Game: Blacksite: Area 51 [PC]
Developer: Midway Studios Austin
Year: November 2007
Reviewed: 28th October 2011
So then, Blacksite: Area 51. Hurrah! I got it working! Why my mad enthusiasm? Well, when I first tried the game a few months after release, I couldn't get the game to work at all. At first I loaded it up, and the screen was garbled. I found out it was because for some bizarre reason the game forces a widescreen resolution on startup. Okaaaaaay. Having got around that with a config edit, I thought everything was going peachy, until I found that although I could actually see the menu now, there was another problem. The sound was looping and the game basically crashed. So that was it, game over, I couldn't even get the MENU to work. Yes, the most basic part of the game, a menu. And yet for some reason, Midway Studios Austin, the developers of this awful game, couldn't even make that work. It's not like I had an exotic PC, it was a year or so old at the time, so fully supported by drivers, and I had the latest of those installed anyway.
I could have finished there, and at the time, I was fully angry enough about my wasted money that I thought I'd post a review there and then giving the game a whopping score of 0%, but I'm a nice person though, and I like to give things second chances. So, fast forward to 2011, 4 years after release. Is this game worthy of a second chance on my completely different, much more modern PC. Hold onto your seats because we're in for a rocket propelled ride of...... boredom. Which is why you need to hold onto your seats, as you'll probably fall off once you fall asleep.
In the Beginning There were Bugs
Ok then, We've already established the game is buggy, and when I first installed the game again, although it loaded fine, when I checked the graphics settings, I encountered the game showing the resolution as widescreen yet again, so naturally, i tried to change it, but it kept crashing every time I did. In the end I gave up, and it seemed to look like it was in a normal 4:3 resolution anyway, so I'm guessing maybe my ATi drivers have some special code now to over-ride the stupidity of the game.
Staring into the wonderous new world as the game started, I immediately though "Argh my eyes!". The level was over bright, the colours all faded and washed out, and what textures were visible were of a very low quality. Too low for a game from 2007. As I moved around the level I quickly learned one thing: This game is ugly. However, I did not let this get me down. I had paid good money for this game, I shall force myself to play along, in the hope that the gameplay was ok. Wrong. It isn't ok, it is poor, very poor. The first hour or so of the game, which represents alot of the game seeing as it only lasted less than 6 hours in total, was extremely plodding, and when something did come along to shoot at, it usually stood still or at the most, moved very little.
At one point I encountered an 'in-game' bug, and I basically got stuck after an interactive scene, as I was waiting for some sort of inoculation, the NPCs just stood around, looking at each other. So I reloaded (this game has checkpoint saves, but they aren't too bad fortunately as the game is easy), and carried on to meet the first of the foe you'll be shooting for much of the game. And now here is the first spoiler: this game does not contain Aliens. None at all. Zilch. Even though the first thing anybody thinks of when they think of Area 51 is Aliens and the Roswell crash. I guess that is why in Europe they dropped the Area 51 bit eventually, and just called the game Blacksite. A bit of a shame, as the game was originally supposed to be a sequel to another game called Area 51, but in the end, was pretty much completely unrelated, apart from keeping the full title in the USA. Anyway, back to the enemy you'll be shooting for the next 4-5 hours - it's just a genetically modified human monster thingy, in various forms, that kind of looks alien, but because you're told it's just a human-monster-genetically-modified-thingy, it kind of kills the atmosphere behind it, as that is much less exciting. I want Aliens.
I'm completely unafraid of giving out any plot details, as it isn't a decent plot anyway. So here goes: one of your squadmates early in the game is killed in Iraq. Where the human-monster-thingys are. Or you think he is anyway, but many years later, you encounter these similar creatures again to what you found in iraq, end up at a town that has been taken over by them, and learn that their leader is your ex-squaddie, except now he is bitter and twisted and wants to kill everyone and infect them with spores, because just attacking the US government is not enough. He wants everyone to suffer. So now he is the arch villain. Throughout the game then you are basically just shooting at hordes of monsters that were once humans, and as there are only about three basic types, it does get boring pretty quick. Especially when their forms of attack are pretty unchallenging.
At various points during the game, the gameplay changes a little bit, and you're put either in control of a turret in a vehicle, or you get to control the vehicle yourself. The controls are easy, and the mouse movement is used for turning, but the vehicle physics are yet another poor element. The truck has the handling of a beachball, and feels floaty and bouncy as you crash down after a jump. Carrying on with the physics theme, some, and I mean a very small number, of areas have destructible physics, most notably was in a building in the over-run town you visit mid-game, and it looked pretty decent as pillars were gradually blown apart. But it is a feature that was used all too fleetingly, and apart from near the end when I was hiding behind a barrier that got blown apart, there are very few areas I can think of that had any notable destructible physics use. So that one half decent aspect of the game is basically kept to a bare minimum.
