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June 9, 2005
Area 51 - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
26/5/2005Red AntMidway Austin1-2, 16 MA15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
332KBDolby PLIIYesNoNoneNo

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Pushing the PS2's graphics chips.
Area 51. That secret base in Nevada that doesn't officially exist, but step beyond the fence and you're likely to end up in the hands of the military. Are there aliens there? Are there space ships? We'll probably never know for sure, but this game places you inside the base as you try to discover its secrets. Midway's Area 51 sets new benchmarks for the PS2 - indeed it was a major title on display for Sony at the 2004 E3 show due to the stunning visuals. A year later and the game is here, so what's it all about then...

Take on the role of Specialist Ethan Cole, a hazardous materials specialist sent in by the U.S. Army to investigate a highly volatile biohazard situation. Explore, investigate and battle through Area 51, where futuristic Alien enemies, powers, and weaponry await you. Discover the truth about the extraterrestrial crash at Roswell, the faked lunar landing, Alien autopsies and more as you explore the reality of these chilling conspiracies. Your survival, and that of the entire world, rests on your ability to remain human and solve the enigma of Area 51 before a viral mutagen mutates all life on Earth.

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Ohh lots of blood.
So basically this is a First Person Shooter. Grab some guns and blast the hell out of everything. There are some puzzle solving elements although they are simplistic in their form. Find the key, unlock the door, find the pass, destroy some objects and so on. What really did amuse me is how items like a keycard (which always seem to be found lying on the floor rather then on bodies) can unlock a retinal scanner? Did developers drop some ideas (like poking out someone's eye perhaps) or did they just make some pretty stupid decisions?

There are some pretty neat touches to the game. The moon landing section of the Area 51 base is pretty funny with cardboard cutouts and a toilet near the back of the set - you'll know what I mean when you see it. The character design is also extremely impressive (what do you expect with Stan Winston working on the game!) although I think the face hugger type enemies are a little too cliché these days. Finally the weapons are also pretty good. Although you start off with the pistol and then move onto the machine guns it's when you obtain the sniper rifle and alien guns that the fun really cranks up a notch or two.

At one point in the game Cole gets infected by the mutagen and can then take on a mutant form. By pressing up on the D-Pad Cole transforms and the screens enters a near predator mode with Infra-red vision. His strength is boosted considerably but on the down side you can only use melee attacks with the R3 button. It's good fun but ultimately you'll probably find yourself reverting back to human form with the weapons - it's more fun and with weapons such as the sniper rifle and BBG more instinctive as well.

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Nice lighting.
Online gameplay through Gamespy is another neat addition to this title however the usual issues apply with lag - especially if you're in a large 16-player game. The game modes are fairly uninspired with your usual deathmach options and only the mutant variation providing something unique. Still if you're online there's a few hours fun to be had here.

Area 51 does come up short in a couple of areas - the main two being the length of the game, and the enemy AI. The single player game sound long with 18 levels however most of these can be completed in well under half an hour with a total game completion time of around 10 hours. Overall itís little on the short side for us here at Future Gamez. Enemy AI could certainly have done with some improving. It's not uncommon to see a bunch of enemies up ahead just standing around during a battle, or even worse standing in the middle of a corridor firing at you when there is cover for them only a couple of steps to one side. At certain points in the game it is possible to use your scanner to collect evidence and information. The only problem is that these aren't accessible in-game, but rather through the main menu. Exactly why this decision was made is quite unfathomable.

Graphics are certainly Area 51's selling point with some of the most impressive visuals seen on PS2 to date. The textures retain a high quality even when being viewed up close while the visual effects such as flames, smoke and particle effects are second to none. Fortunately the frame rate is also fairly solid even with many enemies on screen at once. The creature design, as previously mentioned, is quite superb and while their animation is a little rough in places each still has a very menacing look which will have you running in the other direction pretty quickly upon sight.

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Now that's getting your guns off!
One thing which did disappoint me slightly was the voice acting by David Duchovny. During the entire game he shows little vocal range or emotion and even after the most intense battles you're dragged out of the atmosphere by his voice. Don't get me wrong I like the guy, and X-Files was a brilliant show, but he was one of the most disappointing aspects of this game (OK, perhaps it wasn't him but rather the voice recorders for the game that should be blamed here). On the flip side Marilyn Manson sounds terrific in his brief appearances during the game. Fortunately the music and sound effects certainly make the game sound wonderful, explosions, gunfire and weird alien noises abound setting the tension high while the music fades in and out depending on the action taking place.

Ultimately Area 51 isnít the perfect game that we were hoping fo but it is tremendous fun. The highlight is certainly the graphics which are pushing the PS2 to its limits while the sound also does a good job of building the tension. If it were a little longer and the AI a little better then the game would score higher but as it is its still one of the better FPS's on the PS2.

Review By: Dave Warner

Order your copy now from Gameswarehouse (PAL version) or Amazon (NTSC Version)
GRAPHICSArea 51 has some very nice visuals with wonderful effects.
SOUNDThe music, speech and effects combine to make this an aural treat.
GAMEPLAYA standard, but fun, FPS. Some average AI and other qwerks.
VALUEI expected slightly longer single player but RRP is only $79.95 though.
OVERALLIf you like FPS's then Area 51 is a game worth picking up as its a technical accomplishment on PS2. The game isn't not overly long, but it is entertaining and the multi-player is worth a shot for sure. This is one game I would certainly love to see a sequel to in the coming years.

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