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    Area-51

    Game » consists of 5 releases. Released Apr 25, 2005

    Area 51 for the Xbox, Playstation 2, and PC takes place in top secret base, Area 51 where you and your team were on a recon mission. All goes wrong and you end up on your own; left to venture further to escape, and uncover the truth behind it all.

    limpingfish's Area-51 (PC) review

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    David Duchovny huffs some Nyquil...and a game happens.

    2005. Six years. It isn't really that long ago, all things considered. But in the evolution of the FPS genre, it may as well be the dark ages. Looking at AREA-51 today, it's hard not to judge it by the contemporary standards which FPS players have become accustomed to, but I'm going to give it a shot, seeing as I just completed the PC version.

    Note: Installing this game on a modern PC is a bit of a chore, due to the Starforce DRM on the DVD which happens to be incompatible with both Vista and Windows 7. There is a thread on the (now defunct) Midway forums which should help guide any prospective PC players through the process.

    David Duchovny provides the voice of the player character, though this is largely restricted to inter-mission briefings rather than in-game dialogue exchanges. This is the second of two FPS games I can remember featuring DD as the voice of the protagonist (the other being XIII), which also makes it the second time I've had to struggle to absorb his mono-drone delivery. He just doesn't seem to be able, or doesn't care enough, to imbue his character with any sort of emotional immediacy or investment. Since the majority of the plot is relayed through a dozen or so of the aforementioned inter-mission briefings, it makes caring about the characters and the events of AREA-51 difficult at best. I honestly can't recall the name of the protagonist or most of the cast (expect for squad-mate "Crispy", whose name immediately made me think of the rice-based cereal), thanks to DD's distractingly boring recitation of his lines. Marilyn Manson provides the voice of "Edgar", a " gray" held captive in the depths of Area-51, and actor Powers Boothe portrays Captain...somebody. Or Colonel...somebody. The story itself isn't overly complex, but the patchy voice work and some poor direction makes it much harder to follow than it should be.

    This being an story-driven FPS, weapons are rationed out to the player through standard "Pistol/Machine Gun/Shotgun/Sniper Rifle/Etc..." progression, with some alien weapons discovered in the later levels of the game. Each of the standard weapons can be dual-wielded, if a second of the same type is picked up by the player. Dual-wielding only lasts until the ammunition supply of this second weapon is depleted, which creates a certain amount of strategy, as, for instance, dual-wielded shotguns are worth holding onto until faced with larger numbers of enemies. Indeed, I found the shotgun to be the most effective weapon in the game, as most enemies go down with one or two blasts, compared to the relatively weaker, and only sporadically accurate, machine gun and the (suprise!) largely ineffective pistol. The shotgun is also equipped with an alternate mode of fire, with two cartridges expelled at once, as opposed to the other weapons which are instead equipped with reflex scopes. It's also the only weapon which seems to have any heft to it, possessing a nice chunky impact when fired. Grenades are also on the menu, though the splash damage from these outweighs the benefits in all but the largest of environments. The alien weapons (a self-replenishing energy repeater, and a BFG) are fun to use, but are effectively crippled by slow regeneration (in the case of the repeater) or a lack of ammo (in the case of the BFG). Some alien grenades, which cause a singularity-type implosive effect when detonated, never seem to land where you want them to, rendering them annoyingly ineffective.

    Your character is also equipped with a wrist-mounted scanner, which is used to assimilate hidden and not so hidden artifacts and documents scattered around the levels. It has no real impact on gameplay, instead being used as a way to unlock extra narrative elements in the form of "secret" videos, accessed through the main menu, and a database of reports into alien activity and schematics of alien technology. Finding all of these secrets does add to the longevity of the game, if you are interested enough to go back through the levels and hunt them down.

    Enemy types are limited. Mutated Area 51 staff are pretty much all you encounter throughout the first third of the game, along with scuttling facehugger-style creatures. Later levels add F.E.A.R-esque commandos and some rampaging alien experiments to the mix, but overall the selection of different enemy types is disappointingly small.

    Combat itself is decent, if not very exciting, with movement and aiming fast enough to keep things from becoming frustrating. Enemy AI is a big letdown though, with enemy commandos who lack the capacity to strategise, and who regularly fail to react to grenades that land at their feet. Mutants, on the other hand, simply run towards you...but seeing as that's mostly how mutants are expected to behave, I won't hold it against them. Enemy spawn points seem to be set in stone though, as repeated level play-throughs failed to bring about any changes.

    Level design is largely linear, with only a handful of offshoot areas to encourage exploration. The level layout improves somewhat later in the game, but earlier levels tend to confine you to corridors and walkways. There's a fun battle in the latter half of the game (a level based around the 1969 moon "landing"), which is a highlight, and the end-game levels set among the gray's themselves are somewhat more involving than what has come before. A couple of turret sections add to/detract from proceedings, depending on your tolerance for turrets.

    Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. Early levels are a dull military uniformity (to be expected, I suppose, but still uninspiring), with only the closing stages of the game offering anything visually interesting. These alien citadel-based levels add some much needed colour and visual flourish, and are pleasingly disorienting to navigate.

    Character models are of, and animated with, a sufficient enough quality to satisfy; though, even taking into account the game's age, they remain a little primitive in overall execution.

    The game's soundtrack is fine, if unimpressive, with weapon effects that are crisp and effective. Enemy commandos radio chatter, mutants moan and snarl, but grays are disappointingly silent. The Big Book of Generic Musical Cues supplies the backing track, all military bombast and "RAWK!", which proves somewhat amusing when underscoring Duchovny's droning blandness.

    Overall, and pointing my critical receptors directly towards 2005, I still found Area-51 to be a fairly average game. It won't blow your mind, but it's entertaining enough to keep you from gnawing off your thumbs. It does become repetitive though, with serious fatigue setting in around the three-quarter mark, and you probably won't be sad to see it end. I wasn't.

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