The weapons in the game are kept to a minimum too, with only about 5 weapons in the whole game, with a relatively useless pistol being one of them, so really that's down to 4. I was hoping for some interesting alien-like weapons, but the main one dropped by enemies performs much like a shotgun effectively, and the only slighlty interesting futuristic type gun is right near the end, and there is bugger-all ammo for it, so I ended up dropping it and going back to my trusty, but boring, machine gun that I have used for the whole game. Grenades are available too, and are helpful for clearing a group of attackers. Ammo for machine gun, and the futuristic shotgun-like gun is pretty easy to find, constantly being dumped everywhere, so you'll never run out. Health packs are non-existent in this game, with the game using a regenerating health system, whereby if the screen goes red you are close to dying, and so you need to avoid being hit for a few seconds before the screen changes back and you are safe to pop out and blast any remaining enemies.
The game never seems to wake up from the sleepy start it had, and although it briefly shows some promise in the middle, it soon goes into end-of-game level mode before you know it, and you're fighting boss after boss battle. Most of these are relatively easy, even though I did die a few times due to my careless running through levels, as I had given up on trying to play properly with the game being so dull. Even the final level and boss battle against your evil ex-squadmate is an anticlimax, and it basically involves being stuck in a tiny 'arena' where you shoot at him and he shoots back, and when you get shot you hide behind a pillar to recover health, while he simply stands still waiting for you to come at him again fully charged for battle. The game cuts to a helicopter turret scene after this, making me think I'd have some interesting fight as I left the end level compound, but that was just a teaser, and the game ends without any feeling or purpose. It's just game over. No story tie-ups or anything. Then onto a credits screen that is completely unskippable, so you're there watching all the names of the people who helped make this game become a spectacular failure.
The fact that the plot and gameplay is weak is one thing. The fact that the game is ugly and boring to look at and 'explore' is another. But the icing on the cake is the bugs, and although I only had one crash to desktop in normal use (it crashes when you alt-tab, but I'll be nice and not count that), there are numerous other little glitches in the game that spoil it. For example, twice during the abandoned over-run town level, I had to shoot at my squadmate to get him to move, as he had become stuck on the scenery, and he was needed to continue through the level. There is also the issue of terrible shadow corruption, that meant any npc's you see with a shadow tend to just have a hatchet of black lines underneath them, or covering their whole body, as in the first screenshot I used far above.
The only reason I even completed the game was because it was short, as it certainly wasn't fun-filled or action packed. There are so many things that the game could have and should have done better. If this game had been made several years previously, I might have considered it ok, as that was about average for FPS quality back then, as gameplay followed a limited formula in all but the very best FPS games.
In 2007 though, there were much better FPS games coming out. We had Crysis, which was brilliant all round, and which had genuine Aliens! We also had Bioshock, which had fantastic gameplay in a completely new setting. It also looked great, and was using the same underlying engine that was used in Blacksite. Even UT3 which was released around the same era had much better graphics with the same engine. Games like Prey were also from that period, and included an underused theme of American Indians, albeit with more Aliens, and also had some interesting gameplay concepts like portals and walking on gravity paths. It also looked quite pretty, despite being on the then-aging id Tech engine that originally powered games like Doom 3 and Quake 4. Blacksite therefore had a lot of competition, and the general FPS gameplay of the time was one of innovation. It was nowhere near these games, and that is what I have to take into account when I score the game. It was more like the mentioned Doom 3/Quake 4 games - old school in thought, with basic gameplay, and thus it was a game that was at least 5 years too late in 2007.
Anyway, enough of my ranting, here is a breakdown:Save System: It's checkpoint. I usually hate it, but it works. Just. I'll be generous and give it a 3.5/5.
Performance: It worked generally ok on my high end PC from 3 years after the game was released, but that would be expected. What wasn't expected was the occasional minor stutter from loading a new area. It barely happened, but it shouldn't happen at all on my PC. Also, the game was accused of terrible performance using the PCs from when it was released in 2007, so I'm going to have to give it 2/5 here on that basis, even though it is ok now.
Graphics: Oh dear oh dear..... some bits actually do look alright, but the general art theme is weak anyway, and the textures are mostly bland or blurry, and occasionally the whole lighting is so washed out that it has no depth of colour to it. It was an ugly game back in 2007 compared to even its fellow Unreal Engine users, as Bioshock and UT3 look much better. In 2011 it is positively terrible, and I nearly gouged my eyes out. I shall give it a mighty 1/5
Sound: Pretty average stuff here, no decent soundtrack to save the day for this game. Weapon sounds are weak and unsatisfying 1.5/5
Bugs: Hahahahaha haaaa! Oh well, lets move along here. I'll be nice and give the game 1.5/5 once I did finally get it working, as it wasn't too bad then, but I still won't forget the no-show on my first attempt to run it.
Game-play: Very weak, very dull. Even a hardcore FPS player would find little of attraction here. 1/5
Story/Plot: Ok for a B-Movie, ok for the 1990's. But not in this century please. It was more of a letdown because of the implied Aliens and their distinct no-show in the game 1/5
Summary: I'll be nice again here, as I'm basing this score off the fact that the game is below average for an FPS, but it isn't the worst game ever. It is weak and unimaginative, but at least it isn't a game based on Big Brother.
Arbitrary Final Score:
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Is this game best left being hidden in area 51? Let us know in the forum!