The autumn of 2007 was great for PC aficionados, with plenty of releases for all tastes; some good, others not quite, because as we all know, not everything can be perfect. I won’t even mention the substantial budgets that some of these games had for announcing their release, via trailers, screenshots and TV ads. Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that it’s not a good idea to trust the PR hype, because reality can sometimes be cruel when you expect too much from a game.
Without wanting to start this article on a negative tone, I must admit that I was expecting much more from BlackSite: Area 51. Thinking that this time, thanks to a more substantial budget that was invested in its development, it will surely stand out from the crowd, unlike its predecessor. But in the end, we must be realistic: everything boils down to numbers. And because the console market is on the rise, a lot of publishers choose to go down the multi-platform route, in order to cover the development expenses. Which isn’t always a good idea.
In BlackSite: Area 51 you will play the role of Aeran Pierce, a tough-as-nails Delta Force soldier, with the story having the same basic idea as the one from Area 51: it’s the aliens versus the USA government. Unfortunately, the story info is given in small doses: you advance through the level, shoot a monster from time to time, find out something new, rinse, repeat. For those who want to know more, there are some hidden bonuses, named “dossiers”, which fill some gaps left by the story, once you find them.
The action begins in Iraq, where you will face some weird enemies in a dangerous mission, during which you also come across a crystal-fragment of unknown origin. Not surprisingly, things go sideways, you lose a squad member and then “the lights go out”. The story picks up in Nevada three years later, when fighting all sorts of strange creatures has become something trivial, with your alter-ego again having a team under his command to deal with the enemy threat.
As far as gameplay goes, BlackSite is repetitive and linear, the main idea being to follow a well defined route, give orders to your team and most of the time shoot everything that stands in your way. The orders are very simple: you can move your squad members to some pre-established points, put them in command of turrets, use C4 for blowing doors up, or drive certain vehicles. However, the team management mechanic could have very well been scraped, because barring the pre-established points where they can be used, the orders that you can give are basically useless. Like this wasn’t bad enough, you will permanently be constrained by invisible walls, which won’t let you go where you want to, thus being forced to complete the levels only on the way the designers intended you to.
The producers also implement a morale system, which affects the soldiers’ condition; in theory, if the team has a high morale, the soldiers will fight more effectively and will generally be in a better mood. If morale is low, they will be less efficient. Personally, I didn’t notice any changes in my subordinates’ behaviour, but if the manual of the game specifies this element, it probably does exist.