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PLATFORM: Xbox360, PC, PS3 on 12/10
ESRB RATING: T
DEVELOPER: Midway Studios Austin
Blacksite: Area 51 is the video game equivalent of watching a younger sibling
grow up to be a criminal. You feel bad at what’s going on, fight and
argue with it to stop its downward spiral, but no matter how many times
they fail you can’t hate them for it.
Course, some of you might not expect much from a sequel to an arcade
shooter, but the last Area 51 game surprised everyone by turning the
average light-gun game into a pretty decent first person shooter.
Everyone was teased and tempted by the short demo that appeared out of
nowhere on Xbox Live last May, and if the game had come out then, it
might’ve had a chance. Unfortunately, the demo ended up showing the
best parts of the game, which are few and far in between, and it doesn’t help that some of the best shooters ever made have been released since then.
Aliens in your backyard! And Iraq!
You’re over there killing insurgents in Iraq when things soon get crazy. Strange, alien-like beings pop up and attack you, and you’re forced to escape, leaving one of your men behind to meet certain death. (I’m sure he won’t show up later in the game with revenge on his mind! Way to go, writers!) Worse than that, the war follows you home, as you head back to the wastelands of Nevada, which ironically look almost exactly like Iraq. On the way you’ll find out that *gasp* the government is doing experiments on its soldiers! They didn’t sign up for that! They signed up to kill brown people!
Right from the start things feel off. Your character feels like he moves in slow motion, and the aiming is even slower. So one of the first things you have to do is make sure to up the sensitivity of the controller in the menu, cause the default is equivalent of playing in bullet time. It’s slowwwww… knock that bad boy up a couple of notches and it’ll feel better. (That’s not the only setting you’ll have to change… wait till you hear about the sound later.)
Bad sign, right? Wait till you get familiar with the controls. Pretty hard to mess up FPS controls in this day and age, right? Wrong.
First of all, hitting B or pushing in the right thumbstick will cause you to melee with your weapon. We really need two buttons to control one action? Why didn’t they move the controls for crouching (all by its lonesome on the d-pad) over there, so you didn’t have to stop moving everytime you ducked? Why the hell doesn’t it let you know if you’re getting into the driver’s seat or the gun of the obligatory Warthog-ripoff? That’s sure not frustrating when you’re trying to escape enemies.
A shooter is only as strong as its firearms, and the weapons are horrible. You start right off the bat with a machinegun, and get used to it, cause it’s all you’ll be using for the majority of the game, no matter how underpowered it is. Besides that there’s a pistol, sniper rifle, flak gun (lifted straight off Unreal), a rocket launcher and a plasma rifle. Oh, and mounted turrets which make enemies swarm you when you touch them. That’s it for weapons. Don’t get attached to any of them either, cause whenever you get to a new chapter you’ll go back to the rifle and pistol, never mind that it’s a direct continuation of what you were just playing. Worse than that, the guns have absolutely no feel to them. Part of what COD4 did so great was that every one felt different, with a kick and weight to them. Here, you can put your sniper rifle on your enemy and fire away… don’t worry about it straying from where you put it, unless you get messed up by the iffy controls.
The enemies are nothing special, either. As with most everything in this game, they come in too few varieties and are pretty boring to look at. Those awesome giant worms that we saw in preview pics? They pop up friggin’ everywhere, and shoot slow moving projectiles that’d make the Mooninites laugh.
One big feature Midway toted about this title was its squad-based combat. They must’ve been hitting the crack pipe. You’ve can hit RB to target enemies for your team to attack, a place for them to move to, or a door to open. Get used to that last one, cause you’ll be doing it a lot. See a door? Make sure to target it, click the button and wait for the real men to come kick it down. Every. Fucking. Time. Yes, there’s very few doors you can open yourself, so you end up waiting on a boring squad animation everytime you need to get through one. And there’s a lot of doors in this game. A lot.
It also doesn’t help that the AI of your squad members and enemies is possibly a little bit dumber than a block of wood. I once saw an enemy, enclosed inside a room with bulletproof windows, throw a grenade against it. It bounced back, he blew up, I shook my head and laughed. Your team will constantly get in the way of your shots and be more of a hindrance than anything else, especially when they scream “FRAG OUT!” and chuck one right at your feet for no apparent reason. Also, you’re supposed to be the leader of this squad, and you spend the whole game getting bossed around. The shit is that?
