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Score: 72%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Ahh, Friday nights with the family, I remember it so fondly. When I was a youngster it was “TGIF Night,” with classics such as “Full House,” “Family Matters,” and “Step by Step.” But as I got older and the shows got suckier, my mind thirsted for new content. So my family and I turned to “X-Files,” with its paranormal investigations taking us places we had never imagined. With Area-51, Midway has brought back that same feeling, complete with Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) voicing the main character with his deadpan wit.

The PS2 continues to impress me with its graphical prowess. After a few years of developing, companies have learned all the nuances to make their games look great, and Area-51 sparkles because of it. Despite borrowing much of the style from Halo (HAZMAT suits are complete rip-offs), this title brings the secret government base to life with flair and energy. The level design is really unique and intricate, and also incorporates realistic features that work well in this high-tech facility. While not as interactive as some games out there, the scripted events add touches of life to the largely static environments.

The CG sequences show the extreme professionalism associated with a big company like Midway, and they help to further immerse you into the game. Weapon and lighting effects are top notch too, showing off great particle detail and explosive effects. The scanner on Cole’s arm is particularly neat as it casts a blue analyzing field around whatever object you want, revealing lots of data – sometimes informative, sometimes useless, but more on that later.

The industry-standard rag-doll physics also show up here as you lay waste to hordes of mutant alien creatures. The character designs are fairly varied, but I kept thinking how much Midway copied Halo with their HAZMAT suit designs. Last I checked, the current HAZMAT outfit looks like a cross between a clunky space suit and a doctor’s smock – not the MasterChief’s body armor.

Sound wise, a lot of solid sci-fi effects – from the roaring explosions to the rattling of assault rifles and the strange cries of mutated workers – all help punctuate the audio and keep you tense. The score does a good job of keeping pace with the events onscreen, while not overwhelming the gamer. The strongest part of the audio has to be the voices, though. Duchovny, Powers Boothe, and even Marilyn Manson lend their talents. Duchovny voices Ethan Cole expertly, and it’s really fitting for a soldier trained in biology/science to have an intellectual like Duchovny play him. Powers Booth voices your generic hard-ass military commander and does a commendable, if uninspiring job. And lastly, the oddball of the group, Manson transforms the role of alien into something truly otherworldly.

You are Ethan Cole, a crack member of an elite HAZMAT unit (Hazardous Materials, usually government-military/fire) who is sent to investigate what has happened to your previous team that was brutally torn apart by some strange creature. Major Bridges (Boothe) sends your four-man squad to the depths of Area-51 in search of answers. Too bad for Cole that this turns out to be worse than all the drama of “X-Files” combined; between fending off mutants and discovering intricate conspiracies, you will have your hands full. At times, these plot lines can become a bit confusing and are thrown at you haphazardly, so take your time and pay attention to the details to truly appreciate the madness that is the storyline.

Don’t fear too much though, as Cole soon upgrades from a standard pistol into a whole range of guns, from sniper rifles to a strange experimental arsenal. Some of these can even be dual-weilded, and there is a melee attack – both nods at Halo, yet again. Area-51’s “Bullet Time” gimmick is when Cole transforms into an infected mutant that can hurl viral attacks as well as a cool Predator-esque vision highlighting enemies.

Perhaps the coolest feature in your inventory is not a gun at all – it’s your forearm-mounted scanner. This sucker is like a supped-up tricorder from “Star Trek” lore; able to analyze the structure of anything it examines. It even tells you what items troopers have in their pockets. With this tool, you gather data to help uncover the calamity overtaking Area-51.

Most of the game should feel right at home for FPS junkies – lots of running down corridors facing hopeless odds while firing off ungodly amounts of ammo until you go deaf. While this is good, solid fun, gamers who are used to more variety may bore quickly. For instance, Doom 3 made me wet myself a few times, but do I really want to play this monotonous game for hours? Gamers and reviewers alike had some negative feedback about that, and in the same token, Area-51 settles for the same drudgery.

If the single-player is driving you up the wall, there is multiplayer support. Up to 16 players can go at it in Team/Deathmatch (free-for-all) modes that include Capture the Flag, or an interesting mode called Infection, whereby users assume the role of either infected mutant or soldier. While I didn’t have a firsthand encounter with this mode, my sources tell me the maps are designed after the various Area-51 locales with a host of weapons. But ultimately, other games are more sophisticated and plain better when it comes to multiplayer action.

Most gamers should beat Area-51 in a weekend or so of heavy playing, and it’s not very difficult once you get the basics down of aiming and using your squad-mates wisely. The scripted attack sequences are your greatest dangers most times, as there are an enormous amount of enemies thrown at you. Thankfully, you usually have a healthy amount of ammo to counterbalance this, as well as some sharp A.I.-controlled compadres. Perhaps the most tiring aspect of Area-51 is trying to keep track of the storyline, if you can call it a “line” – more like a glob of details.

Game Mechanics:
Your standard FPS view complements a nice set of menus and a clean interface. The controls themselves are pretty handy and get you out of most hotspots, but you may wish that you had more options to adjust certain features that most PC shooters come stock with.

Area-51 employs impressive graphics and sound, but ultimately even the great Duchovny himself can’t make you forget about the doldrums of fighting your way past mobs and mobs of angry creatures. This game is a highly recommended rental, but ultimately, you should look elsewhere for quality FPS action such as the much better PC FPS or even the Xbox with the infamous Halo series. If you’re stuck with a PS2, then your options could include Brothers in Arms, Project: Snowblind, TimeSplitters 2, or even SOCOM. Or you can just pop in those “X-Files” DVDs if you want your sci-fi fix.

-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

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