Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blacksite: Area 51 Review

A few years back, you might remember an Area 51 game, released by Midway, for original Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC. No? Seriously, it had David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson doing the voices for two of the characters?

Well, it's probably okay that you don't remember it, because despite being developed by the same guys, there's almost nothing connecting the two games. In fact, Blacksite starts about as far from Area 51 as you could imagine... in Iraq.

Indeed, the developers did their very best to cram an anti-war, anti-military message into the game. You hardly fight any actual aliens... the majority of the enemy are the "Reborn," soldiers who were tortured an experimented on by the government, who are now rebelling. One might suggest that a game like Blacksite was hardly the best soap box for the developers to preach from, though. But I digress. Whatever your personal politics, you can probably overlook the message if the game is good, right? So is Blacksite a good game?

Not exactly.

For the most part, it's a fairly average shooter. The staples are all there... shoot guns, aim down the site, melee if the enemy gets in your face, and toss an occasional grenade. Health is handled in the now-standard vision-turning-red-until-you-get-cover-and-heal-to-full. You hardly even need to switch weapons; aside from a few instances when you need a rocket launcher or a sniper rifle, you can just keep at it with the standard assault rifle. There's plenty of ammo scattered about for it, after all. Toss in some basic vehicle bits and some extra basic squad mechanics, and you get the idea. The key thing here is that while Blacksite doesn't screw any of these mechanics up, it doesn't really do anything to excel at them either. It's totally average. Yes, you can have fun playing it, but there are better games on the market.

Not only is the game average, it's short. I'm talking shorter than Crysis Warhead, which at least justifies its lack of length by being an expansion instead of a full game. I finished the game in three sessions, and none of those sessions were lengthy ones. It seemed like just when the game really started to get going, it was over.

The plot, aside from being political, is poor even by first-person shooter standards. While on a mission looking for WMDs in Iraq, you and your squad find some sort of alien artifact. So you leave. Years later, there's a situation. Apparently, Uncle Sam has reinstated the draft, and some people decided to band together because they didn't want to go. But it turns out that they're not some draft-dodging hippies, they're the Reborn. The Reborn have some tenuous connection to Area 51, so you go there to kill them all. The end. Seriously.

I'm honestly not surprised that the game hasn't got the best reviews (a Metacritic score of 60 for the PC version, which is the version I played). Even if the gameplay was great, I'd probably have taken a few points off for the length. But it all fairness, Blacksite isn't a bad game. It's just a short, average one. And if you don't expect too much from it, it's probably worth a rental, or a purchase from a bargain bin (I got my copy for $7.95).

Final Score: C

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