It's September 23, 2019. The raid on Area 51 has happened and... nothing came of it. A couple of people were arrested but mostly it was an excuse to party for no real reason. Still, the Facebook event did bring some attention to the concept of aliens and what we do and don't know about them. Specifically, Area 51: the government facility which supposedly holds information about otherworldly beings (and even maybe the otherworldly beings themselves).
Naturally, a concept like that couldn't be left alone by the video games industry and there are a whole series games named after the facility. In honor of the weird Facebook event, let's take a look back at the Area 51 gaming series.
AREA 51 (1995)
The series began as a light gun rail shooter, similar to titles like Time Crisis or Virtual Cop. You play as Lieutenant Stephanie Grant or Sergeant Major Marcus Bradley, members of the Special Tactical Alien Response team or STAAR. Your mission is to stop the aliens known as the Kronn from taking over Area 51. To do this, you have to infiltrate the facility and initiate the self destruct sequence. You'll be attacked by genetically-mutated zombie soldier created by the Kronn as well as the Kronn themselves.
In order to tell their harrowing tale, Area 51 uses something called Full Motion Video. That means seeing real-life actors performing (badly) in front of a green screen (we hope). You do have a squad with you during this adventure so you need to avoid shooting them as well as endure their acting.
That being said, it's not a bad game. It's a typical light gun shooter game and while it may not be the most intelligent form of game design, it's alright for a laugh. The action is fast-paced and the controls are responsive. You have a few different weapons you can choose from and there is a way to upgrade them, which isn't bad for a light gun game made in the mid-1990s. There's even a secret mode where you play as one of the aliens by shooting the first member of your squad three times. This game was ported to the Sega Saturn, PlayStation 1 as well as PC so it was successful. In fact, it was one of the few successful games Atari Games had at the time.
AREA 51: SITE 4
Site 4 is the direct sequel to Area 51, released in 1998. It's more of the same but with improved graphics and two different modes, though it still uses FMV. The adventure mode titled "Beyond Area 51" is the new campaign in the game while "Field Exercises" are exactly what they sound like. However, completing each of the exercises, labeled as Sites 1, 2 and 3, will give you special weapons that will help you in the campaign. This is rather complicated for an arcade title, and rather ambitious, or possibly foolish, as Area 51: Site 4 was not as successful as the original game. It was never ported to any console and has mostly been lost to history.
AREA 51 (2005)
In 2003, Atari Games was folded into Midway Games and Midway acquired the Area 51 IP, and they immediately rebooted the series. Based loosely on the original game's story, The X-Files' David Duchovny (appropriately) plays Ethan Cole, a mission specialist part of the HAZMAT Team Bravo sent into Area 51 with his team to find and contain a loose alien being and virus within Area 51 after the failure of HAZMAT Team Delta.
Released on the PlayStation 2, original Xbox and Windows PC, the game was been completely transformed into a story-heavy survival horror first-person shooter. Gone are the FMVs and the quick action. Instead, we get David Duchovny, Powers Boothe, Ian Abercrombie and Marilyn Manson providing voice acting, and a slower, more methodical shooting game.
The gameplay borrows elements from games like Halo, Doom 3 and Metroid Prime. Like Halo, you can use both human and alien weaponry. Many of the game's survival horror elements seem inspired by Doom 3. Finally, the ability to scan your surroundings and learn more about the game's story clearly comes from Metroid Prime. Also, you later gain an ability to give you powerful and useful abilities and although the game hadn't been released yet, this is not unlike a similar mechanic in Quake 4. In fact, if you're a fan of id Software's mid-2000s titles, you will probably enjoy Area 51, although it's not on the same quality as those games.
In fact, that's the biggest issue with this title: it fails to be the sum of its own cobbled together parts. With everything that this game cribs from other titles, its no surprise that Area 51 lacks an identity. It's a solid title and arguably the best game in the franchise, but with no solid mechanic or hook of its own, all of these mechanics will often remind you of a better game you could be playing.
BLACKSITE: AREA 51
This is the "sequel" to the 2005 game but it largely has nothing to do with it. The story has little to do with aliens, too, focusing instead on a military platoon called Delta Force Echo Squad fending off alien attacks, and a secret squad of military supersoldiers that used alien technology and broke out of Area 51.
The gameplay gets rid of the survival horror elements and replaces them with squad tactics. You always have two other squad members with you and you can order them to help you in firefights. This game did not perform well critically or commercially. The game's designer Harvey Smith even spoke out against the game after its release, blaming the game's quality on a troubled development schedule, including being unable to test it properly. In fact, him speaking out actually cost him his job. Currently, the Area 51 game series ends here.
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