Want me to sum up this game for you, though? There’s a level in this game that’s probably the most frustrating gaming experiences you’ll ever have. I’ve beaten Chakan the Forever Man and motherfucking Ninja Gaiden Black, but this game out-frustrated both of those, and managed to be no fun at the same time. All it took was a level where you have to kill a giant enemy whose week spot is on his back, who always faces you no matter how much you hide. You’re supposed to be playing a decoy for your teammates, but those stupid AI-deprived bots do absolutely fuck-all to help you kill it. It’s all up to you to somehow distract him, get around him and shoot him in the back with a rocket launcher. Add in a giant laser on the beast that kills you no matter where you try to hide, a vehicle gets stuck on invisible walls, and some little explosive enemy bugs crawling around you while you’re trying to get to cover that blow you up when you least expect it, because you can’t hear them coming (Nice sound design, dick!) and you’ve got a game this reviewer wanted to put down and never pick it back up.
The whole time I was playing this one stupid part I looked at all of my Xbox Live friends playing better games. I clicked on one of my friends and saw he was playing “CALL OF DUTY 4- PLAYING TEAM DEATHMATCH ON BOG” and I looked on like a starving homeless boy in front of a bakery. I could only think about them wondering why the hell I was playing Blacksite, and then clicking on my Gamertag and seeing “BLACKSITE AREA 51- ABOUT TO COMMIT SUICIDE LIKE A KOREAN BOY PLAYING STARCRAFT”.
But I have a review to do, so I soldiered on…. (sigh)
Anyway, to be fair that one scene is an extreme exception. The game does pick up once it gets out of the deserts and it is really fun when you’re chasing creatures around suburbia, but the simple fact is that the game is average, in every way. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and better.
The game looks great initially but get up close on something and you’ll see how pixelly it is. Note that I’m not playing this on an HD tv… I’m sure it’s better with that, but no other games I’ve played have ever gotten so grainy. The darker levels look better, but most of the game is based in a bright, washed out desert.
There’s also plenty of graphical glitches I’ve run into, such as shadows staying when you’ve taken the weapons away, characters getting stuck in the environment, and dead enemies floating off the ground. I even found a couple of trucks that must have been a mirage, since I could walk completely through them. Your characters will disappear from time to time to reappear in weird places, where they’ll try shooting at non-existant enemies. I’m not even mentioning here how they tried to do environmental damage here and completely fudged it. Your handgun can’t chip pieces off a concrete barrier, but try hitting it with the butt of your rifle and it’ll explode like someone shoved a grenade in it.
The game just reeks of sloppiness. One simple example is how there’s no animation for everyone getting in the vehicle, something you’ll be doing a lot, with the few driving sections. No, no animation, your teammates simply instantly pop up on the mounted gun and in the car. They could be a mile away, but as soon as you hit RB you’ll all instantly in the vehicle.
In the game you’ll also run into invisible walls galore. The level design really sucks. It’s extremely linear, and will drive you nuts at points as you try to find the one door with the open icon on it that you have to proceed through. The level design is so linear that you’ll laugh at how easy it is to find all the dossiers, which are the things you have to pick up in order to unlock concept art and get achievements (every game is required by law to have some sort of collectible these days). Course, doesn’t hurt that they shine and flash, but I didn’t even hunt them down and managed to only miss a handful during my play-through. Bad level design.
The sound also just feels off. I had to turn up the dialogue so I could hear my teammates after realizing how quiet they are if you’re more than a step away from them while they’re talking. After doing that I regretted it, because they yell something stupid after every kill, and the story ain’t exactly anything special. The dialogue is funny at parts, but they repeat themselves way too much, and it doesn’t help that they’ll yell something dumb every time you kill an enemy.
You will never pick up the single player game again. As for the multiplayer, don’t you hate when it’s been added to a game almost as an afterthought? Especially when the single player could have used a little polish? Case applies here. So I’m going to give it no thought as well.
Besides, it’s a barren wasteland. No one’s online cause everyone’s off playing better games.
I’ve been really hard on this game, but it’s really tough love. I wanted to like it, but it’s just such an obvious rush-job, which makes no sense since they pushed it back a couple of months already. Did they really have to hit the holiday slot this bad?