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Posted on Jun 7, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Blacksite: Area 51 Preview

By James Pikover

Following Area 51 for Xbox console, Blacksite: Area 51 is Midway’s response to opening up the franchise. As they have stated publicly, they believe games only start to do well after they become franchises, which means they expected a loss from the prequel to Blacksite. They were right. Midway recently released a demo, although in reality it is more of a playable trailer. There simply is no way to actually play it for more than five minutes. Regardless, the point of the just under 600Mb demo was to give people a taste of what is to come.

The premise of the five minutes is very simple: lead a recon team, obviously familiar with aliens, into Rachel, a small town, to find another team that’s lost communication. More objectives come in as needed until a ship flies into a liquor shop with some giant creature coming out of it. Ending at the climax is nothing new, reminiscent of both the Rainbow Six Vegas and GRAW 2‘s demos. Hopefully this is only a brief taste of the real thing though.

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It took about thirty seconds to load the map, which was a bit much considering how small it was. Graphically speaking, the game is not grabbing. Characters look good and move fluidly, but a stain of 2d wreaks the surrounding world. Rain effects are like a joke as they bounce off the gun in the same direction every time. It definitely has potential, something that will hopefully be tapped into for the full game.

The gun itself had some interesting qualities. Most games have the normal "gun through objects" effect, where if a player stands too close to an object, the gun passes right through it. Blacksite doesn’t follow this silly rule, and instead moves the gun out of the way. Get too close to a wall or person, the gun gets moved off-screen until nothing is in the way.

This is a great feature, except that invisible walls cut them out as well. The fact that invisible walls exist looks very amateurish, but they are useful for development purposes because they can’t be seen, and work as good placeholders. Sometimes it’s impossible to know whether it’s really a wall or not. But when the gun moves aside, it becomes readily apparent.

Destructibility in the environment is a mixed bag. Some things are moved when shot, some things get stained and others have no effect. It is easy to appreciate that a car doesn’t show much damage when shot at compared to a cardboard box, but when they are just as strong as each other, then they are simply placeholders. And yet at other times both can be moved across a map.

As well as the randomness in that, there is no team killing or friendly fire. It could be that this setting was simply off but for something to try out, it was unpleasant to see that bullets went straight through teammates.

What was surprising was how detailed the game was in realism. Granted, the graphics weren’t spectacular, the water effects were iffy, but there was a good feel about the game in general. The surrounding world looked like it should, characters react to minor things, like shooting the gas prices sign, and something has to be said about it. If that is constant throughout the game, it can easily do well.

One of the highlights of the game is the easy squad commands. Using only one button, orders are given by looking at a specific target and pushing the command button. Compared to other games with delicate control schemes, this simple and elegant system is much more preferred, so long as it doesn’t interfere with gameplay.

The full game promises much more features than the teaser had to offer, including the standard list of online multiplayer modes, vehicles, online co-op play, and everything we’re used to save for a point and shoot gun. Set for release in September, Blacksite: Area 51 looks promising and may well be a great game, but could go either way.

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