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Midway Studios – Austin



M (Mature)



June 8, 2005



- Scripted elements have their moments

- Good sound design

- A decent, average shooter for the money

- Interesting unlockable background story elements



- It’s a little too scripted

- Checkpoint saves suck

- Multiplayer is tacked-on

- Big name voice talent doesn’t offer much



Review: Half-Life 2 (PC)

Review: Far Cry (PC)

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Review: Call of Duty (PC)



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Area 51

Score: 7.0 / 10


Area 51 suffers most from not being Half-Life 2.  It also doesn’t fair as well in comparison to Doom 3, Painkiller, Far Cry or Call of Duty.  Judged in a vacuum, Area 51 is actually a fun if somewhat mindless romp to the “fictional” underbelly of the most secure research facility in the United States, if not the world, Area 51.


area 51 review          area 51 review


Players take the role of Ethan Cole (as voiced by David Duchovny) a member of a HAZMAT team sent to the bowels of Area 51 to find out what happened to the first HAZMAT team after a containment breach of some kind.  Suffice to say the story involves aliens, Illuminati, government cover-ups and so on.  The intricacies of the story (if there are any) are somewhat overshadowed by the need to kill anything that remotely resembles an alien life form or mutant with a variety (if somewhat straightforward) number of weapons.


Multiplatform releases are always a bit tricky – their quality if often based on the lowest common denominator, in this case the PS2.  This is not to say that there aren’t some neat lighting effects, a few action-packed (and tense) moments, but even then cranking the graphical settings doesn’t make you forget this was a console game first or disguise the heavily scripted and funnel-like level design.  Look no further than teammates that cannot die!  They’ll die according to the script, thank you, and not before.  The upside is that some of the hunker-down-and-blast 




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-away encounters feel a little epic rather than frustrating as your teammates get killed off and you have to blast the bad guys.


Progress is saved via a checkpoint system, which doesn’t always work to satisfaction.  I’ll never understand why PC shooters ever included checkpoint systems because they aren’t expected on a PC.  With the limited memory of a console this save system is understandable but when you’re playing on a PC with relatively limitless 


capacity, what’s the deal?  Anyway, the save system isn’t my favorite aspect of the game but fortunately, the game  is so laden with ammo (and often dual-wielding shotguns), dying under a mutant attack doesn’t happen all that often.  Instead you’ll bite it due to environmental hazards.


In what can only be an homage to the original stand-up arcade game, Area 51 has very constricted environments and predefined paths to take so that Ethan is continually funneled from area to area between animated and static cutscenes.  It’s not strictly “on rails” but there’s no feeling of exploration as the scripted sequences propel the action forward.  However, taken as a scripted series of events the gameplay can be engaging, particularly after an unusual plot twist.  But it’s not an experience where I finished the game then said, “I should play this from beginning to end.  Right now!


area 51 review          area 51 review


Throughout the game there are all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore with Ethan’s bio-scan.  When specific items are found and scanned, extras become available in the main menu, which help flesh out the players involved in the Area 51 crisis.  The extras may not be compelling enough to encourage replaying the game once you’ve finished but they are kind of interesting.


There is a multiplayer component tacked on to the game.  Setting up or joining an online match is painlessly handled in-game – the real challenge is finding a game.  I always had the most luck in the early evening but any other time… the sound of rolling tumbleweed.  And unfortunately is doesn’t offer anything new in the way of game modes of weapons so there’s no reason to stick around when the Counter-Strike Source servers are crawling with players.


A relatively short ride with some fun to be had along the way courtesy of some tense battles, Area 51 ultimately falls into the “Fire and Forget” pile of shooters.


- Omni

(June 24, 2005)


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