BlackSite: Area 51 Multiplayer Hands-On
We take on the developers from Midway's Austin studio at their own game.
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Currently scheduled for release in November, BlackSite: Area 51 is a contemporary squad-based first-person shooter with a sci-fi twist befitting the titular location in and around which much of its action takes place. We've had plenty of opportunities to see BlackSite's campaign during its development, but it wasn't until last week that we were afforded an opportunity to check out any of the game's multiplayer features. BlackSite: Area 51 supports up to 10 players online, and boasts capture-the-flag and "abduction" modes of play, in addition to the requisite deathmatch and team deathmatch options.
Before jumping into any multiplayer contests proper, we were given a guided tour of one of BlackSite's multiplayer maps, where we had an opportunity to try out all of the different weapons and power-ups in the game's arsenal. There will be a total of 10 multiplayer maps available, consisting of eight that are taken from the campaign and two that are designed specifically for capture the flag but which can also be used in other modes. The arsenal includes a good assortment of conventional and unusual weapons, so in addition to a pistol, an assault rifle, a sniper rifle, and a rocket launcher, you'll be playing with (presumably alien or experimental) plasma rifles and scatter guns. You can carry only two weapons at a time, and your movement speed will vary quite considerably depending on which one you're actually using. Power-ups positioned in strategic locations on each map include 100 extra armor points, a damage magnifier, and a stealth pickup that--based on our experiences of it to date--doesn't make you nearly as invisible as you might expect.
Assuming you've ever played a game with guns in it, you'll already have a pretty good idea of the capabilities of each of the aforementioned weapons. Nevertheless, there are a few that warrant some further explanation. The javelin rocket launcher comes with only two rockets, it takes ages to reload, and it slows down your movement to something like crawling speed. However, it's a great weapon because if you zoom in on an enemy and manage to acquire a target lock, it's a more-or-less guaranteed kill once you squeeze the trigger. BlackSite's scatter gun is, in a word, great; the weapon's numerous projectiles can be fired in a tight cone or more scattered according to whether or not you're using the zoom function, and they can bounce off a wall or two en route to your target without losing any of their potency. This makes the scatter gun a great choice for taking out enemies who are trying to hide around a corner or who are in the kind of range for which you might normally use a shotgun. Also deserving of a mention is the plasma rifle, which launches a ball of green energy that explodes and causes splash damage upon impact with an enemy or environmental object. The really neat thing about the plasma rifle is that the aforementioned projectile can also be manually detonated in midair, perhaps to hit another of those guys hiding around a corner.
The first map that we played on was set in and around Rachel's gas station, which you'll be familiar with if you've been following our previous coverage of BlackSite or have played through the teaser demo that was released earlier this year. The map was small enough that any more than 10 players might have made it feel crowded, but not so small that there weren't plenty of places for long-range weapons such as the rocket launcher and the sniper rifle to be useful. Grenades are also a lot of fun in BlackSite, and it's possible to "cook" them in your hand for a moment if you're feeling brave, so that they explode more quickly when you toss them. All of the weapons in multiplayer games spawn over highlighted areas on the ground, and the same weapons will always spawn in the same places, so you'll be at a distinct advantage once you know your way around any given map. With that said, the spawn points for each weapon look slight different, so once you figure out which spawn-point shapes correspond to which weapons, it shouldn't be too difficult for you to adjust to new maps.
After familiarizing ourselves with BlackSite's controls and weapons in a couple of deathmatch games, we jumped into the abduction mode, which is similar to the infection modes that you might have played in other shooters. At the start of an abduction game, one player is randomly selected to play as a reborn (the enemies in the campaign mode) and tasked with abducting all of the other players by killing them. Players who are killed by the reborn player respawn as reborn characters themselves, and must then assist with the abduction of the remaining survivors. Points are awarded to players on both sides for killing members of the opposing faction, and survival bonuses are awarded to the humans who survive for the longest time without being abducted. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the abduction mode is that, because you can talk only to the players on the same side of you, you might be discussing strategies with other human players one minute and then hunting down those same players the next. The map that we played abduction on was designed to look like a partially destroyed mosque, and it incorporated underground areas as well as two-storey buildings, which made being aware of things above and below you every bit as important as looking around to your left and right.
BlackSite: Area 51's take on capture the flag doesn't do anything radically different from "two flag" modes in other games. Each team has a base, each base has a flag, and you need to return the enemy's flag to your base without losing your own to score a point. The flag counts as a weapon when you carry it but, like the pistol, it doesn't really hinder your speed at all. Furthermore, the flag is actually the most powerful melee weapon in the game and will one-hit kill anyone who gets too close to you. As the flag carrier, you have the option to drop the flag at any time if you need to use your ranged weapon, but if you don't pick it up again within 10 seconds, it'll automatically return to the enemy base. Any enemy who manages to make contact with the flag in those 10 seconds will also instantly score a flag return.
We had an opportunity to check out both of BlackSite's CTF maps during our session. The first, set in Iraq, is L-shaped with bases at both ends and another large building in the middle. Certain vantage points in the map afforded a great view of both bases for anyone looking to score a long-range kill without moving on either offense or defense, but those areas were invariably very exposed and consequently not anywhere that you'd want to camp for any period of time. The second map, titled Roughneck, is set in Nevada and features two oil derricks that serve as bases, as well as large rock formations in the middle of the map that obscure the line of sight between the two. Abandoned trailers and pickup trucks give the map a great lived-in feel, and the lack of much meaningful cover really makes you feel as if you're fighting in the desert.
One feature that all of BlackSite's team-based multiplayer modes have in common is that, regardless of which faction you're playing, all of your enemies will be highlighted in red, whereas all of your colleagues will have their names appear above their heads in blue text. This helps to avoid any confusion, given that the character models for the two factions aren't radically different, and is especially useful in abduction mode because you'll inevitably be switching from one faction to the other at some point. We look forward to bringing you a full review of BlackSite: Area 51 next month.