Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Have we all had enough of video games based on war, first-person shooters and alien attacks? Ok, probably not. And that's a good thing because they're not going to stop appearing on store shelves. One of the titles you can currently drop some cash for is Blacksite: Area 51 and it fits into the war/first-person/alien genre perfectly.

Honestly, it's becoming difficult to talk about many of these games because the premise is usually the same: you're a soldier fighting against an invader, alien or otherwise, and you need to save the world or universe. The same holds true for Blacksite, although it has a nice twist to it. It isn't immediately stated that aliens have attacked and you need to kill them. Obviously you know the idea when you get the game, but the gameplay doesn't start out that way. Instead, you're participating in the fighting in the Middle East and your character, Aeran Pierce, is focused on taking out the normal, human enemies.

While over in the land of sand, you eventually encounter some lifeforms that a fellow soldier explains as mutations due to powerful chemicals. Sounds good enough given the history of chemical warfare in that region. But, oh, how things change when you get back home to the states.

You are almost immediately sent on a quest to save Rachel and Area 51. At this point you know you're battling aliens. They walk, they crawl, they pop out of the ground...and they're all deadly. The foundation of the story has been set and it is pretty much business as usual for the game.

Being that the majority of storylines are similar, graphics and gameplay are the two things that make or break games in the current war/1st-person/alien arena. Of course, isn't that the way it should be?

Blacksite's controls are simple, well placed and easy to master. The same goes for the times you need to drive a vehicle. The Midway development team didn't get carried away with too many special moves, weapons, gadgets, etc. While it can be a slight negative, it seems to help by not bogging the user down with 8,000 things to worry about. The game is about the nuts and bolts and does a good job with it.

But that doesn't mean there are no extra features to be found. The game employs a "morale" feature which can mean life or death for your character. When your squad's morale is high, they will fight like the elite team they are supposed to be. You'll do your share of fighting, but your mates will do their share of the heavy lifting. However, if morale is low, they'll back down like Arnold Jackson when confronted by the Gooch (apologies for the "Diff'rent Strokes" reference). At that point it's all on your shoulders. Be sure to find cover and be smart about how you attack. Eventually your team's morale will increase and you won't be alone in the fight.

Visually the game scores. Do some games look better? Without a doubt. But Blacksite is no slouch. Hey, if I ran a baseball team I would obviously want a hitter like Albert Pujols. But I wouldn't scoff at a stick like Justin Morneau. Consider Blacksite to be Morneau...maybe not elite, but plenty good.

One drawback to the environment is the inconsistent interaction you will have. At times it seems like you'll be able to move or shoot anything around you. In fact, the ability to destroy many of the barricades and various forms of cover is a great part of this title. But it's a little disappointing to turn and then not be able to shoot out a light pole. It's a minor issue, but it's enough to mess with the continuity of the game.

Add to the basic mission a list of extra games that can be played on-line from 2-10 players. The usual options are there: Capture the Flag, Abduction, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Nothing carrying the WOW factor, but a solid group of time killers.

In today's flooded video game market it's tough for games to stand out. And, when compared to the likes of Halo 3 and Call of Duty, this title doesn't. But don't totally overlook Blacksite: Area 51. It's fun, entertaining, fast paced and looks good. When you're looking for a game and don't want to go with the old stand-by titles, give this one a look.

GAMEPLAY: Simple and easy to use controls make this one that you can jump right into. The "morale" based play is a Jekyll and Hyde feature but is still decent.

GRAPHICS: Very nice, allows gamers to feel like they're part of the environment. Inconsistent interaction with the surroundings is a slight setback.

SOUND: It is what it is. Quality war sounds: explosions, gunfire, voices of squad mates and enemies. Soundtrack is decent but didn't leave a lasting impression.

EXTRAS: Capture the Flag, Abduction, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch all make for a nice complement to the main feature.

GRADE: 84%

Blacksite: Area 51 is rated "T" for Teen so it should go without saying that this is not a game for young children. The core of the title is violence, as is the nature of a first-person shooter.

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