“BlackSite: Area 51” is a well-tuned, fast-paced action game that will quickly become a victim of the holiday season’s game glut. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with “Area 51,” its attempts at political relevancy, complex squad control, and exotic alien designs all largely fall flat, resulting in a very standard shooter. Amid the dozens of top-tier titles hitting shelves in the final two months of the year, that won’t be enough to compel gamers to invade stores.
Though the story is entirely new, “Blacksite” is in many ways a return to the fast-paced shooting action that launched the “Area 51” franchise in arcades more than a decade ago. Midway’s 2005 console version wasn’t particularly successful, so the publisher is essentially starting over with little more than a name.
In “Blacksite,” players control a special forces soldier brought to a small Nevada town to try to figure out the connection between the sudden appearance of aliens after the game’s set-up in Iraq. While the story dances around what could be some interesting political issues, with the first level set entirely in Iraq, it never slows down enough to make a point, instead using the war-torn country as a stepping off point for a standard sci-fi plot. Despite a few gestures in the direction of relevancy, the developers seem to have decided in the end the “Blacksite” is ultimately just about mowing down aliens, black-op government types and monsters.
Gameplay includes some pretty rudimentary tactics, allowing players to command two squadmates to kick in a door or focus fire on an enemy, but for the most part, that’s superfluous. There’s also an interesting attempt to make players care about the overall state of their squad through a “morale” meter that goes down when fellow soldiers are killed. But since the teammates reanimate automatically after a bit of time, it doesn’t have any lasting effect on the game or the way a person plays it.
Game’s graphic are solid, delivering some destructible environments and surprisingly realistic visual performances by the lead and supporting cast. While this holds true of the bad guys as well, it’s hampered a bit by their sometimes awkward designs. The aliens in “Blacksite” look like a mixed-bag made from parts of other videogame bad guys: There are exploding crabs, freakishly long-limbed aliens and futuristic-looking warriors of an unknown army.
The game’s multiplayer is as reliable and consistent as the single-player campaign, delivering plenty of modes — but, again, nothing that really makes “Blacksite: Area 51” distinctive.