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Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway
Media: CD/3
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

Area-51 looks and feels like your typical PC FPS. The best thing the game has going for it, at least visually, is the variety of environments contained in the game. Considering that it all takes place within a government installation, your first inclination is to picture long lengths of grey halls with a few desks and computers. However, Area-51 isn't just any government installation, a fact that allows for some really nice set pieces that help to play into the mystique of Area-51 that the game feeds on. Another thing the game does well is lighting effects that set the entire area alive. What Area-51 doesn't do well are characters. Modeling and other visual factors aside, Area-51 lacks variety and fails to really set itself apart from the pack with its characters. All of the mutants, aliens and soldiers you come across could have easily been found in other games, something that actually becomes something of a theme for the game once you delve into gameplay.

The big draw to Area-51's sound presentation is the inclusion of David Duchovny as the game's main character Ethan Cole. For lack of a better way of saying it, Duchovny is just being himself throughout the entire game, so there's not much acting going on. Lines are delivered with that familiar low-key "I'm just reading the lines in front of me" manner he uses in most of his "acting" gigs, so how well of a performance he gives will largely depend on how you feel of him as an actor. Other notable voices include Marilyn Manson and Powers Booth, both of whom deliver lackluster performances.

Outside the voice acting, Area-51 delivers on sound effects and takes the day off on music. Sound effects are rich and full, giving your weapons that extra "umph" while firing. The small weapons feel small while bigger ones feel big. This is especially good when you get into some of the more frantic gunfights found in the game. As for the soundtrack, I'm still not 100% sure music is in the game. There's definitely something playing in the background, but it's so unnoticeable that it might as well not be there.


Three guesses as to where Area-51 takes place. If you guessed Area-51, good job -- if not, well...

Area-51 takes you through the infamous military installation where all of the really good alien gadgets like phasers, teleporters and the plans to the Death Star are stored. You are Ethan Cole, a member of a HAZMAT team sent in to take care of a viral outbreak in the facility. Since an easy assessment of the situation wouldn't make for a good game, things go wrong. Long story short, Area-51 is apparently a lot like Las Vegas; so what happens in Area-51 stays in Area-51. As a result, Ethan soon finds himself fighting his way through the facility as he takes on members of the military, mutants and aliens. Had the game kept the simple escape premise it would be fine, however the story soon begins to add in a few other elements like psychics, the Illuminati and nearly every conspiracy theory you can think of. While a good story with lots of twists is always a good thing, its not something that is really needed to make a good FPS, so these latter elements begin to bog down the action and add little to the game.

At its heart, Area-51 is a standard, old school FPS. The overall feel of the game is similar to the original Half-Life, if a little more watered down. The overall feel and gameplay is fun, but the game as a whole does very little to break out or add something to the genre. You'll spend a good part of your time running through a labyrinth of corridors, collecting guns and generally shooting anything and everything you come across. In an attempt to break up the shooting action, you'll find yourself performing other actions as well, such as scanning objects scattered throughout the game. As you find new objects, you'll earn extras like backstory elements.

When you're done with the single-player story mode, you can take part in Area-51's multiplayer modes. Supporting up to 16 people, the multiplayer modes cover all of the FPS standards like capture the flag and deathmatch. Area-51 also includes a "new" gameplay mode called Infected, which is like a deathmatch only you take the role of either a soldier or mutant. Multiplayer doesn't offer anything new or exciting, and certainly won't hold you like multiplayer modes in other games do, but it still makes for a fun diversion from the single-player mode.


Area-51 is a generally easy game with a few spurts of challenge thrown in to keep your from becoming too complacent. The game sticks to nearly all of the conventions found in most FPSs. Most of your time is spent collecting keys and trying to unlock doors. Level designs are rather compact and I never found myself getting turned around or lost as I searched for items. As expected, the challenge comes in when fighting enemies. A bulk of the enemies are of the dim-witted type, so you're not exactly going up with Deep Blue. At the same time, they're not drooling morons and will get the upper hand on you if take them for granted.

Game Mechanics:

One of the few additions to gameplay is Ethan's mutation ability that he acquires early on in the game as a result of contact with the virus. Ethan's mutant transformation essentially makes him a powerhouse, increasing his melee attacks and giving him viral attacks. Ethan will also gain other attributes while in mutant form that cover the spectrum of abilities found in other games like the ability to see heat signatures. Early on, the mutant abilities are useful, but as I came across more powerful weapons, I found myself relying on it less and less. This can be attributed more to play-style than anything else since, after talking to other people who have played the game, they tended to use the abilities whenever possible, making them more useful for players who like to get up-close and personal with enemies.

As already mentioned, Area-51 is your standard, no-frills shooter. Unless you've never touched an FPS before, you'll feel immediately comfortable with everything the game has to offer. While it's not a bad thing, it's also not necessarily a good thing either, bringing us to Area-51's biggest problem, it's too generic. Even with the mutant powers, there's little here that we haven't seen before. The developers have done an admirable job of bringing mechanics and setups from other games into Area-51, but all this does is make you want to go back and play those games since they at least offer something original. Still, the game is definitely fun, its just not a breakout title and will strike most PC gamers with a feeling of deja vu.

Hardcore FPS fans who just want a new game where they get to blow up a bunch of stuff and shoot aliens will enjoy taking Area-51 for a spin. Anyone looking for something new should probably hold off.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows 2000/XP; 1.4GHz or greater or equivalent; 256 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM; 64 MB VRAM; 3000 MB HDD Space; Internet Connection

Test System:

Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.8 GHz; Radeon 9250 256 MB; 40 Gig HD; 640 MB RAM; DirectX 9.0; Cable Internet Connection

Windows Astrogeddon Windows Boiling Point: Road to Hell

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated