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Area 51 Review

publisher: Midway
developer: Midway
genre: Shooters

PIII 1200, 256MB RAM, 64MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: Jun 06, 05
» All About Area 51 on ActionTrip

June 24, 2005
Branka "Nikerym" Todorovic

"The truth is out there," he said. And then he shot himself.

How many times in your life did you experience the phenomenon of d'ją vu? And then, have you ever managed to explain this phenomenon to yourself? Did you ascribe it to a momentary lapse of reason, or perhaps to some inexplicable, supernatural force toying with you? I may not have found all the possible reasons that are the cause of this phenomenon, but I've certainly found one. The reason why you have the feeling that you've already done or experienced something is because you probably have. It's as simple as that. Because of this sudden revelation, if for nothing else, I feel I must be obliged to Midway's new I-have-seen-it-all-before FPS entitled Area 51. The game has (almost) nothing to do with the original Area 51 arcades, although the arcade machines do make a cameo appearance and no, it is not possible to play them, so don't bother.

What does Area 51 have to do with the feeling of d'ją vu? Well, everything and nothing. Its connection with the said phenomenon is yet undeniable - it makes you realize you've seen it all before, not once, not twice, but millions of times. It makes you realize you've seen much better renders of the idea while, on the other hand, you cannot but admit you've seen a lot worse than that. This leaves Area 51 somewhere in the middle and, while temperance may be a virtue and avoiding extremes might be applicable in Zen, our fragile, imperfect world tends to describe the status of this game as plainly mediocre. If at least the game were an absolute junk, maybe I would have enjoyed it more - after all, I enjoy a healthy amount of "trash" once in a while. But Area 51 plays as dozens of first-shooters before, uses the same game mechanism marred by some impractical and/or illogical details, features the same arsenal of weapons, and applies some of the most "interesting" squad-based combat I've ever seen.

I was warned *not* to spill it all out on the very beginning of a review, but I felt this had to be an exception to the rule. After all, if you're really interested why I sound so sour about this game, you'll go on and read the rest of the review. Then you'll discover I'm not that sour as I may sound - after all, the game's biggest fault is its mediocrity, so if you feel you can deal with it, there's no reason to quit reading just yet. The game has some interesting aspects, after all - it may be the fact it features David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson lending voices to some of the main characters, and while Duchovny sounds as depressed and miserable as if he's just come clean off drugs (Didn't he sound like this when he did XIII?), I managed to form no definite opinion about Manson, whom I find less than half as shocking as my grandma discussing her sex life with our neighbors (even when he portrays a disgusting monster as is the case).

One of the best parts of the game is the story. It's got everything: a plague explosion caused by a deadly virus that has gotten out of control, the government conspiracy, a potential alien threat, piles of dead human bodies, as well as countless mutants infected by the virus which now controls what's left of their brain. The story seems intriguing enough; although it'll soon become clear it doesn't make much sense, finding its purpose in making a big mish-mash out of all paranormal or conspiracy-based elements available. Still, it will keep you going throughout the game by allowing you to scan specific objects and thus gaining access to relevant information that will throw some more light on the mess you've gotten yourself into. All this sounds rather like Agent Mulder material, only this time he doesn't sound so enthusiastic to reveal the truth that is "out there" - especially after he sees the death of his three team members and in turn gets infected with the virus himself.

Duchovny lends the voice to Ethan Cole, a member of the HAZMAT (the Hazardous Materials Division) who is sent to investigate the disappearance of the Delta Team, which has gone missing during a mission in the Area 51 sector. As I've said, he does not sound overly enthusiastic about his new assignment, nor is he especially attached to his teammates. Still, although you won't have any real opportunity of bonding with your teammates, you are sure to miss them as hell when they get killed during the mission. That is because they are truly helpful when it comes to eliminating the mutated freaks that will make most of your opponents in the game. Unfortunately, they are at times too helpful, meaning you will often just sit and wait until your squad gets done with the monsters without actually having to press the trigger even once. This rather takes the edge off the game, as you are not in direct control of your team and you also often feel neglected when it comes to combat - your team will rush in front of you and take care of all present enemies, so you will be forced to stumble heedlessly into trouble in order to get some real action. The enemies on the initial levels are usually not that numerous or difficult to kill as the enemies on the later levels, and while you would appreciate some help later on, your team gets killed early in the game, thus robbing you of any possible help. This makes the game feel rather unbalanced, and there will be more than one occasion when countless enemies will keep coming from all angles, keeping you under heavy fire and making it almost impossible to move and shoot at the same time. Your aiming also lacks some precision, so it can be rather difficult to deal with a great number of enemies at once with such an unsteady aim. Fortunately, you can have the auto save option enabled, so you can load your progress from the last checkpoint without having to replay too much of the action.

Your arsenal presents a standard set of weapons including a pistol, rifle, shotgun, and a sniper. You are also granted a plasma rifle and cannon, as well as a set of grenades, a melee attack, and a neat accessory in the form of a scanner which is needed for gathering information about specific objects in the game, such as papers, computers, corpses, even the air. All weapons are fairly effective, even the pistol, while the most fun comes from the dual wielding option. Unfortunately, even this is not without its faults. You can dual wield only what you pick up, and it's sometimes damn difficult to take care of which weapon you're picking up as you move across the map. I did not exactly enjoy this system, but it wasn't that much of a nuisance really. The real nuisance was the relative predictability of the AI and the gameplay. Most of the time I could guess when and where they were going to jump me and that really took the scare factor out of the game. It was only on several occasions that the enemies managed to surprise me, and those were not good occasions, mind you. I shall not claim that the AI is dense, as it serves its purpose and makes up for its predictability with the sheer number of enemies.

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5.9   Okay

Intense combat sequences, a few nice looking levels, the realistic feel of weapons, good special effects;

Overly efficient friendly AI leads to gameplay balancing issues, terrible monster design, an incoherent story, the air of mediocrity which imbues every segment of Area 51, and above all - David Duchovny's performance.


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