LAS VEGAS--Midway's upcoming revival of the venerable Area 51 franchise may not be what you're expecting if you played the old full-motion video light-gun shooter in the arcades way back when. In its new incarnation, Area 51 is a dramatic first-person shooter that will take you to the darkest depths of the infamous governmental research facility, blasting both aliens and mysterious soldiers while you fight off a mysterious mutation that will help you in combat but also threaten to consume you.
We've gotten several looks at Area 51 on both the PS2 and Xbox, and the game has been shaping up nicely on both platforms and seems on course for its upcoming release. But we were surprised to get a shot at hands-on time with the PC version of the game, which, as it turns out, began rather late in the game's development cycle and with only a relatively tiny amount of manpower devoted to it. Given those circumstances, the game plays quite smoothly and feels like it will make players who are used to mouse-and-keyboard FPS controls feel right at home. The team will be further enhancing the graphics to take advantage of the PC's more advanced capabilities. However, the game already looked noticeably cleaner than its console counterparts due to higher resolution and so on.
We got to check out a previously unseen mutation power during our demo called contagion. This power fires a projectile at enemies that attacks and infects them, driving them insane and turning them on any nearby targets. In game-logic terms, this makes the enemy hostile to every other entity and unfriendly to all of them--so it will naturally turn on all of the other enemies nearby and put an end to them before getting back to the business of killing you. This will, of course, come in especially handy when a large group of enemies is attacking you from the same position. Simply infect one of them with contagion and it will turn on the group, which will consequently make all of the others deal with the new threat, leaving you open to kill the lot with relative impunity.
Area 51 is slated to ship in April for all three platforms, and what we saw of the PC version today already looked like it was getting close to a polished, final state. Thankfully, PC FPS stalwarts will now get a more accessible opportunity to try out what's looking like a promising shooter. It also looks like it will scratch the shooting itch for console fans as well. Look for more on Area 51 in the coming weeks.