The fascination with Alien life has led to many games and many appearances in games as either parodies or serious characters. Midway has taken this to the next level, especially with the infamous Area 51, by creating an entire game based around the alien knowledge of the world and the secretive military installation where experiments are carried out. Of course whether Area 51 exists is still in the air, but it does at least in game form and while it does have its problems, it is also one of the most impressive first person titles around, especially in terms of its structure and storyline.
The storyline behind Area 51 could have been directly ripped from a science fiction movie. At the mysterious installation, experiments have been carried out by the government on Aliens to use their technology for weaponry. One day a super alien is built who takes control of the installation and begins the invasion of the aliens into earth. You play as part of a special operations team, trained specially for an event such as this occurring at Area 51 and it's up to you and your team mates to find out what's gone on, how to eradicate it and save the human race. The thing is that the storyline plays out so well that it keeps you playing, wanting to find out what happens next and it's not often that this happens in games these days.
As mentioned before the game is played from a first person perspective but rather than being a lone gunman, you feel part of a squad for some of the game because of the way the early action plays out. Throughout the game you begin to act alone and even when you do, it still doesn't feel like a vanilla first person game because of the high level of scripting featured in the game. Usually games are criticized for being so scripted and contrived, but for Area 51 it has worked extremely well, and really that's all that matters. What it does mean however is a reduced replay value because the game does play out exactly the same each time you play. There is some puzzle solving in the game although not much and the focus is more on action. One irk we have is that the aliens take an absolute beating before they go down, and it just seems absolutely ridiculous they can take clips of machine gun bullets before dying.
There is also a bit of variety to the gameplay as well. The game explores the ethos behind Area 51 and gives a fictional look inside the facility in the way the developers envisage it. There are some interesting things between missions as well such as Duchovny talking about the lies the government fed us, with a picture of the moon landing on the screen. While it's over quickly, it shows how much the game revolves around the ethos and facts/fiction that people associate with space. It makes the game very easy to relate to and moves it more from the fantasy side of things, to somewhat realistic for brief moments of gameplay. At some point in the game you also become an alien and must kill to remain alive. This is going to be a case of like or loathe, but we'll let you decide that.
One thing that really stands out about the game is the high level of action featured, there is hardly a time where you're not firing or reloading your weapon. It can make for some tense moments and difficult ones such as defending a squad mate as he hacks a computer, or just trying to stay alive while enemies rush towards you. It is also a very violent game with some shocking cutscenes playing out showing the deaths of team mates and it is a game that if you play with the lights out, you will get scared. As you proceed further into Area 51 the game gets better as you begin to see some cool technology and fun things to play around with, especially once you become the Alien character.
Visually the game is a mixed bag and that is because of the console graphics. It is very easy to tell this is a console native game with washed out textures, but they do feature high levels of detail and clarity. The animations of both friend and foe are extremely well done and even though the game is highly scripted, the enemies are not predictable. Duchovny does an excellent job voice acting the main character, and the other voice actors have done well as well but to be fair they had an excellent script with some very funny moments written into it. The sound effects and ambient music also add to the game, and bring across a truly moody feeling when playing it.
Area 51 may be a console port but it's an impressive console port. While it's not going to revolutionize the genre nor is it even a AAA title, it's by no means a poor game and the ongoing action will really be music to the ears of FPS fans.