Blast from the Past: Area 51 (Xbox)

7.5

Good

The universe is filled with the great unknown. For years now we’ve been under the impression that we’ll find life out there and as legend will tell you, some of that life has already arrived on Earth and is hidden in top-secret facilities dubbed Area 51. It’s time for you to find out the truth and save humanity from a mutant outbreak on that infamous site.

The X-Files

A ship crashed near Roswell in 1947, New Mexico and the US government (hand-in-hand with the Illuminati) cleaned up the mess before it went public. Funded by the Illuminati, Dr Cray receives all the resources to study these extraterrestrial beings and as result ends up creating a creature weapon codenamed ‘Theta’. Dr Cray and the Illuminati have different intentions for this creation – the Illuminati plans to use it as a weapon. By the time events kicks off in Area 51 the facility is in a dire situation. Dr Cray calls for help by creating chaos and releasing the viral weapon that has the infection spreading across the entire base and the military is called in. HazMat Team Delta entered the base, but things have gone quiet. It’s up to you and your HazMat Team Bravo to search for survivors and to discover the source of the outbreak. It’s the perfect proposition for a video game shooter to take over.

There is no conspiracy that this is a blast.

Players take the role of Ethan Cole who joins HazMat Team Bravo in their search. You’re thankfully, for a change, not the n00b of the team, but you’re about to take on some tough foes. The mutagen virus has spread throughout the base and converted many scientists and soldiers into mutants. These mutated scientists are fast and powerful but lack the knowledge to wield guns. It’s when you bump into your first mutated soldiers that things get a little trickier. They shoot back but also work in groups. As expected you’ll be armed with the best weapons the military can provide, including pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, grenades and more. Some guns can even be dual-wielded (as you might have done in Halo 2). Area 51 is a first-person survival horror action game and always plays to its strengths. Don’t be surprised with a jump scare moment early on in the game when searching for clues in dark corridors. Before too long it all turns into a full-on action experience and it’s all the better for it. As with FPS games of that era, you’ll enter action set scene after action set scene, each with their own unique challenges.

Up to this point it really does sound like your standard FPS shooter of the era, but there is a twist in store. Quite early on into your playthrough Ethan will be exposed to the same mutagen virus that’ll enter and infect his body. However, unlike the other victims, it won’t permanently transform him into a creepy alien. This transformation can be activated if and when you please and it comes packaged with alien-enhanced physical abilities. These abilities improve your strength, speed, stamina and can even be used heal yourself. Should your mutagen meter run dry Ethan won’t automatically heal by hiding from danger. As with the games of old you’ll have to find health syringes as well as mutagen syringes to replenish your bars. Every time Ethan makes use of an alien power it’ll drain from the mutant bar. Thanks to his alien form he can also later take control of extra terrestrial weapons. These weapons are immensely powerful and a necessity in later parts of the game.

The presentation of Area 51 is really impressive.

There are basic puzzle solving sections that won’t pose much of a challenge. It mostly involves trying to get from point A to B without dying, triggering a button, and moving on. Expect Ethan to die quite a lot. Due to those set scenes I mentioned earlier, nothing is going to be straight-forward. As with FPS games in 2005, you’ll deal with pockets of difficulty spikes. One moment you’re on a mounted gattling gun, blasting anything and everything to bits, and the next you’re trying to cross a bridge with only a few bullets in your gun. It’s times like these where the game forces you to learn how to deal with your mutated abilities and it’s all the better for it.

Old school pew pew

The presentation of Area 51 is really impressive. Graphically it has aged quite well, considering that it’s a 2005 game. Everything from the animation, to the sound and overall production quality is quite impressive. In terms of voice acting, they’ve even brought some big-name celebrities onboard. These include David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson, who were both quite big at the time. The storytelling isn’t going to walk away with awards, but it’ll keep your interest right through to the very end as things don’t pan out as you might expect them to. Once the story is done you can move to to the included multiplayer segment. Unfortunately the Live servers are long gone. Your only option left is to play the game with up to three other players in a 4-player split-screen game of deathmatch. It’s a fun addition to try out with friends, should you have four Xbox controllers.

Area 51 received a bit of a raw deal at the time. It wasn’t the greatest story ever told and it might not have been completely revolutionary when compared to other greats (such as Half Life 2 in that era), but it was a fun shooter. If you’re looking for something with good production values and a fresh take on the sci-fi genre, then this Xbox original game should provide the thrills and spills you desire. There is no conspiracy that this is a blast.

Good

  • The alien powers are fun when activated
  • Good presentation and production values
  • 4-player split-screen multiplayer

Bad

  • Puzzles aren't the best
  • Not backwards compatible with Xbox One, yet
  • Xbox Live servers are long gone for online multiplayer

Summary

There aren't enough FPS sci-fi games that tie in with an interesting story and Area 51 makes that a fun experience. You'll stick around for the story outcome, enjoy the various set scenes and have fun toying with your foes when activating your alien form. It's not the best FPS game ever, but it's fun. What more could you really want?
7.5

Good

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.

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