Aliens and shadow conspiracies are nothing new for sci-fi icon David Duchovny. Although he's retired his badge on The X-Files, Area 51 finds the distinguished Hollywood actor behind an all-new compelling role in search for the truth.
Midway recently offered a previewable build of the PS2 edition allowing us to get a first-hand experience of Inevitable Entertainment's revision of the coin-op classic. And from what we've seen, there's quite a bit to talk about. Like its arcade brethren, the new installment centers around the legendary government facility - home to the most tightly guarded secrets of extra terrestrial activity and everything in between. I think I saw Alf and E.T. running around once...
Needless to say, the story has left me with more questions than before. What I've been able to gather is that a rogue scientist (Dr. Cray), compelled by the virtues of science and the greater good, has decided to unleash a mutating virus. The incident prompts the government to send in a hazardous materials unit to contain the viral outbreak. However, their arrival leads to a fatal encounter with a mutant alien that's far from hospitable and friendly. Enter Ethan Cole (played by David Duchovny), who's part of a subsequent unit sent in to clean up the mess and identify the cause behind the original HAZMAT members' disappearance. And to make matters even more complex, you've become infected with the virus that's slowly eating away at your humanity. What a dreadful fate.
A few moments into play with Area 51 reveals a game that looks and feels very familiar to other popular FPS games like Halo 2 and Half Life 2. Your initial arsenal consists a shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle (complete with a scope), and grenades. Players can even arm themselves with two guns in each hand, ala Halo 2. But that doesn't exactly make you a 'Master Chief' - there isn't an option to control which hand fires respectively. In any case, you'll get your first opportunity to put that firepower to the test after reaching the communications station leading to a explosive greeting from the local opposition. Decidedly taking the quickest way out of a firefight, I chucked a grenade in their path - followed by some awesome ragdoll physics. Upon closer inspection of the fallen enemies, I came to the conclusion that they were in fact, former comrades who were infected with the viral agent. What did Dr. Cray hope to achieve with this odd course of action? Certainly the truth is out there - I just need to dig deeper.
Progressing a bit further, I picked up a spiffy alien weapon which deploys parasitic pulses. What's even cooler is that it's equipped with a laser that can be used to reach hard-to-hit targets (see: Riggs from Lethal Weapon 3). I can definitely see that becoming an instant favorite with many gamers. I've also learned that eventually Cole will gain the ability to temporarily use his new mutant abilities, unleashing parasitic forms of your own and floating mines. Naturally, these abilities will be put to use in the more elaborate levels deeper in the game.
Take a gander at the screenshots and you can see how much care and creativity the developers have incorporated into the visual integrity. The base's varied environs have a solid metallic polish to them, which gradually becomes more alien and defined as you proceed deeper into the base. The atmosphere is very dark, and I couldn't help but wish for a flashlight on occasion - if only to easily identify certain areas throughout the level. Explosions are aplenty and the particle effects, while still somewhat early in development, are full of spark and impressive quality.
As it stands, Area 51 is shaping up to be one of the more impressive installments amongst the recent "experimental" FPS releases. Factor the inclusion of such star-studded talents masterfully performed by Marilyn Manson (playing the role of an evil Grey alien, Area 51's main enemy) and David Duchovny, ultimately giving the game an added epic feel that sci-fi junkies and action files alike should wholly enjoy. Thus far, Midway's sparked our interest and we look forward to indulging the full version when it ships for Xbox and PS2 this April.