by TIME WARNER INTERACTIVE
The Air Force has a serious PR problem with its Area 51 air base. UFO fanatics have for years claimed that the fabled facility is home to downed flying saucers, alien corpses, biological experiments and other E.T.-related hanky-panky. The Air Force isn't doing much to ease suspicion, either. It certainly hasn't opened the Nevada-based air facility to tourists (the Air Force isn't too keen on flash photography). In fact, the U.S. government denies the base even exists.
But gamers know otherwise. They've already blasted their way through the base-or, at least, a video-game version of it-courtesy of the arcade game Area 51, which is now coming to the Saturn. This shooter sends players through six areas of the top-secret facility, each one supposedly modeled after portions of the real base (see sidebar). The game's areas are infested with hideous half-alien, half-human creatures that must be blasted from the face of the Earth. The game is light-gun compatible, or players can use the joypad or mouse (which makes aiming easy).
Area 51 's plot spans two danger-filled days at the base. It seems that the Air Force's constant tinkering with alien technology has landed Area 51-and, perhaps, the rest of the world-in a mess. Now innumerable mutating alien creatures have taken over the facility.
Fortunately, the military isn't unprepared for such mishaps. The president has called in the Strategic Tactical Advanced Alien Response (STAAR)
Team to deal with the mob of mutants. This team is specially trained to clean up after the misguided experiments of military eggheads-and you're the team's chief action hero.
You, therefore, spend the rest of the game trying to win Area 51 back from the mutants-namely by blowing the ugly heads off every alien you see. You start the game with your trusty pistol, but as you progress through the base, you'll come across grenades and power-ups that give your gun a brief boost of automatic fire or turn it into a shotgun. Your adventure through the base isn't always on foot. Sometimes you'll hop aboard vehicles-such as Humvees, helicopters and, oddly enough, forklifts-or take to the air in a helicopter.
But you won't be running and riding through the base on your own; other members of the STAAR team fight alongside your character [not to mention two players can shoot alongside each other). Just watch your aim. As in other shooting games, you lose health if you cap friendly targets.
Area 51 is at its heart a FMV game. Its 3-D, prerendeted environments spool off the CD as players progress through the base. Still, the game uses a mix of visual tricks. Actors were digitized to portray fellow members of the STAARteam, and stop-motion animation was used to create the game's population of mutants.
Williams claims the Saturn version of Area 51 will be identical to the arcade machine. That means it will have all the secrets that made the game stand out from other shooting titles.
Area 51 contains a total of 14 secret areas, which can be accessed by shooting certain targets like windows or barrels. It also features the infamous Alien Hunter Mode, which turns the tables on the STAAR team (see sidebar).
Yet whether the game offers an accurate look at the real Area 51 air base is a different story. One thing's for sure: The Air Force will never tell.
Games like these are a dime a dozen. It's a below-average shooting game that did well in the arcade and will do decent on the home systems. The first thing that was obvious as soon as the game started were the graphics. They are all too often blocky and unclean. Second, the game was the same old thing time and time again. I was bored after the third or fourth play even with the bonus levels (which were a great touch, by the way). I did like the progression of levels in the game-going deeper and deeper into the base, but this didn't save the title. More than likely this is one to rent several times-or buy for $20.
I feel light-gun games are like bubblegum. It may be fun for a short while, but it's strictly a temporary thing. Are there any light-gun games (hat have offered more than a week's worth of entertainment? They all become boring after beating them, and you can usually do so in a couple of hours, at most. But dollar-for-fun value aside, Area 51 is an OK game. I can't help but have fun shooting at targets on TV, regardless of game design. Area 51 is awfully short though (I beat it in a half an hour). I also didn't like that if you miss enemies, the game will just scroll you past them, as if they were never there.
The Virtua Cop games have nothing to fear from Area 51. Despite the occasional ride in a jeep or a helicopter, the shooting action never got me all that excited. There's not enough variety in the enemies or weapons power-ups, either. If you were really into the arcade game, however, Area 51 won't disappoint you. Although the retendered graphics-which are mostly FMV sequences-are a little grainy, they're still pretty good. And the levels pack all the secret rooms of the arcade version, too (but the game's still too short). I only wish those STAAR Team members would help me out instead of getting in the way all the time!
This Virtua Cop done is certainly one for the light-gun fanatic, but no one else. Control Pad play is haphazard at best, so the light gun is required to play efficiently. I felt slighted by this, since special controllers shouldn't be a necessity, Just an enhancement The transitions between areas Is pretty smooth, with quick load times, so the game moves quickly. Hie average player should find a little challenge, but the title is very easy for veteran light-gun gamers-crank the difficulty! Overall, Area 51 could have benefited from additional attention to graphics and background interactivity, which keeps it only slightly above average.
2016-06-09 Area 51 game added.
2016-07-04 Area 51 Site 4 game added.