Nov 16, 2007
With all of the great first-person shooters spinning in Xbox 360 drives this holiday season, BlackSite: Area 51 is bound to get lost in the shuffle. And unfortunately, that dishonor is deserved. Despite impressive graphics and impressive demos that had us begging publisher Midway to move its release date - which they did, but not far enough - BlackSite falls short in the area most crucial to any good videogame: gameplay.
BlackSite attempts to combine its classic arcade rail-shooter roots (surging swarms of enemies, some of which are rooted in place so you can find their weak points) with more traditional first-person shooter action. Squad-based combat, perhaps BlackSite's most touted feature by developer Midway Studios Austin, falls apart thanks to crummy artificial intelligence.
Squad mates typically default to running headlong into battle regardless of any orders the player provides. Other times they simply stand idly by, getting killed while the player does all the work. In theory, the "morale system" would give squads a performance boost if the player was performing well - but we didn't see much difference. Either there's no way to please these ingrates or it just doesn't work.
Poor A.I. extends to enemies, as well. Most large-scale encounters provide the player with the enemy's weak spot. Once exposed, the baddie will do nothing to protect itself, resulting in too easy a victory. Even the multiplayer portion of BlackSite, in which the A.I. is discarded in favor of human opponents, features only generic deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes.
Visually, things are a mixed bag. While many enemies and most levels feature impressive visuals, BlackSite makes for a largely vacant and uninspired war zone. Eerie green fog, desolate highways teeming with dangerous alien wildlife, and hollowed out buildings provide atmospheric stages - but while aesthetically pleasing, there isn't anything memorable about them, nor about most of the enemies players will fight again, and again - and again. This point is driven home by the few times you actually do arrive at something memorable, such as when you find yourself pointing a helicopter's gatling gun at a tentacled alien leviathan the size of a house. More big, cinematic set pieces like that, and we could have had a real winner.
When stacked up against juggernauts like Halo 3, The Orange Box, and BioShock, BlackSite: Area 51 isn't worth the steep price of admission. FPS fan-boys might decide to give this one a rental, but the experience will likely be forgotten less than a day after completion.