Saturday, 1 December 2012

Blacksite: Area 51
Reviewing a game is much easier when the creator has done it for you. Harvey Smith of Midway Studios claimed that the game deserved every bad review it got, and got fired from the company soon after. According to him, the development schedule was ruined, meaning they never actually able to test the finished project properly. Unfortunately for the studio, firing the guy who pointed out problems, doesn’t make the problems go away, and by golly are there lots of them in Blacksite: Area 51.

It is unclear whether this game is a sequel to the 2005 game Area 51. The similar name and possible continuation (a glowing object, supposedly from Area 51 could be the same object seen in the back of the truck at the end of the 2005 game) suggest it is, but the similarities end there. Blacksite: Area 51 is a sci-fi FPS, in which aliens attempt to take over the world. You are thrown into the shoes of Captain Pierce. A faceless, emotionally disconnected soldier, whose tale begins in the war in Iraq, looking for a weapons bunker that supposedly contains WMDs. What he finds instead is some mutated humans, a strange glowing object, and a race of aliens known as the Xenos. And from here, we are thrust into the dazzlingly original tale of alien invasion, which totally hasn’t been done a hundred times before.
Other than this basic beginning, none of the missions seem to have any real overall goal. Each is just moving from point A to point B, mowing down anything in the middle. A climax certainly builds towards the end, but there are no characters that you care about, nor a distinctive narrative that can be seen throughout. It is clear that the ending is supposed to have some sort of significance, but the lack of development meant that the big “twist” at the end, just seemed like a guy with some overdramatic music.
The gameplay doesn’t do much better. Clearly inspired by games such as Call of Duty or Medal of Honour, Blacksite attempts to reach these high standards, but falls short by quite a lot. It cannot come close to competing with the games it clearly aspires to rank itself alongside. The firefights play out in the same way – find somewhere to crouch, peek out, fire off a few shots, retreat. Rinse and repeat. The dumb AI ensures that every battle is the same, and they won’t be particularly aggressive towards you. The only variety comes when battling the bug-like Xenos, but these are even more simple. They scuttle towards you, with no attempt to defend themselves from your fire, and explode after one hit. If you needed to be conservative with your ammunition, then fair enough, but as you are given a near endless supply, these sections can be tackled by madly firing off as much lead as possible.
The controls are also a pain. On foot, they aren’t so bad. The guns are relatively accurate, it’s easy to move around, and commanding your squad is simple, even if the AI is too dumb to follow a simple order, such as “Open that door” (this is made immeasurably worse by the fact that you are unable to open a door by yourself). The vehicles on the other hand, are an absolute nightmare. The left stick controls forward or backwards, and the right stick moves the camera, and determines which way forward and backwards is. Both sticks are overly sensitive, so that a mere flick can send you veering off the edge of a cliff. Attempting to do battle in a vehicle crosses the line. Alien worms that bust out of the floor require heavy firepower to kill, e.g the machine gun on the back of the car. Unfortunately, you can only shoot the machine gun when you are in the car itself, making for some awkward dodging of the worm’s attacks.
Don’t expect to get some pleasure for the senses either. The sounds border on cliché, with the aliens screeching in a way that has been seen before, the guns fire with a dull chugging sound, and the voice acting is more terrifying than the aliens. Visually, the game reaches mediocre at best. The guns look decent, but you get very few to choose from. There are a few aliens that are cloned over and over...and over.....and over.....and over. And over. You will face the same enemies repeatedly, and save for a few generic, unimpressive boss battles, you will struggle to find much variety in what you gun down. The character models look stiff and unnatural, and move in a way that is stereotypical to soldiers, almost to the point of being offensive. There really isn’t much to look at in the environments, as you will mainly be traversing deserts and bunkers. Things look at their best towards the end, during the build up to the climax, and the climax itself. Here, the environments seem more lively and futuristic, but it shouldn’t take until the end of the 6-8 hour campaign for you to reach an environment that suits the genre.
When all is said and done, there really isn’t much to like in this game. If you’re looking for a sci-fi FPS worth spending money on, then you’d be best looking towards Fallout, or Resistance. Moderately enjoyable gameplay quickly becomes repetitive. Enemies are dumb, bland and also repetitive, and the environments are unsuited to the game, and (you guessed it) repetitive. When even a member of the production team warns people away from his own game before its scheduled release, it’s obvious that the game is a lost cause, but if that isn’t enough to convince you, then take it from me. Don’t throw away your money.

3/10 - Awful

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