If the guided-movement shoot-em-up action of Virtua Cop was to mesh with the undead inhabitants of Corpse Killer (one of many in a long line of Sega CD tragedies from Digital Pictures), the result would be something akin to Area 51, the Midway coin-op smash now available on the Saturn. The storyline is simple enough: Area 51, the top secret military facility 90 miles north of Las Vegas that supposedly conducted biological testing and experiments on alien visitors, has been overrun with mutating alien creatures. The job is to infiltrate the base and wipe out anything that isn't human.
Experienced gamers generally detest any game that lacks control over movement (meaning the player or his mode of transportation is guided by the computer, a practice commonly referred to as being on "rails"). However, in games like Area 51 and Virtua Cop aim is more important than freedom of movement, and being on rails isn't a problem. Players will deal death in a variety of constantly shifting Area 51 locales that include offices, hallways, warehouses, and outdoor areas. At times players will be stationary as they fend off hordes of grotesque aliens; other times they'll be riding up and down on elevators or skidding across the compound at high-speed in a moving vehicle.
Graphically, Area 51 is a superb effort, complete with photorealistic images that are more reminiscent of Lethal Enforcers than the polygon-based environments of Virtua Cop. Compared to the somewhat stagnant scenery of Virtua Cop, the environments in Area 51 are rife with action-movie activity. Explosions, fires, swooping helicopters, screaming trucks, and more are par for the course. The nonstop background action, plus the constant, ongoing shutout scenarios, ensures that the pace of Area 51 is frantic. But while the game is undeniably fast and action-packed, it lacks a certain degree of tension and suspense (which the looping, jumpy, synth music only accentuates).
The enemies come in three different forms, or rather three stages of Kronomorph mutation (from zombified human host to full-blown alien). The weapons used to eliminate these otherworldly mutants include three types of ammunition (standard, shotgun, and rapid-fire machine gun), and hand grenades for those otherwise sticky situations. Barrels, ammo crates, windows, fire extinguishers, paintings, and desktop computers can all be shot en route to complete alien genocide (and to possibly unlock secret rooms and areas). On the downside, a better variety of weapons would have given the game greater depth.
Area 51 is playable with a standard Saturn control pad, but you'll really want to use the Sega Stunner (or any compatible light gun) to get that arcade feel. With five difficulty settings, Area 51 is accessible to just about any skill level (even on novice, and loaded with extra lives/continues, this game is no picnic, which only adds to its replay value). There's nothing truly original about Area 51, but it's still a topnotch shooter for those Saturn owners with itchy trigger fingers.