Monday, December 10, 2007

Put E.T. in check in "BlackSite: Area 51"

If E.T. or Alf decide to set up shop in southern Nevada, look out.

Developed and published by Midway, "BlackSite" is the sequel of sorts to the Xbox game "Area 51," also developed by Midway. It's an FPS powered by the Unreal graphics engine for a pretty good graphics.

You assume the role of Aeran Pierce, this special forces dude who can bring it to some pretty wicked aliens. You will have a few squad members with you on most of the missions, but you are the shot caller in this game. The game is set in Iraq and a southwestern Nevada town that's crawling with more aliens - no, not illegal immigrants, but "E.T.-phone-home" kind of aliens. You know, the ones that were trying to work Will Smith over a time or two in "Men in Black?" Ok ... the Roswell, New Mexico alien encounter - Close Encounters. You got it!

Anyhow, the U.S. government has been working on making a supersoldier with alien technology when ... you know the deal ... something goes horribly wrong. The first tests were conducted in the desert. You see huge linebacker sized guys charging you with a mask like Leatherface. There are also some other aliens deadset on taking you out. You have to find an item deep inside of this seemingly never-ending maze of tunnels, hallways and passages. Oh, and did I say you had to fight Iraqis too? Don't get me wrong, but if I am seeing Zentradi running around, sorry, but fighting extraterrestrials is specifically mentioned in my contract. No ... these soldiers are true to the end. They are the least of your worries.

After you find the item, you head back to the good ol' U.S. of A. And just when you think you are going to have some serious R & R, guess what? Aliens have taken over in the Southwest! Where's the Border Patrol when you need them?!

If you are looking for a deep storyline with awesome voice acting and a killer subplot, forget it. This game is about one thing - blasting the snot out of aliens. And boy, does this game do a great job of that.

You command a squad of Delta Force (really Farce) soldiers who respond to most of your orders. You can depress the right bumper and send troops ahead. If an enemy is around, it's weapons-free and hot lead heading toward the enemy. They shoot first, ask questions later. And they are pretty tough. I saw an alien gnawing on this guy and he cocked his combat boot, kicked the bug off and take several shots at the lead-filled alien.

Your squad consist of Cody Grayson, a football player and a grunt, Mitchell Ambrose, a weapons specialist from New Orleans, Noa Weis, a military doctor who was working on a lot of the secret experiments crawling around Nevada and Logan Somers, a soldier skilled in military history, psychology and weapons design. They show up at different parts of the game - some missions, it's just you and Noa - other times, it's you, Somers and Ambrose. Don't worry - you all will be spending a lot of quality time together during the game.

Yes, they are tough, but they look to you for leadership. If you take a lot of damage, or if you aren't courageous during battle, their morale will decrease and they won't fight as good and they'll get hurt more often. Fortunately, there's no memory effect for wounds, so in one fight, a soldier can be out cold - by the next mission, he's out of rehab like he's Bo Jackson.

With low morale, your team performs sloppy. However, if they see you fighting the good fight, they'll rally behind you and really step their game up as well.

Some members of your squad can open doors you can't. While you can open some doors, on other doors, you have to get a squad member to open it up with a keycode, a brick of C-4 plastic explosive or just kick it down. You can't select how the soldier will kick down the door, but rest assured - the door is gone. You can also order your team to plant explosives, take control of gun turrets, snipe enemies and take control of vehicles. They'll do it if you issue the order.

The environment is open but extremely linear. There's very little variation to the missions - you can choose one of two to three paths - and you guessed it, the aliens are in both paths. Your options are limited and definitely not open sandbox. What a bummer. The terrain looks wonderful and the missions may feel big, but soon you realize the controlled environments really put a damper on the game overall. Give players multiple ways to finish their missions, please.

There are a few vehicles in the game, including Humvees and a Dodge Nitro SUV. It's pretty cool and handles good, but the Humvee wins the off-roading title. However, when you drive, if your vehicle gets hit, you take the damage. I accidentally ran into the middle of these explosive aliens and they blew my Nitro into the heavens! If you see an enemy ahead, it's best to pull over and head out on foot to confront them. Even though a teammate is a gunner, they often can't hit the broadside of a barn. They do get it right sometimes and can hit the enemy, but trust me, you are better on foot, unless you are manning the turret. You can also fly in helicopters as a gunner, which is pretty cool. Not as cool as "COD4," but still pretty sweet.

You also have a few weapons to choose from, including a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, a shotgun and a pistol. The alien weapons are fewer but pack a huge punch. As a special forces guy, though, you are skilled in the Jedi arts - opps, wrong review - and you can pick them up and automatically bring the rain to the aliens.

Tired of battling the predictable AI? Hop on LIVE with a wide variety of online multiplayer modes. You can choose from Death Match, Team Death Match and Capture the Flag. All online games start in Warmup mode, which gives gamers a few moments to get used to the game controls. In team-based games, players can select which teams to be on - U.S. Military or Reborn (Alien) teams.

In the online games, there are weapons pickups, armor, death magnifier and stealth powerups. The stealth gives you temporary invisibility. Why can't I have the stealth powerup in the single-player campaign?

The controls are pretty tight and on point. Sometimes, the NPC soldiers you command won't move to an area, so just redeploy them again. The controls for the vehicle can take some time to get used to, but be thankful it's not as hard as a "Halo" Warthog. Aiming and targeting is easier than most FPS, though there's a mission where you have to snipe an alien in a UH-60 Blackhawk and it's hard as the devil to do, given the choppers moving fast and you have to use a sniper rifle.

The enemy AI is relentless and the term 'teamwork' is as foreign to them as a bath. Common sense would tell me if your enemy is pinned down, advance from both sides to defeat him.

The graphics are pretty cool - the Unreal Engine shines, though the overall shade in the game, with the Nevada missions the exception, the game is dark, but the areas are crisp.

The sounds are good - nothing stellar but still good vibes. The aliens are funny and the voice acting is more than annoying.

If you've finished the fight and want an FPS where you can detach your brain and just blast aliens into orbit, you should check out "BlackSite: Area 51."

Why should I care: "BlackSite" brings arcade FPS action to an Xbox 360 near you.

The good: Fun gameplay, deep online multiplayer, great graphics, enough aliens to justify buying a street sweeper, intense action and squad-based action

The bad: Clueless enemy AI, annoying voice acting, plot as thin as Kleenex, Iraqis fighting you while aliens are running around their base without a care in the world

The ugly: Oh, let me count the ways ... but the winner is the aliens with leather on their faces and their tongues hanging out. Here, have an Altoid.

Overall: 8 (out of 10): "BlackSite: Area 51" is so fun, but it's kind of like an appetizer. You nibble and devour it, but soon want the main course. The game is good and fun, your brain can take a break because their's no need to try and keep up with the plot. An easy rule of thumb - when the weapon reticle is red, pop your steel. But the main problem with "BlackSite" is the stiff competition from other FPS and RPGs on the market right now. However, fun is fun and anytime you can blast aliens is a fun time.

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