BlackSite: Area 51 - updated impressions

Harvey Smith, famed for his work on Deus Ex, sits on the edge of the stage as if about to talk about some new theater production. In fact he’s getting comfortable in a Soho cinema and talking to us about BlackSite: Area 51- the Unreal 3.0-powered squad-based shooter and increasingly distant sequel to the inexplicably popular Area 51.

Astonishingly, the BlackSite team has opted to have “seamless drop-in drop-out” co-op throughout the single-player game. “At every turn co-op has [screwed] us,” says Smith. “We’ll be looking at a shiny finished helicopter model, and ‘oh damn, where does Player Two sit?’” Despite such developmental pitfalls it’s a measure of Smith’s confidence after 15 years (and a resumé that includes both Deus Ex games) that his team leapt at the chance to include a feature that so many other teams dare not even consider for a tightly-scripted linear shooter.

Smith is interested in real-world games and he’s keen to emphasize that BlackSite takes place in moody small towns, marginal areas such as trailer parks, and open environments such as the backyards of hapless suburbanites in a forgotten cul-de-sac. He’s also interested in what games say about their creators. “All games have a political perspective,” he explains. “American’s Army has a perspective from the Right, and BlackSite is from the Left.”

Smith’s team, formed from the tech-literate elite of Austin, wants to get across warnings about what the government is capable of. Smith sees what they’re doing with BlackSite as at least vaguely allegorical of the current political climate, without being “too obnoxious about it.”


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