BlackSite: Area 51 Hands-On

Forget the little green men. BlackSite: Area 51 is much more serious than all that.

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Everyone has a pet theory about what goes on out at Groom Lake, otherwise known as Area 51, the "secret" military facility located about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. Is it just a test site for prototype aircraft? Or is it where the government hides all the crazy alien technology that it harvested from the Roswell UFO crash? You know, we wouldn't have fiber optics, floor-cleaning robots, or the iPhone without reverse engineering all that alien technology. Midway's Austin studio is currently working on a new first-person shooter that, at least partially, takes place in and around Area 51. And it sounds like it's taking a much more serious approach to the subject matter that plays off of some of man's worst fears while also offering a fast-paced adventure with lots of big, loud weapons.

The demo shown at Midway's recent press event was a very short taste of a level based on Rachael, Nevada, the town closest to the Area 51 facility. You take control of the point man in what eventually becomes a four-man squad. The level is set up as a tutorial of sorts, taking you through some basic sequences to familiarize you with the game's squad control. The development team is working to make the squad control as simple as firing a gun. You point at something and hit the L trigger, and the squad interacts with it. For example, if it's a door, they'll bust or blow it open; if it's a vehicle, they'll jump in it. But your squad isn't invincible, and how they fight against the enemy depends on their morale. If you're doing well, keeping your squad alive, getting headshots, and so on, morale will stay up, and your guys will do more damage and become better, more aggressive soldiers. But if you let your squadmates go down and do a bad job, the squad starts to panic and buttons up behind cover, taking fewer shots and being less useful. It sounds like an interesting mechanic that could help set BlackSite apart from the other squad-based games out there.

The game will tell its story without the use of cinematic cutscenes and convey the plot as you play, with in-engine, in-game dialogue. Major events will get a finer point put on them with the use of slow motion. For example, you'll be able to see a huge flying object crash into a building and then sprout into a giant wormlike creature. That happens at the end of the brief demo level.

There was only one weapon in the demo, a fully automatic assault rifle with a grenade-launcher attachment. You can also execute a melee attack, jump, toss grenades, and crouch. The weapons you'll start out with include state-of-the-art military technology and will also include more futuristic weapons. But you won't have to resort to ray guns. The weapons are said to stay at least partially rooted in reality--well, futuristic reality, anyway.

Just what have they been up to at Area 51, anyway?
Just what have they been up to at Area 51, anyway?

The enemies you'll face in BlackSite are known as the Reborn. These twisted creatures appear to be aliens, but they could also be reconstituted humans. The demo contained a couple of different types, including a tall creature that splits in half when initially defeated, causing its explosive upper body to start crawling in your direction. Visually, the whole game looks nice so far. The Xbox 360 version was on display, and the character models in the environments are all looking pretty sharp.

In addition to the single-player campaign, you'll be able to play through the story online in a two-player cooperative mode. There will also be competitive multiplayer modes, including such standard modes as deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. There will also be modes called human vs. reborn and siege. Siege mode is all about controlling territory while also capturing your opponent's squad members.

Overall, BlackSite: Area 51 has made an impressive debut. If the rest of the game builds upon the demo level we were shown, all of its different parts--the squad tactics, the fast pace, the gritty feel--should combine to form an exciting shooter for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC this summer.

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