Midway’s Area 51 games have been around in many forms over the years, beginning with the arcade light-gun variety and most recently the first-person-shooter genre. The entire series takes its inspiration from the famous stories about recovered alien spacecraft stored at an Air Force base in Nevada.

The storyline in Blacksite, however, begins in modern day Iraq and attempts to mix the campy nature of aliens and outlandish government conspiracies with an undertone of more serious current world events. But what does Iraq have to do with Area 51 and alien life? By the end of the first of five acts, your search for “Weapons of Mass Destruction” will turn up something entirely unexpected. Throughout the game you’re presented with jabs at the current U.S. administration with chapter titles such as “Mission Accomplished” and “Misunderestimate”. At one point, one of your squad asks “Why would everyone in a (Iraqi oil) refinery have weapons?” and another retorts “Uh… we sold them to them?” The mixture of the “real and the imagined” is fertile ground for a storyline, and though Area 51 never takes itself too seriously and the plot isn’t much deeper than your average B movie, if you’re a fan of this genre of story it should suffice.

You take control of Delta Force soldier Aeran Pierce, and are accompanied by a handful of soldiers who fill in bits of the story through in-game commentary. All dialogue is done Half Life style, meaning that it is in-game and you are generally free to move about the room. Oddly, they don’t seem concerned about turning to face you, so you will have to sometimes place yourself correctly in the scene. Unfortunately, none of the extended dialogue can be skipped, meaning that if you choose to replay an area you will be forced to listen to what are sometimes quite lengthy story advancements. Throughout the game you’ll overhear casual banter, pop culture references, and a little humor between your squad mates that helps solidify their personalities. You won’t mistake it for the likes of Full Metal Jacket or Platoon, but it’s not too bad. I did notice that a few of the triggered comments would sometimes come at inappropriate times. For instance, you might take out a guy on a roof, only to have your comrade tell you a second later, “Watch out for that guy on the roof!”

One of the oft touted features of Blacksite is the squad combat. A simple point of the mouse and press of a button will send your team to a particular spot in the level and if it is marked with the proper floating icon, they will undertake an action. You can also use this command to theoretically send your team to a particular spot or attack a specific enemy, but they tend to get distracted and end up doing their own thing. It’s a very intuitive system, but it doesn’t work consistently. If a battle is going well, you’ll notice a message onscreen telling you that squad morale is high and they will be more aggressive, providing some cover fire and tossing grenades. If you’re taking a beating then you’ll be informed that squad morale is low and they will take cover. Arguably, there’s not much difference between the two because you’ll find yourself taking down the lion’s share of enemy combatants and your buddies have a propensity for throwing grenades just as the last foe has fallen.

Aside from grenades, you’ll be treated to the standard military fare: Assault Rifles, Machine Gun Turrets, Sniper Rifles, Pistols, and Rocket Launchers, all of which behave about how you’d expect. As you progress in the game, you’ll uncover a pair of weapons assembled from alien technology that roughly fill in the shotgun and splash-damage weapon holes in the weapon line up. However, you can only carry two guns at any time, so you’ll have to choose which you believe will be most beneficial for the road ahead. If that sounds tactical, it’s mostly not as each enemy drops its own weapon, yielding more ammo than you could possibly use and a chance to change your weapons in nearly every room. Your weapons don’t carry over with you from level to level either which, barring a major shift in time or place, just doesn’t make any sense and it discourages the tactical reservation of any favored weapons for the big fights. The crosshairs are clearly carried over from the Xbox 360 version as they are so large and thick that on many weapons that they cover the entire enemy making it difficult to aim precisely.

Breaking up the standard shooter action are a few instances in which you take the gunning or driving position on an armored vehicle. The most exciting of these finds you commanding a machine gun turret on a helicopter that takes on an alien of epic proportions. Blacksite does a pretty good job of using these unique scenarios to break up the rather basic gameplay. One memorable scene finds you and your squad trapped in a drive-in movie office sniping mutants which pour in from all sides. There’s something about a firefight among abandoned vehicles in a drive-in or splattering mutants in the middle of a quiet neighborhood that just makes you smile. These genuinely interesting set-pieces are among the highlights of an otherwise mostly standard first-person-shooter.

Level design, lighting, and effects are a mixed bag. The basic geometry ranges from complex to fairly simple and textures are oddly low-res in a few places. For example, while the mountains in the game look stunning, a Rest Area sitting at the foot of the hills sits on a giant flat slab with drab tiled textures. In some places lighting lacks a source or seems oversaturated, while in others it looks fantastic. Blacksite seemingly consists of many different pieces that were assembled without someone keeping an eye on consistency. It definitely falls short of current Unreal Engine 3 standards and lacks the visual polish of games like Gears or BioShock. Though, to be fair, most games do. It’s worth noting right here that my framerate was a little lower in Blacksite than BioShock, by comparison. One reason for that may be due to the use of the Stranglehold destructible environment code. While the scenery isn’t nearly as destructive as the aforementioned title, you’ll still find plenty of stuff to blow up. Likewise, your cover may not last for long, so get moving!

Most of the expected options are present, allowing you to configure the game as you please. Oddly, I could not get the game to display in any resolution below 1024 x 768, so those with lower end systems might keep this in mind. An option in the menu allows you to view any Dossiers uncovered in the singleplayer campaign. These hidden documents reveal a small picture and information about one of 48 people, places, or objects within the game. A reasonably thorough playthrough on the default difficulty revealed a little more than half of them, so there is a small incentive for exploring and replaying segments of the game. As you complete a chapter, it becomes unlocked and you may play through it again at will.

The simple but functional menu also directs you towards the multiplayer options. You can choose to join or host a match, though at the time of writing I was able to find only one other person playing. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and a new mode called Abduction are all available. Abduction is a gametype that randomly chooses a player to be Reborn (alien) who is then tasked with killing the human players, each of which respawns as Reborn and joins the fight. There are eight unique multiplayer levels in all and they are largely recycled among gametypes. I won’t really go into depth on these; Blacksite does not have bot support and I was able to do little more than open each and run around.

Multiplayer isn’t really a selling point right now due to the fact that there are too few players. For every thrilling moment in the singleplayer game there are two that are lacking, but the quest is lengthy and there are enough good moments to recommend Blacksite to die-hard fans of first-person-shooters that don’t mind overlooking some obvious gaffes.

  • Graphics 7.5/10
  • Gameplay 7/10
  • Story 7/10
  • Sound 8/10
  • Multiplayer 5/10
  • Replayability 7/10

Total score:

Test System: AMD 64x2 4200, Nvidia 7800 GT, 2 GB RAM

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