Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Game Talk #13: Area 51

I had to admit that as a young child, I was obsessed with the idea of Area 51. I mean, it's such an enigma. I've always been in love with the idea of conspiracies and hidden truths and creepy monsters being experimented on and government cover ups. Now, I did love the Area 51 arcade shooter games, but that was more because of the gameplay. It was just fun as hell and I almost never got to experience it.

Technically speaking, this game, made by Midway and released in 2005, is a canonical reboot of those arcade shooter games.

As another example of my love of Area 51, my first day in eighth grade was spent reading Area 51 by Bob Mayer. I read the whole damn nine book series at least twice. Probably more than twice.

So when I saw that trailer for Area 51 packaged with Psi Ops, I was like:

So obviously I got it as soon as I could. I remember having dreams about playing this damn game. That's how much I wanted to play it.

Unfortunately, I can't honestly remember how I felt about it when I played it. I know that I enjoyed it and I got about three quarters of the way through the game, but then I stopped for some reason.

So I'll tell you what I thought about it this time through, since I purchased it last year and played through the whole thing this time around.

Let's start with the basics. It's a first person shooter and it must have been a big deal when it came out because it featured the voices of David Duchovny, Marilyn Manson and Powers Boothe, with Duchovny voicing the main character.

In the game, you play Ethan Cole, a member of a military trained hazmat squad. Officially, you and your other three teammates are called in to Area 51, which is now in lockdown, to find another hazmat squad that has gone missing. As you penetrate the subterranean portions of the legendary Area 51, you find the scattered remnants of the base's internal security forces and science personnel, who are besieged by a seemingly unstoppable onslaught of mutant horrors. As you push further into the base, you discover that nothing is as it seems and an apparently simple mission suddenly becomes a gruesome struggle for survival.

There's a lot I like about this game.

Right away, it seems very cinematic. The intro plays a little like a movie, with the names of the primary voice actors intercut with some badass shots of the protagonist gearing up and heading for Area 51. It framed the game nicely and got me amped to play.

There's a lot of cool stuff sprinkled throughout the game, a lot of collectibles. You can find a great deal of conspiracy theory stuff, like where crop circles came from and the reality of the moon landing and flying saucers.

The gameplay was usually varied enough to keep it interesting and they weren't stingy with the story. You usually got another piece of it fairly often, not a lot, but enough to keep you going. Also, there were these cool little commentaries from the protagonist in between each chapter, although sometimes the dialogue got a little poor or corny.

Also, I didn't feel cheated by the game really. It was a solid overall campaign experience. It felt like a full game. I'm not sure how long it took me to beat, (I couldn't find any kind of runtime calculator and I'm terrible at keeping track of time while playing), but overall it felt like a satisfying amount of campaign.

There was a multiplayer mode, but I never tried it and obviously can't anymore so I don't know how it turned out.

I do wish they would have put in campaign co-op, though. That would have made the game a lot more fun.

Now, some things I want to complain about.

The game is too dark fairly frequently and there's no way to change the brightness of the game. A couple things that should be fucking mandatory on games: subtitles, volume control and fucking brightness control. Psi Ops had this
problem too, even worse than Area 51.

One thing that I don't really have a good grasp on is the controls. They got the job done but I felt like they could have been a lot better. A lot tighter. But I don't know if these controls were good for the time and I'm just spoiled by our amazing controls nowadays or if they were lame back then, too. I can for sure say they're worlds better than fucking Psi Ops.

Also, the story itself is a little incoherent. I mean, at one point, all these bad guys with guns start showing up and there's no real explanation for them. I guess they're the Illuminati? There's hardly even any kind of like 'announcement' for them. I mean, normally, when a new enemy emerges, there's like a cut-scene or something. Maybe there was but if there was it didn't leave an impression.

The biggest disappointment of the game is honestly that it didn't take off. Technically, there was a sequel, Blacksite: Area 51, but it seems to have about as much to do with this game as this game did with the arcade shooters. And clearly they were planning to do a lot with it. Even before the game came out, they had announced that fucking Paramount Pictures were going to release a movie adaptation!

So what happened?

I don't know but I imagine it must have been poor sales. This could have been a cool franchise, just like Psi Ops could have been, and it's obvious that the game designers had a lot more ideas and potential, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

So, just like last review, if you find a cheap copy of the game, give it a play.

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