BlackSite: Area 51 Teaser Demo Hands-On

We play through the recently released downloadable demo of this squad-based shooter.

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Currently scheduled for release in September, BlackSite: Area 51 is a squad-based first-person shooter where you'll be tasked with exterminating alien life in and around Area 51. Midway recently released an all-too-brief "teaser" demo of the game on Xbox Live's Marketplace, and although it's more or less similar to the one that we checked out back in January, we've played through it a few times to bring you some updated impressions.

In BlackSite: Area 51, you'll assume the role of Aeran Pierce, a former Special Forces assassin who's described as both a team player and a born leader. For the duration of the demo, you'll be accompanied by two soldiers who are your subordinates, Cody Grayson and Mitchell Ambrose. Grayson is described as an adrenaline junkie who'll kill whatever he's told to kill, while Ambrose is a guy for whom this whole alien-hunting thing is just a job that he's hoping to get through alive. It's not always easy to keep track of who is who during the demo, but their personalities do appear to come through in their behavior. Grayson appears to be more prone to wandering off and opening fire on any enemy that crosses his path. However, Ambrose likes to follow orders and gets quite vocal if you don't give him any for an extended period of time.

It's hard to believe that Reborn scouts like this one were once human.
It's hard to believe that Reborn scouts like this one were once human.

Your mission in the BlackSite: Area 51 teaser demo is to search the small town of Rachel for survivors, but what you'll actually be doing as you play through it is battle against members of the Reborn army. The mostly humanoid Reborn scouts and soldiers that you'll be coming up against during a battle in a gas station--which does a good job of showing off how destructible the environments are--are the products of a secret government program that mutates human hosts with alien DNA and technology. Their behavior in the demo looks to be tightly scripted, so after a couple of plays, it's not hard to predict their movements and lob grenades in their direction accordingly. Toward the end of the demo, which takes less than five minutes to complete, you'll also encounter drudge grunts. These are alien scavengers that look a little like the insectlike creatures in Starship Troopers, as well as a large "flathead" wormlike alien that rises up from the ground and spits corrosive projectiles at enemies.

BlackSite: Area 51's default control scheme has changed a little since we last played the game, and although it's a little unconventional in places, we had no trouble adjusting to it. The left analog stick is used for movement, while the right stick is used for looking around. Clicking them lets you crouch and perform a melee attack, respectively. The left trigger zooms in, the right trigger shoots, and the left shoulder button throws grenades. Also, you can only carry three grenades at a time. All of the orders you give your squadmates are controlled using the context-sensitive right-shoulder button. If you point it at something, your guys can take cover behind it, and they will; if you point it at a door, they'll attempt to open or breach it. Although issuing commands to your squad could hardly seem easier, we questioned the necessity of giving orders because of the squad's performance. Their performance will purportedly vary according to how they feel you are leading them, but the demo isn't long enough for us to discern how significant this will be in the game.

The only weapons that are available in the teaser demo--at least as far as we can tell after limited exploration--are the Mark 23 handgun and the M4 assault rifle. We didn't find the handgun particularly useful, although the large amount of recoil that the assault rifle suffers from might give you cause to switch between the two at some point in the finished game. The only other weapons confirmed for inclusion in BlackSite: Area 51 at this time are the FGM-148 Javelin missile launcher and the sniper variant of the XM8 lightweight assault rifle that the US Army canceled its development of a few years ago.

Getting up close and personal with drudge grunts isn't recommended.
Getting up close and personal with drudge grunts isn't recommended.

Although the Xbox Live Marketplace demo of BlackSite: Area 51 only supports solo play, Midway has confirmed that the finished game will let players (more than two, we hope) play through the campaign cooperatively. It will also boast a number of competitive online modes, such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, human versus reborn, and siege. We're told that cars, trucks, and all-terrain military vehicles will be among those that can be commandeered and that you'll have opportunities to take a gunner position in some of them, as well as in a helicopter.

In addition to the Xbox 360, BlackSite: Area 51 is currently in development for the PC and PlayStation 3. We look forward to bringing you more information as soon as it becomes available.

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