Preview: Area 51 (XB) Updated Hands-On

Publisher: Midway / Developer: Mesa Logic / Genre: FPS / Release Date: 04-25-05
Midway’s been doing pretty good with games lately. In the past year we’ve seen Second Sight, The Suffering, and Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Area 51 however didn’t seem like a title that would interest me at all. First, it’s a remake of a classic Arcade title. Second, it’s yet another Government Conspiracy Title. Finally, it’s a First Person Shooter, a genre that bores the ever loving crap out of me. But Bebito asked me to take the Beta copy of this game and play through it and so I have. And I have to say, my opinion of it hasn’t changed a bit.

The game starts of with a crippled mad scientist in a wheelchair ranting about stuff that will probably make sense later in the game. Then he lowers a containment pod and a monster escaped. Did he let the monster out or not though? Well it’s not that clear.

Then the game shifts into a very beautiful CGI movie quality shot of a Haz-Mat team entering Area 51, encountering a giant monster and being slaughtered pretty easily. Except for the main character, who gets infected with some sort of mutative virus.

Then for some inexplicable reason, the main character (Named Ethan Cole, but they never tell you that) goes through everything you just saw all over again. It’s like Midway thought you were too stupid to get it, so it gives you a hand holding explanation of what just happened and it comes off as amazingly demeaning.

In the actual game though, it’s just another FPS although it really does try to leech off the Suffering’s success because the main character can mutate into a monster very similar to the main character in the Suffering and turn back the same way. In essence, the game feels like a sci fi version of that game, but without the ability to switch to third person action as well.

Controls are okay Left trigger to throw a bomb, right trigger to shoot. A to jump, B to do something special or use your guns sight, Y to shift through your weapons, X to reload, black button to mutate, white to turn back. It’s fairly simple, although trying to pick up items is amazingly annoying.

What I played started me off in a big room with the goal of contacting someone. I ran around for a few minutes, picked up some weapons, tested out various guns and what they did, then unlocked a door by pressing buttons until it opened, and then was immediately shot at by two guys directly out of Halo. Shot and killed them, took their stuff, marveled at how easy Master Chief was to kill, and walked through the door with some strange mumbling would be cryptic and eerie but indecipherable talking was heard.

As I proceed down the hall, I learn it’s some scientist testing someone’s hot/cold sensations. Now, I could keep listening, but instead I jump in guns blazing and kill everything in sight. Now that was kind of fun.

By this point I’m noticing the aiming is okay, but not dead accurate. Sometimes I can kill them with one hit aimed squarely at the head, other times it takes two or three shots with the same gun. I do like that I can pick up two of the same gun and just shoot away with that though. It’s a nice touch, and although that would decrease your aim in real life, it actually helps it here.

From there I try and contact my boss, only to learn the communication is jammed. And in order to do this, I have to destroy jammers all while being shot at by the very people I thought I was trying to rescue. At this point I start shaking my head. I mean, what’s the point of me mutating. Why is it everyone else who is mutating is evil, but I’m somehow still a good guy? Why are these people attacking me? Do they think I’m a bad mutant too? An alien? Are they doing some sort of coverup? The game never really explains.

The backgrounds and detailed are nice, but at the same time don’t really take full advantage of the Xbox’s power. But the real problem I find is simply trying to find who is shooting at you, where they are, and actually hitting them. Now in other FPS games, this isn’t so much a problem, but in Area 51, it’s made into even more of a chore as I try to aim for things and learning quite quickly the enemy red life bars that show up and these little green arrows hitting at where and how far the enemies are from you are in fact, full of shit.

So far the games story seems lackluster and cliche’, and the gameplay is boring and trite. Wow, I have a bunch of guns and I’m in an army base. There’s no real depth or anything drawing me in. For a good part of the game that I played, it was just shooting other humans and when the aliens and monsters they do show, well, they’re not scary. They are in fact laughable. Don’t get me wrong, the graphics are quite good, but there’s something about these things that just make me laugh. They’re not impressive or captivating at all. At least the monsters in the Suffering had a reason behind their weirdness. These are just some ugly and not very compelling monsters to fight. I’m reminded back to the Quake rehash where you play a a cyborg created by Magneto to kill X-Men clones. It’s about as fun (read: not at all) as that.

As for your super special mutant powers, what is the point? They’re cool once or twice, but they really don’t do anything to make the game more exciting or more importantly, any more fun. I found myself rarely using them and getting bored with them quite quickly.

The best weapons I found while playing were the shotgun and the BBG. The only alien mutation power I found worth using is the parasite you can release which drains health from your enemies and gives them to you. It’s helpful, but again I sit here going, “What is the point of this? Why did I mutate and no one else did from my squad?”

Voice acting wise, David Duchovny does a great job, and far better than he was in XIII.

In all, the game isn’t bad, but it feels dated, especially after better FPS games are already out, from Chronicles of Riddick to Halo 2 or Metroid Prime to even Doom 3 being more enjoyable to me, and I gave that game only a 6/10.

The fact of the matter is, I expect this game to be lost in the shuffle, if not for the fact you get a free copy of the most excellent Midway Arcade Treasures 2 when you buy this.

If you are a diehard FPS fan who desperately needs a new game to play, then you might consider this, but for anyone else, I can’t see them having much fun unless they’re a total scifi geek looking to shoot aliens and dream about knocking up Agent Scully.

Here’s hoping the end result when it is released is a lot more entertaining. But if the final result is anything like this hands on, then the only cover up should be involving keeping your friends from playing this.