Area 51 was first unveiled at E3, this is fairly substandard, but what makes this unveiling a little different is that the game was unveiled at E3 in 2001. Originally scheduled for release in 2002, Area 51 has seen many delays (a conspiracy?) and finally makes its way onto Playstation 2 and Xbox in 2005. Area 51 is a 1st-person shooter set in the U.S government's most secret and secure military facility, Area 51. So, is the game any good or is there a reason the facility has been hidden for so long?
The storyline of Area 51 is where the problems begin to arise, this is a complicated story that even after finishing, i don't quite understand. The U.S army has recieved a distress signal from Area 51, where a viral outbreak has just shut down the research facility. The automated quarantine procedures have locked all scientific and military personell inside. A small Special Forces unit, lead by Ethan Cole is sent to investigate. Players take on the role of Ethan, there are five levels through Area 51 that are absolutely massive. As the story unfolds players will have to discover what happens to those who are infected, explore conspiracies and solve the enigma of Area 51, that is of course if you can work out the story and what it is you are trying to solve.
The single player campaign is the main drawcard of Area 51, and we cannot help but feel it has been left a little open, while the storyline is great, it is awfully confusing, and it is easy to forget some of the crucial elements of the storyline. Being an Area 51 game we assumed we would just be solving the riddles of Area 51, but now Midway have thrown in a deadly virus, at least so we've got something to kill. In reality though, Midway aren't renowned for their captivating stories in Mortal Kombat so maybe we're being a bit tough.
There are more than ten weapons for players to arm themselves with, some of the weapons are human and some of them are alien weapons so their are definitely some unique fire-arms, but we'll let you discover what those are. All the creatures in the game are created and designed by Stan Winston, who designed the monsters for Aliens, Jurassic Park and Predator. David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson also feature in the game, Duchovny is the narrator and Manson is a horrific alien.... in the game, (but who could tell??)
Area 51 also supports online play for both the XBox and Playstation 2. In Xbox Live custom matches can be set up. For those who prefer offline play Area 51 also supports four play split screen, which is an addictive match, but nowhere near the greatness of other first person shooters. The addition of online play is appreciated though and is another title that Midway have brought online, it's good to have the online option sometimes, and without it Area 51's longetivity would have been questionable, although it still is.
The game play of Area 51 is very addictive, and at times the game feels more like a survival horror than a first-person shooter, because it is so atmospheric. A scanner is included in the game, similar to Metroid Prime, but retrieving the contents of the scanner actually forces the player to go through a plethora of menus, rather than just being brought up in-game. The reason it isn't brought up in-game? We wish we knew. There is only a little bit of slowdown in some graphic intensive segments, so the experience is relatively flowing.. The AI is great for most of the time, during a training mission i ran out of ammo and had to go back and get some more, the enemy i was trying to kill was still there, finally after a fourth bout of ammo he ran off, but barely very far.
That is of course except for David Duchovny, who interrupts whenever he sees fit. The idea of getting Duchovny to voice the game was great, the implementation is atrocious. It may seem like we're being a little harsh, but we're not. The narration is dry, uninspiring and completely loses the atmosphere of the game. At one stage you could be blasting viral infected inhabitants, and seconds later David Duchovny is narrating a dry story. The musical score is high class and really makes the game seem eerie, which it seems was Midway's intention. The music is soft enough to not be an annoyance, but loud enough to create atmosphere.
The graphics are one of the best assets of Area 51 and we can imagine they are pushing the Playstation 2 to the limit. The detail is incredible and makes the game truly look like it has been in development for four years. The colours are bright, the character models are brilliant and the environments are detailed, although the player's hand doesn't look as good as it could.
The lifespan of the game is also one of its downfalls. The single player campaign will take a long time to get through, but after then their is practically no inspiration to play it again, no secret characters, weapons or endings, it just ends. The online componant and the four player support are appreciated, but there should have been more there to reward the player who completes the game (what about the ability to change David Duchovny's voice?)
Area 51 is an above average first-person shooter that could have been more. There were a lot of decisions made during its development that could have made this one of the best first-person shooters. Setting the game in Area 51; Great, twisting the story; bad, obtaining David Duchovny as the narrator; good, implementation; bad. The game is full of scenarios like this that make us feel like Area 51 is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Don't get us wrong though the game is very enjoyable and atmospheric, but you may be hitting the mute button everytime Duchovny speaks up.