Thq is a very strange developer that I use to have a lot of respect for in the last generation of gaming. Towards the end of the last generation they were making some the best games that had hit the platform games like destroy all aliens, psychonauts and area 51 to name just a few. While some of these games where successful enough to justify sequels some of their most interesting games where not but thq is just happy to let these amazing games die a slow and horrible death. Psychnauts and destroy all human where a huge critical success for thq and I guess they felt that this would allow them not to support future titles hoping that word of mouth would be enough to sell these titles and it a less hardcore present that is gaming industry that is just not a good strategy, with zero support offered to these games it was inevitable that they and their sequels where never going to garner the success of some of their more well publicised rivals. They could garner far more eyes and garner far more success despite their lesser quality and in some chases lack of originality because let’s face it 90 percent of the human race are mindless sheep who will follow the bright lights of an ad campaign rather than try something new and interesting. The lack of success that has been witnessed by these sequels coupled with the monumental failure that was home front will make thq far less likely to take risks. This means that some of thq fantastically quirky titles may never see the light of day and yet they will keep making stupid titles like Barbies horse adventure because they make money and are very easy to replicate again and again. This will effectively turn thq into just another activision with its constant rehashes of guitar hero and call of duty. I can’t be the only one who wished to see more valves and blizzards in the world of gaming, these are companies that make very few games but every game they make has a huge amount of shine and polish to them and as a result they sell in bucket loads of games and by a strange turn of events they also make a lot of money. They sell lots of games because gamer associate them with quality and fun and I’m fearful that if thq continues down this road they may lose any chance of selling game to hardcore gamer because will associate them with a lack of quality. This has happened before, ET anyone? And if thq keep going down this road I fear that they are going down a hole they may struggle to get out of.
Which brings me to the joyous fact of what this blog is all about and that is my review of one of the best first person shooter I have played in a while and that is area 51 for the Xbox. This is a very typical first person shooter but it has some interesting twists and a story that you just have to keep playing in order to find out what happens next. Although it does nothing new it does the familiar right, as I have stated on earlier blogs new and innovation are not that important for me as long as I can have fun playing my games.
I do like the way that area 51 one decides to tell its story, it doesn’t rely on cut scenes but instead opts screenshots and indirect methods to tell its story. For example if one of the characters is talking about an attack they will show you surveillance footage of the said soldiers being attacked. This like many of this games features are not exactly new with many other games most notably half life 2 doing this but I find it a wonderful technique and wished more games did it. While much of the game is told through these indirect moments there are also very atmospheric cut scenes and rather chilling moments were corpses come to life to fill in some of the story. The cut scenes that take place in between the levels have no video footage shown but tell the story through the main characters voiceover. I like this as its gives a great atmosphere to the game. It also allowed me to fill in the gabs in the story in my own mind. There not enough emphasis put on imagination anymore and I for one thinks this is such a shame because there is nothing better than when you fill in the gabs in your own mind, it leads to speculation to debate and usually means a far more fulfilling than story than anything the authors can create. Just look at some of the most popular franchises of all time star wars and star trek those franchises have survived the test of time because there fans have took there original premises and built upon them and expanded them to include all areas of life in that universe, This was only possible because the creator didn’t try to answer every single question rationally allowing us to fill in the gaps. I know I know that star wars tried to do this but let’s not talk about the prequels I wish to never talk about them ever again but I am going to write a blog post very soon on star wars. How you tell the stories is one thing but a far more important factor is the story that they tell. The story of area 51 is rather standard to be honest a virus has broken out in area 51and a team must go in to ensure that its contained, can anyone say quake. Yes I know it’s not very original but it’s still a good story and the fine voice acting and excellent way of telling it more than make up for it. This added to the several twists that occur during the story, the first involving your mutation followed and then the inclusion of the illuminatie makes this every conspiracy theorists wet dream.
The graphics on this game are ok, they are not good but they’re not bad. Not much attention has been paid to the environments in this games and that is undoubutly due to its area 51 one setting because let’s be honest military bases aren’t exactly known for the amazingly ornate architecture; they are built for a purpose and as a result are very dull. Were the game designers have put a lot of time and attention into is character design. The level of detail in the main protagonist and his enemy is amazing and I swear that when they talk I can see emotion in their eyes but maybe that just something that I have done because of the level of detail. Another way that the games designers have made you feel empathy for the characters is by having them voiced by real actors, most noticeable David ducovny from the x-files. Although this is all the range at the moment back when this game was released this was something new and rather groundbreaking and adds credence to this being a blockbuster game. The in game graphics are something else for an Xbox anyway and although the ps3 and Xbox 360 will offer you more they are a lot more expensive and games on those consoles shall not be part of project backlog for a while. The character designs on the other hands are well thought out and believable, like most genres of entertainment in the world there’s always the danger of making your characters unnecessary ridiculous therefore ruining any credence and belief of these characters being based in the real world. This is a very important aspect of characters in anything because if they are believable then it just makes the story more engaging. If you find the characters unbelievable or farcical then you are less likely to engage thankfully this is something that area 51 has done right leading to a rather engaging story.
