Area 51 lacks the thrills of a high-profile shooter, but its solid gameplay makes the trip worth it.
- Great, solid gunplay with various weapons
- Visuals are impressive (if on the right setting)
- Impressive AI
- Story becomes a complete mess at some point in the game and lacks focus
- The voice acting is a bit weak overall
- Repetitive enemy design
Today the PC is home for the first-person shooting genre, and boasts some of the best FPS in gaming history. Area 51 is a generic first-person shooter in comparison which fails to execute a memorable story and sometimes even in the presentation but overall it is ultimately saved by the strengths in the action.
Storytelling most of the time doesn't play a considerably large part in the genre and Area 51 proves that. As the title suggests the game is set inside Area 51 and some unknown virus which turns people into mutants has been released inside the area and Team Bravo is assigned to deal with the mess but something goes horribly wrong, leaving only Ethan Cole, the main protagonist alive. After certain events unfold, you'll deal with mutant aliens and later even lots of Hazmat enemy soldiers ready to shoot you down around every corner. The game's conspiracies and minor mystery are alright, but the story is a complete mess and it becomes obvious the more you progress. But there is no tension or psychological fears in it almost at all, save from some rare occasional fright. The plot is disappointing all way round.
The strong shooting mechanisms are the main highlight. Area 51 features some engaging firefights with surprisingly bright AI which constantly work in groups and hides, and almost never stay in your line of fire. Despite this the game is really straightforward, accessible and easy even if there are some rather frustrating parts to deal with. The game kicks off a bit too easy but the level of challenge arises when the Hazmat soldiers start appearing which really ramp the difficulty up. The enemy variety is lacking unfortunately. At times you'll be fighting human soldiers and in the next area mutant aliens attack you. There is quite an obvious different in strength between the mutants and the soldiers. The number of bosses in so minimal it is almost pathetic.
But the strengths of Area 51 aren't in just the AI. True that the AI makes for some entertaining (and occasionally frustrating) firefights, but that is thanks to the solid gameplay. Area 51 is very straightforward, has very little strategy involved and little to no thought required to progress. The game is a bit of a generic shooter but there are some things which you'll definitely like. The scanner for example is an amazing piece of equipment. Forget the fact that it doesn't kill and it is not obligatory to use. The scanner can scan documents which after scanned are added to your database and view them, and also used to scan dead enemies. Thinking about it, it is rather useless but since it is something you don't come along often it is quite cool to play with it for a while. There are multiple weapons you can carry in the game and luckily you can hold a lot. Weapons like pistols, SMP and shotgun are available and easily required from dead enemies. Chance to admire the weapons in battle is not an option since the enemy strikes fast and precise so you'll be gunning none stop to avoid death. The more weapons the better, and so does the game think since you can carry a weapon duel wielded which widely increases firepower. Imagine carrying two shotguns and something simultaneously.
The shooting isn't the only thing the game offers. After the story starts unfolding and loses the original focus, Cole becomes able to mutate temporarily. Although throughout the story he works to stop the mutation by help of Dr. Cray, becoming a mutant has its advantage. The vision becomes a little blurry and the color of your view change into an orange like color and gives you the ability to spot enemies much more clearly. When in mutation you can shoot parasites and the melee does much more damage. This state is only temporarily, but the mutagen can be replenished by finding syringes like the ones used for health or breathing infected corpses.
Much as the game plays well, the graphics are. The PC version is actually sharper than the slightly overall superior PS2 version. The environments look great despite never seeing the daylight and being always stuck inside laboratories. The game looks awful if one particular graphical setting is not applied, but do apply it if your PC can withstand the game's low requirements since it would pretty much be a very unattractive game. But the game does lack basic graphical and video options. The enemy design is a little repetitive as a whole. The alien design is a little crummy in contrast with the enemy soldiers. The few cutscenes that take place need a higher resolution and better quality. The sound takes a leap down, with some almost unnoticeable and unmemorable soundtrack backed up with some below average voice acting. The sound effects are quite good, obviously made better when wearing a pair of good headphones. Explosions sound good but don't look as good unfortunately.
There are just too many good PC games on the PC to make Area 51 a priority to play. The strong gameplay and sharp visuals are held back by a poor story and unrealized potential. FPS fans probably shouldn't be bothered with this. On the other hand anyone looking for some older FPS titles like I was might find some fun in its simpler design than those of recent high profile shooters.
Graphics = 8.3
The PC version looks solid almost all the way round. Repetitive enemy design though.
Sound = 7.7
The voice acting and soundtrack are average but the sound effects pack some punch.
Presentation = 6.9
Cutscenes needed more work that's for sure. Needs those graphical and video options.
Gameplay = 8.5
The shooting is fun and engaging with some clever enemies. Good variety of weapons and a scanner to use. Mutant transformation is quite good. Needs more bosses though and maybe even puzzles since the game is a bit too linear.
Story = 6.3
The story starts decently but becomes a mess as you move. You may want to try multiplayer if you can find someone nowadays.
OVERALL = 77 / 100
Area 51 lacks the thrills of a high-profile shooter, but its solid gameplay makes it worth going into the mutant infested nest.