|Submitted by Zanzibar |
(Jun 28, 2005)
Are we alone in the universe? Did a UFO actually crash at Roswell in 1947? Where did the Frisbee come from? Finally, these important questions and more have been answered, and in video game form to boot! Midway's Area 51, a sci-fi first-person shooter for the Playstation 2, has all the answers any conspiracy theorist could desire. Whether they're true or not, well, who's to say? You can't exactly prove them wrong now can you? Thought not, now read the review.
The title pretty much gives the game away. You're one of the good guys, a HazMat (hazardous materials) specialist by the name of Ethan Cole, sent as part of a team to investigate a viral outbreak in an air force base in the Nevada desert. This base, known formally as Air Force Flight Test Center Detachment 3 and informally as AREA 51 (cue dramatic music), is where the original alien shipwreck was brought way back in '47. Now, sixty years later, it plays host to a conspiracy so terrifying that it will blow your mind! The aliens have, it seems, been coveting earth's wealth of resources for quite some time, and decided to show up when one of their ships went down due to malfunction. Not to give everything away, but a certain faction of intellectual elitists known as the Illuminati long ago allied themselves with the aliens, exchanging, among other things, human slaves for access to alien technology. They've also been co-operating on the development of biological super weapons, which the aliens need to win a war being fought back home. It's up to you to kick some scrawny gray ass so hop to it, and keep watching the skies!
The game begins with some squad-based action. You've arrived in time to save the remnants of the previous HazMat team who were ambushed by a mysterious alien monster. You have no control over your team (after all, you aren't the leader), and its members are all invulnerable, which is annoying and comforting at the same time, but that doesn't really matter as they all die soon enough anyway. It's solo action from here on out so grab all the ammo you can lay your alien-infected hands on. Oh yeah, an alien infects you. The alien virus, which is airborne and very potent, alters the DNA of its victims and turns them into semi-zombies. Luckily, you receive a partial cure, and instead of turning into a mindless monster you become a super human instead (game wouldn't be much fun otherwise). You can thereafter morph into an alien whenever you please and utilize a few crazy alien powers to aid you in your quest to uncover the xenos plot and prevent the loss of earth! More power to you chum, we all like living here.
The game's visuals are, overall, very impressive, especially the CGI sequences. They are some of the best ever, anywhere, so there! Only one problem: there are but four of said sequences. That's a crying shame as we could all use a little more stunningly realistic CGI sequences in our video gaming diets. The in-game graphics are also well done, though they don't stack up to, say, Killzone. The environments, especially the alien ship ones (ooops, spoiler!), look fine but for whatever reason don't seem to drag you in. I blame it on the lack of interactive objects but that's just me. The character models look great, though there isn't much variety there, so you tend to get sick of seeing the same monsters over and over again. All this stuff is ok though, and the game looks great as a whole so despair not! The one annoying thing about the visuals, the one thing that snags, is the shattering glass. Man, it looks like crap. It's a very minor thing, one that has no significant impact on the game itself, but it's hard to get over. Every time you see it you want to smash a real window just to show the game how it should really look like! Maybe it's just me?
Audio, audio, audio. You can really tell the difference when a developer spends the money to make a game's audio good. Midway, with all the money they've got lying about, certainly didn't skimp. They forked out the dough for well-known actors like David Duchovny, Powers Boothe, and Marilyn Manson (not an actor but whatever). David Duchovny, who also voice-acted in XIII, does a good job, though he's got to be sick of playing the pawn in conspiracies. Powers Boothe doesn't get that many lines but he plays a good commander. Marilyn Manson is where the bad hits. He plays one of the aliens, one that helps you get revenge on all the others, but his voice just sounds weird and out of place. It's too nasally and high-pitched for the role and his lines of dialogue, which are all ominous and serious lose their edge because of it. As for the rest, it's all good. Music is appropriate, sound effects are fitting, and the footstep sounds aren't repetitively annoying. None of it really stuck as memorable though. Still good though.
And it all comes down to game play. Mixed feelings about this. The game engine performs admirably, with no noticeable foul-ups. No problems there. The game provides a good challenge and it's nice to play a FPS that is actually hard (if you're in a time-crunch the game can be completed on easy with middling proficiency in around ten or eleven hours, though on medium it'll take some doing). Lots of in-depth story in the game, and itís told really well. Juicy cut-scenes and unlockable video clips and info dumps help draw you in and provide some replayability. Now for the bad stuff: there are only six guns. Six guns? This is a first-person shooter, no? Isn't the rule a ten gun minimum? Throw in two types of grenades (one of which is extremely cool) and three alien attacks usable via the morph feature and you've got a respectable arsenal, I suppose. Then again, the alien morph mode is really just a frivolity. You don't need to use it ever. You can run and gun your way through the game without ever having to turn it on (except that one part when you do). However, it would be an interesting, if futile, challenge to play the whole game in morpho mode. Gripe number two: six enemies. Six enemies? This is a first-person shooter, no? Isn't the rule a ten enemy minimum? Aren't I making rules up as I go? Maybe. Add in a few different bosses and you've got a decent pantheon of baddies, I suppose. Actually no, you don't. Two boss fights are against the same creature and the others, bar one, are just an ensemble of regular enemies who gang up on you. These boss fights are where all the hard's at too. It's a little aggravating moving through the game with reasonable success only to get hung up on a hard boss battle.
One of the better shooter's for the PS2, though at this late stage in the console's life one expects a little more than is delivered. Still, with some great visual effects, lots of good story, and challenging gameplay, Area 51 is definitely worth picking up. Plus, who wouldn't want to stick it to those smarmy Illuminati bastards? They're almost as bad as Free Masons.