To say that the original Area 51 game was bad would be like saying the Virtual Boy underperformed. The 1996 FPS was sub par in almost every way imaginable, the graphics were horrible even for their time and the gameplay was intolerably simple and dull – you couldn’t even move your own character.
Now, over ten years later, Midway looks to turn the franchise around with BlackSite: Area 51 – an updated version of the old school shooter that shares more in common with games like Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six than its older, “shoot everything that moves” brother.
In BlackSite, you control Special Forces agent Aeran Pierce and two of his subordinates. Much like other squad shooters, you issue commands to your squad with the shoulder buttons. Interestingly, how each squad member reacts to your commands will differ depending on the situation and their personality. For instance, one soldier was more than willing to talk about, and go ahead shooting everything that moves, especially when we hesitated to give orders, but the other almost refused to do anything unless I gave permission to proceed. Midway promises that as the game goes on, this team function will get incredibly deeper, as each character will have their own fears, and will react to the way you command your squad.
Though we only played a short bit of the game, we had to be impressed with what we saw. Our small demo set us into the small town of Rachel to search for survivors of an attack from the Reborn Army. The majority of the action took place at the rubble of what was once a gas station, a great place to show off the game’s destructible environments: things went from eerily quiet to loud and explosive in mere seconds thanks to exploding cars and propane tanks. The game has a sci-fi thriller feeling to it which in actually quite enticing.
One thing that ruins many modern FPS games is the fact that the controls are loose and unresponsive, a problem the developers seem to have avoided in BlackSite. In the hectic battle at the gas station, the controls were amazingly tight and responsive. Though we didn’t get to experience switching weapons or much use of the face buttons, it’s nice to that the developers took care of the control system this early in the game.
BlackSite definitely takes advantage of the fact that it will be on next-generation platforms this fall. Even at such an early stage in the game’s development, the game has a slick visual style that serves to impress and move the game’s storyline along. The attention to detail, from character’s faces that actually show emotion based off what is happening to the condemned and destroyed buildings is highly impressive. We did however see the frame rate slow during some of the more intense action sequences.
BlackSite: Area 51 is still more than four months away from hitting shelves, but if the developers seem to have a well rounded and fun shooter on their hands. Not bad for a game that shares its name with one of the worst shooters in history.