While the environmental detail is there the designer were unfortunately constrained by the setting of the game however the designers were not so constrained when it came to alien technology. This is a dazzling light display and is so intricately designed that the first time I saw it I stopped in amazement, it looks very similar to the new craptastic Indiana Jones but because this was made quite a while before that film maybe thq should think of suing. The alien ships are not the only delightfully colourful in this game the alien weaponry is also a visual delight. Each weapon is flourishing blue and the accompanying notice is bone chilling, this contrast between the alien world and the human world is evident throughout all of area 51. It portrays the humans in this game in many different ways but at its core we are all manipulative and self obsessed and are responsible for our own demise. The aliens on the other hand are help up on a pedestal. Although they are the source of the virus ravishing the base they are not the ones responsible for it. The aliens are also never seen in this game making them a rather interesting mystery and the way the game portrays them as better than human also interest me. I hope this will be explained in the sequel which I now intend to get.
The game play in area 51 is your usual first person shooter affair you run you shoot and kill the increasing number of enemies. I know it doesn’t sound very original but let’s be honest were gamers although we talk about originality and creativity we really want the same game we played last year just with a new story and some of the annoyances removed, how else can you explain why we keep buying Pokémon and call of duty when they are the same that we have been for nearly a decade now is some cases. While this is a good first person shooter is still got a bit to do before it can be consider great. The difficult on it ramps up just enough to keep it interesting and something as simple as allow your enemy to jump on ceilings and hide behind objects give this game a whole new level of strategy.
As well as the usual run and shoot mechanic that were all used to by now there is another mechanic. Throughout the progression of this story you slowly mutant in to one of the horde that you were sent to destroy. This originally starts off with you having the ability to move faster and kill enemies with your fists, it then develops into the ability to run faster and jump higher therefore enabling you to kill with far more efficiency and finally you gain the ability to infect other humans in the game, this isn’t a new feature in video games they have played the jackal and Hyde card before but like many borrowed features in this game like the story mode and other mechanics the game designers have taken their sweet time and made it work. Other games have rushed this feature but by having your abilities come as the game progresses give the impression that the main protagonist really is suffering from a mutation that is getting worse over time.
There a couple of things that happen in this game that really annoy me, firstly the fact that I have no choice about going into duel rifle mode and when I’m in duel rifle mode carrying two weapons you have no way to reload meaning that once you have despatched all the enemy you can’t reload in preparation for the next onslaught. The lack of reload ability would be fine but there is also no way to get rid of the gun which of course means that you are stuck with it until you run out of ammo. The game tries to compensate for this fact by constantly adding the bullets you have picked up to your ammo but this is only a stop gap for when you run out. This means that I have had to reload in the middle of a fire fight on one too many occasions for my liking and the majority of times I died were down to this simple oversight by the game designers and it’s caused me no end of frustration. This duel weapon system though is not the only fault with the weapons in this game, I have huge problem with the zoom in system in this game. I think that the game designer have gone for realism here over convenience and have designed a system were the sight is over to one side of the screen rather than the centre, this means that rather than looking at the centre of the screen I have to regularly change my focus from centre to the left taking my eye of the action at a possible crucial moment. The zoom in control is also located in the left trigger button a button that is normally associated with grenades throws or use of a secondary weapon but this doesn’t really become a nuisance until you have to use a sniper rifle for anything. In order to zoom in you have to keep the left trigger pressed down to fully zoom in but if you press it for too long the sight simply disengages and you have to start yet again. I’m not even going to tell you about the number of times the zoom has failed. While these things are merely annoyances they unfortunately do keep this good game from being a great game because let’s face it it’s the little things that make all the difference.
There is off course your usual array of multilayer options, team death match capture the flag etc and these are off course these are playable both online and offline. Off course this paragraph is completely useless because although there are people on Xbox live I highly doubt any of them will be playing this 8 year old game. I would talk about the at home multiplayer but unfortunately I am completely friendless in the gaming steaks but I’m pretty sure because of the game reviews I have read on this it a very generic experience. The sound design on area 51 is also quite generic and normal with the exception of the alien technology which buzzes around with such a satisfying whoosh that perfectly matches the beautiful sparkle that is the ammunition of the alien guns.
The whole reason I started project backlog for New Year was because I felt that I was missing out fantastic games and books and this game proves it. While this game is has a rather unoriginal storyline and graphics that have not aged well I still found myself engaged. I have spent the last week playing this game on and off and the length of this review is just testimony to how much I have enjoyed it. Although this game is by no means perfect it shows a level of polish and understanding from its developers that makes it a must have for any bargain hunting original Xbox players out there, something I’m sure that there are literally 10’s off. Although I have enjoyed this game the biggest thing I have learnt about this is that the sometimes the best things in life go unnoticed. Although this game was a big enough success to garner a sequel, something that I shall be purchasing when this is all over with. I don’t think the sequel did all that good thanks to some rather under A star games such as halo 3 and call of duty which let’s face it are nothing more than quick easy money makers most notable of these being the latter, which means that thanks to those games this quality series may be confined to the history books never to be heard of again which I think is a shame because if the company can keep making games of this quality then it’s a shame that people just aren’t buying them.