Midway has been reviving many of its classic games with updated versions lately, what with games like NARC and the recently announced LA Rush due out over the next year. One promising-looking update is Area 51, which you may remember as an FMV-based arcade shooter from many years back. The new game is a little more ambitious, thankfully--it's a first-person shooter that follows a HAZMAT specialist named Ethan Cole as he infiltrates the infamous research facility to do battle with a deadly virus, a horde of mutants, and some big-eyed alien creeps. We got to check out a new rev of the game, including some as-yet-unseen levels, to see how the shooter is coming along.
The demo levels we played primarily showcased several of the weapons and mutant powers that you'll have in the game. We blasted our way through an assortment of mutated humans, alien defensive weaponry, and stealth-equipped black ops soldiers (though those pesky gray aliens eluded us with their superior technology). Our tools of the trade included the standard assortment of submachine gun, shotgun, and pistol (a desert eagle in this case), and we were able to dual-wield submachine guns whenever we found a second one. One interesting alien weapon we used fired an energy projectile that could bounce off of walls, and the gun was equipped with a laser site that would show exactly where the projectile would bounce. We imagine this gun will be quite popular in competitive matches, since you'll be able to essentially hit targets around corners that have no direct line of sight to you. The guns we got to use had a good, solid feel to them, and the enemies went flying in realistic fashion, thanks to an impressive and newly implemented rag-doll physics system.
In addition to your guns, you'll have mutant powers due to the virus that has ravaged the human population of Area 51, and we got to try out three of these powers during the demo. The parasites power sent a swarm of ghastly bugs toward the nearest enemy, killing it and extracting its health for Cole. Contagion was a similar power, sending a swarm of the critters to surround a nearby enemy and kill it at the press of a button. Finally, while in mutant form, Cole will be able to use a powerful melee attack to kill enemies quickly, knocking them way backward in the process. Of course, these aren't all the mutant powers you'll have in the game--they're just the only ones that are being disclosed for now.
We got to see a nice variety of levels in the demo. One sequence took place in a heavily damaged section of Area 51 in which fires were burning and overturned equipment and demolished sections of the base provided cover that we could hide behind. Another level took place deep underground in an alien-constructed base, and this section had a high-tech, otherworldly look that was pretty appealing. One favorite section from the demo was the Apollo television set, which is apparently where the fake moon landing was filmed. This area came complete with studio lights, a cardboard cutout of an astronaut, and a small picture of Earth tacked up on the wall. At least the game has a sense of humor.
Of course, the big news about Area 51 is its celebrity voice talent. The X-Files' David Duchovny has provided the voice for main character Ethan Cole, and from what we could hear of the dialogue in the trailer and demo, Duchovny's deadpan delivery seems well suited for the role of the beleaguered HAZMAT specialist. Your alien buddy Edgar will be voiced by shock-rock star Marilyn Manson, himself an alien (so the casting choice was a natural one). We only heard a few lines spoken by Edgar in the demo, and it seemed as though Manson's lines had undergone a good bit of post-processing to give them an otherworldly flavor, which was certainly appropriate.
It must be noted that the PS2 version of Area 51 looks pretty exceptional, given the relative limitations of the platform. The renderer is capable of dynamic lighting and other graphical effects that you'd expect to see on the Xbox or PC but not on Sony's machine. Considering the appealingly sinister aesthetic of the Area 51 base and alien-made areas, the game is shaping up to be a visual powerhouse. The Xbox version actually has fewer effects implemented at the moment, but we were assured that edition would be visually superior by the time the games are released early next year.
Based on our brief playtime today, Area 51 has a lot going for it despite the glut of first-person shooters on the market. The mixture of scripted story sequences, buddy AI, and diehard shooting action should provide a single-player experience with a lot of merit for FPS fans. Though we didn't get to see it today, the 16-player online mode, which includes such game types as mutants versus humans, is also of special note, since Doom cocreators Tom Hall and John Romero are making substantial contributions to Area 51's multiplayer. We're anxious to see more of the game in the coming months, and we'll bring you more coverage when we do. In the meantime, keep an eye on the game's media page for upcoming new gameplay footage and video interviews with creative director Jim Stiefelmaier and the voice cast.