E3 '07: BlackSite: Area 51 Hands-On

Imagine Ghost Recon mixed with Resident Evil-like aliens and you've got the makings for this upcoming first-person shooter.


Shooters about modern warfare are a dime a dozen, so how do you change things up? If you're Midway and its Midway Austin studio, you add aliens, but not just any kind of aliens--huge, scary, nightmarish aliens. Doing so gives you BlackSite: Area 51, Midway's big-budget shooter due out later this year. And we finally got our chance to take some aliens down to see how the game's coming together.

Though BlackSite is the latest project from famed designer Harvey Smith, it's unlike anything Smith has done before because BlackSite feels like a pure shooter. You'll play as a US military commando suddenly battling an infestation of aliens that have broken out of Area 51, the top-secret site in the Nevada desert that's portrayed in popular culture as the place where the military keeps proof of extraterrestrial activity.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

We got to play two levels of the game; the first was titled Quarantine and the second was titled Topside Fight. The first has you and your three-man team entering a trailer park in the middle of the desert, one that's being swarmed by aliens. These extraterrestrials look a little like the aliens in the movie Independence Day. Fearsome as they are, they're not much of a match against three commandos armed with assault rifles. You'll need to unload about a clip of ammo into each one to take them down. But things get tricky when the aliens swarm you, and much of the challenge involves navigating safely through the trailer park while keeping guard against aliens that suddenly leap down from the roof of a trailer or suddenly charge at you from an unexpected quarter.

The goal in this level is to reach the safety of a shed where a survivalist is holding out. He's an eccentric fellow that mumbles about conspiracy theories, but given that you've just battled through a mess of aliens to rescue him and there's apparently a UFO in the shed, it's hard not to take him seriously. The demo ends as soon as you exit the shed, and it was relatively brief. But the same can't be said of Topside Fight.

If Quarantine took only a few minutes, Topside Fight lasted almost 15 minutes and showcased the scale of the game. The level begins with you riding escort for a large convoy of military trucks and vehicles through a desert canyon. You're manning the minigun on a Blackhawk helicopter, one of several covering the convoy, and there are also some Apache gunships. That's a lot of firepower, but you're going to need it.

The first sign of trouble occurs when you discover the scene of a multivehicle accident in the middle of the road. As you investigate, three towering wormlike aliens erupt out of the ground. These things are huge, and they stick out about 40 or 50 feet in the air. Even worse, they spit out fiery rocks that you have to shoot down with the minigun, all while unloading as many bullets as you can into each of them.

As soon as you finish off the worms, you'll encounter what appear to be human enemies clad in some kind of alien armor. Unfortunately, their presence is only announced after your Blackhawk is hit by a missile, and the damage causes it to struggle to stay airborne. You have to fend off the attackers with the minigun as the pilot swoops low over the ground, and that involves mowing them down, as well as blowing up various vehicles.

After that battle, the helicopters will climb a ridge and encounter the mother of all alien worms straddling a bridge. This thing is the size of Godzilla, and it looks like the stuff of nightmares. Another fierce battle erupts as your chopper actually flies beneath the bridge to desperately dodge the worm's many tentacles. Oh yeah, it's also spitting out those fiery rocks at you too. Apaches will blow up around you, but if you can manage to survive and unload enough bullets into the thing, it will die. However, just as it's dying, it will hit another Blackhawk, sending it to crash to the ground, and now it's rescue-the-pilot time.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Unfortunately, the helicopter goes down in a compound full of those strange soldiers in power armor. But this time, you'll get dropped off by the chopper to proceed on foot to clear the compound, armed with your assault rifle and pistol. You can recover other weapons, such as a rocket launcher, but your most potent tool is the ability to designate targets at which the gunner on the chopper can shoot. Between the two of you, you'll make short work of the defenders and secure the landing zone, allowing you to rescue the pilot. Demo over.

The helicopter ride felt a lot like the one seen in the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter games. Then again, those games don't feature gigantic aliens from outer space. BlackSite looks like it's going to pack all the intense action of a modern-day shooter together with the creepy thrills and nightmarish imagination of a Resident Evil game. It's scheduled to ship for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 later this year.

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