Review by Sauron232
"The Conspiracy Theorist/Video Game Freak Bible"
At heart, Area 51 is not a game. The game is just a vessel, aimed to deliver what, unfortunately, too many gamers care about least, the backstory. Area 51 is a satisfying game, but to be reviewed properly it as to be done in 2 portions- one critiquing the game itself, and one the story.
This game is so full of stars that it eclipses most movies that are made in the similar genre. While I won't list them here for fun of finding them out yourself, I will say that Full Metal Jacket fans should pay particular heed to a few of the intercom messages towards the very beginning of the game.
You play specialist Ean Cole, a member of a U.S. Army Hazmat team dispatched to Area 51 along with a few others, and a few hundred (maybe thousand) hastily deployed regulars. As you land you find out that you have been dispatched in response to an insurrection going on inside the base. You quickly sense that something is afoot, as strange things begin happening on even the supposedly secure surface.
As you begin your descent into the base you quickly find out that not everything is as it seems to be. The game launches into the stereotypical emergency containment situation that all science fiction fans will immediately recognize and smile with glee to. You find out that a mysterious virus has broken out of its proverbial cage and ravaged the base. Anyone infected by this virus will eventually change into a mutant which is bent on consuming all non infected things as fuel. Sounds like a deceptively simple plot line right? You quickly find that this is the most mundane subject the game touches.
The game's plot is of massive scale, but the in game story telling focuses almost completely on the player. You are equipped with a scanner that can scan some items, which adds information of the plot to a database for your review. However, essentially throughout the game your confusion will match the main character's confusion. There are no out of body plot experiences to be had here.
We need to start with sound, possibly the game's most disappointing feature. This is not saying much. The sound in Area 51 is average, with only a few full fledged annoyances here and there. Explosions and are excellent, gunshots are ok, however NPC taunts and death grunts gain a repetitive touch quickly. 6/10
Graphics are an enigma. They clearly stand out from the unwashed masses, however as good as they are they are not of a doom 3 or Halo quality. If you are looking only for graphical excellence this game is not for you. But by far most people will find these graphics to more than suit their needs. There is the occasional glitch as well, but nothing that takes away from game-play. 9/10
Controls are heavily borrowed from Halo. This is not, of course, a bad thing however. In keeping the controls similar to other FPS's Area 51 limits the learning curve very effectively. You should be fully combat ready in 2 minutes if you have played other Xbox FPS games before. The one key difference is that weapons are cycled through a wheel system, which could become annoying. Changing weapons before firefights is recommended. 7/10
The weapons situation is more than satisfactory. There are six kinds of weapons in the game, 2 of which can be duel wielded (however, oddly enough not the pistol.). To those that think this inadequate for their needs, there is more. About 1/4 of the way through the game you are infected with the virus that has been running unchecked through the base. Due to some help, you can control it, and bring out the mutant in you whenever needed. As a mutant your melee attack is much more powerful, and you have the capability of firing parasitic organisms at targets, which steal life from enemies and give it to you. There is also the option of firing a load of contagion at an enemy, causing him to steadily lose a significant amount of health, and passing the effect along to anyone who gets near him. 9/10
Immersion is what this game should have been about, and sadly it passes the bar, but just barely. The first few levels of the game are the best. You are actually working with your team, and the occasional wayward or overwhelmed grunt ally. It is during this time where you get your only glimpses of the fight going on between soldiers and the horrors that lurk within Area 51. However, eventually you are separated from the vast majority of the fighting force. This is when the game almost deteriorates into the standard FPS corridor crawl. The environments are what save this gamer from losing interest. Level design is excellent by any standard. You will often find yourself fighting in locales that will have you laughing out loud, and then thinking to yourself How could they? Or you will go through an area of the game in awe, and when finished with it ask yourself Wow, did I just do that? Overall, immersion is good but not what it should be. Monotonous enemies take their boredom toll, but incredibly creative locales make the game worth playing through. 7/10
Multiplayer more than helps the game save face after some points of lackluster campaign warfare. In the game players retain the ability transform into mutants, unless the game type prevents it. The standards are all there- Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and a form of Oddball. What stands out is the infection game type. Avid players of Halo custom games will surely recognize this as legitimized form of the popular game type Zombie. In the game type one player will start as a mutant, while all others are humans. The mutant's job is to kill all humans, thus turning them into mutants. The round ends when all humans are mutant, the game ends after a certain amount of points are accumulated. Humans obtain a point every few seconds for just remaining alive. Interestingly, you do not start as a mutant, even if you are chosen to play one. The game gives you about 10 seconds to get into perfect pouncing position. 8/10
The game's true attraction too many gamers will be its story, which is an astounding one. The non-ostensible story is told through scanned items, and secrets unlocked for scanning items. The story is amazingly complex, taking almost every conspiracy theory ever and weaving it into one, surprisingly cohesive story element. Everything is included in Area 51, no matter how mundane. Some hardcore conspiracy theorists will even notice a certain mailbox hidden very cleverly in plain view, a beacon to the games true fans, and a symbol to the game's loyalist disposition to its conspiracies. Even when all the puzzle pieces are connected it will prove exceedingly difficult to put everything together. A word of warning: Area 51 is set up for a sequel in the most open way possible. The story truly deserves a 10/10
It is my opinion the average gamers will find Area 51 a rewarding event, but not a good buy. Likewise, conspiracy freaks/gamers will love this game, and surely give it a cult following unparalleled on Xbox. The bottom line is simply this: Area-51, no matter how you look at it, is a competent, above average shooter with an unparalleled storyline that will make you want to replay the game over and over.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/03/05
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