Genre : First Person Shooter
Developer: Midway Studios – Austin
Release Date: Q1 2005
I’m not quite sure how they got from point A to point B on this one. It’s not that much of a stretch to make Area 51, one of the all-time great arcade shoot-‘em-ups, into a first-person shooter, especially since the audience for light gun games on consoles consists of about six guys.
The real difference is in mood and tone. The original Area 51 was all about no-holds-barred action in brightly lit surroundings, as you shot brightly colored aliens and infected humans while simultaneously trying to avoid shooting innocent bystanders and your fellow team members. This Area 51 places you into the role of a biohazard team’s lone survivor, trying frantically to stay alive and find out just what the hell is going on. They’re both action games and they’re both relentless, but they’re thematically dissimilar.
That’s not a bad thing, though, by any stretch of the imagination. The FPS Area 51 is set in the legendary military base of the title in the mid-twenty-first century. An elderly research scientist has deliberately unleashed imprisoned alien life forms, in the name of some insane ideal of “progress.” Hours later, a cleanup team is sent into the base to neutralize the problem. They are unsuccessful.
A subsequent team is sent to find out what happened to the first one. Its members descend into Area 51, and one by one, they all die. The lone survivor, Ethan Cole (voiced by David Duchovny), is forced to complete the mission. You’re alone, slowly losing your humanity to an alien infection, and up against a small army that consists of the possessed shells of some of the greatest soldiers on the planet.
It’d be sort of stupid not to acknowledge certain things about Area 51, such as the heavy thematic debts it owes to Half-Life. At the first cursory inspection, Area 51 looks like Half-Life would if someone had forgotten to pay the power bill; you’re trapped in a dark top-secret military facility, uncovering conspiracies, with hostile aliens that’re piloting dead humans around like puppets.
Area 51 isn’t a clone, though. For one thing, Cole’s not quite human anymore. As you go through the game and Cole continues to mutate, you’ll gain a variety of new powers. One allows you to attack enemies with swarms of parasites; another changes Cole into a more powerful form, with an equally powerful melee attack.
Your arsenal also includes a wide variety of firearms, each of which comes with a secondary fire. So far, we’ve seen a pistol, double-barreled tactical shotgun, submachinegun, sniper rifle, and an alien laser gun called the BBG. The last’s the most fun; its primary beam fires ricocheting globes of plasma that stick to a victim and explode, and by pressing R2, you can track where the plasma will go with the help of a targeting laser. Blowing someone’s head off is all well and good, but when there’s something glowing dangerously on their chest and they’ve got about half a second of cold realization before the explosion? Now that’s entertainment.
…note to self: schedule appointment with therapist.
So far, we’ve played the PS2 version of Area 51, and frankly, it doesn’t look like a stereotypical PS2 game. A lot of PS2 FPSes have fuzzy graphics, where they compensate for the system’s lower power by making everything look like an uninspired Monet, but such is not the case here. Whether you’re exchanging gunfire with possessed humans in a well-lit laboratory or dual-wielding submachineguns in an attempt to destroy an alien jamming device, everything stays crisp and at a solid framerate.
There’ve been a lot of first-person shooters lately, and there’s no end in sight. Area 51 promises to separate itself from the pack with a sense of black humor, some excellent action setpieces, and typically understated voice acting from David Duchovny. It’ll be out by spring.
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