces waiting on you to just poke your head around the corner so they can blow it clean off with the heavy machinegun they’ve fixed between the wooden beams and plasterboard temporary walls.
Then it’s right back to basics, offering ho-hum vehicle sections just because some new law demands every FPS should awkwardly shoehorn them in somewhere and groan-heavy plot explanations which seem to work suspiciously hard against making the overall game feel like a worthwhile project. Blacksite is a game littered with momentary bubbles of redemption, then you fall right back on how your team only seems to exist to open doors for you in a flashy way or how, when the game finds something that works well, it constantly recycles it until all meaning is buried beneath a slew of unwelcome déjà vu even more annoying than my frantic search to find the alt codes that would allow me to say déjà properly.
I’ll end the review for those of you kind enough to bear with me until the end -- Blacksite: Area 51 is just another shooter. You’ve played this game before; you’ve played it better and you‘ve played it worse, but this doesn’t change the fact that, as a title, it simply exists.
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