Area 51 is one of those games that at first blush, seems like just another “me, too” first-person shooter. Replete with the requisite evil aliens, heavy weaponry and “click here” puzzles, it’s a game that’s easy to underestimate. After sinking a few hours into it though, you’ll quickly find a hidden gem of a game, that while it might not be the best shooter around, it’s still a good load of fun and worth checking out.
The story, believe it or not, is worth paying attention to, and really is what makes the game. You start out as Ethan Cole, a member of a HAZMAT team assigned to the infamous Area 51. Yes, that Area 51, the rumored alien landing site in the Nevada desert. Once thrust into the chaos, the action is nonstop, as Ethan encounters hordes of mutated humans, victims of a deadly virus. So far, so average…that’s what you’re thinking, right? Well, just like the story in the much-beloved Halo, several levels into the game it actually starts getting good. I can’t tell you more, as it would spoil the fun of discovery, suffice it to say, it makes those first incredibly monotonous Turok-inspired platformer/FPS levels worth suffering through.
So why are those first levels so painful? For the most part, it’s because they seem to play like every other FPS ever made, with Ethan picking up guns, unlocking doors and jumping (I’m not kidding) over bolts of electricity. Yawn and double yawn – and the worst part of it all is that the action is scripted beyond all scripting you’ve seen before. Most levels, you can just hide and let your teammates (no, you can’t control them, but it doesn’t matter) open all the doors and blast all the aliens. At first, you’ll actually feel compelled to enter the fray, but because your buddies are such unerring shots, and don’t die unless it’s in the script, you can just hang back and watch the carnage. Praise be the gaming gods, the developers finally untether you from scripting, and the story gets good and creepy, and the game gets playable. But they may have waited a bit too long for this to happen, since I can imagine many gamers giving up by this point. If you manage to hold on, you’ll realize you’ll easily get your money’s worth from Area 51, you just have to be patient. The game play and story both get interesting at this point, since you’ll start to play a dual-role character in Ethan Cole (I don’t want to give it away, but it’s sort of like playing two distinct characters, sort of) and you start to learn more about what’s caused the mayhem in Area 51.
For those who enjoy a bit of online multiplayer, all the basics are covered – deathmatch and CTF, along with an infection mode, which has one team attempting to mutate the other.
If you like immersive environments, Area 51 won’t disappoint. Sure the textures could be better, but hey, the detailing of the objects within the levels is more than enough to boost the realism. Aliens and mutants are well rendered, and the explosions/weapon effects look very good.
Midway made a big deal when talking up David Duchovny lending his “vocal talents” to the game, and frankly, they could’ve done without him. He’s just as monotone as ever, and frankly, he’s just annoying. Other voice work by what I guess you’d consider unknown talent is far better. One important note – if you’re trying to limit the amount of swearing your kid does, don’t let them within 100 feet of this game, it’s just “f-bomb” after “f-bomb” comprising the first few hours of dialog.
As I said in the opening, Area 51 is a game that is easy to underestimate. It starts off so generic, you might feel a little ripped off by all the hype around it. But once you sink your teeth (and time) into it, the story plays out well, and the game play certainly improves. Recommended for any of the FPS fans out there.
— Ted Brockwood
- Gameplay: 7.9
- A standard FPS gets a goosing later on, when it turns into a mix of melee and missile combat
- Graphics: 8
- Not the prom queen, but still very pretty
- Sound: 7
- Effects are pretty average, Duchovny’s voice is grating, all else is ok
- Replay: 6.5
- When the story picks up the pace, it gets compelling, but once through is enough. Online multiplayer feels bolted on.
- Overall: 7.9
- A solid shooter with some fun twists.