Blacksite: Area 51 Review
Blacksite: Area 51 is a game that I had followed rather closely. I had first played the game way back in March of 2007, a solid 8 months before the game was set for release. I thought to myself that for a game with so much time left in development, Blacksite looked rather promising. The build available for me to run through was the Xbox 360 version, but nevertheless the potential for something solid is the same, despite the console. The launch of Blacksite came and went, and, in fact, went largely unnoticed - with good reason. Somewhere half-way between the time I had first played Blacksite, up until its launch, Midway decided to rush the development and stick it with a version of Unreal Engine III that gasps for air every moment. And when your game's designer publicly states that the development process of the game was horrifying and 'f-ed up'...you know you've got problems.
Where as for an early title Blacksite demonstrated some admirable texture detail, the final result is the complete opposite of what I witnessed initially. Blacksite: Area 51 is an awful looking game, with butchered texture details and an engine that refuses to run at a stable 30 frames per second. The framerate is so jarring I'd estimate it averages a miniscule 15 frames per second. Every time I put down the controller, it's primarily because of how sick I get from a framerate that stutters worse than "Stuttering John" during his stint with Howard Stern.
Back then, I remember a representative from Midway specifically telling me that the game would utilize an enhanced version of the UEIII engine that Midway took the liberty of optimizing and tweaking. Again, between then and now, something went awry seeing as how Blacksite is below mediocrity when it comes down to its visuals. As mentioned, the texture detail is very poor, but worst of all, the game is extremely jaggy, and doesn't seem to make any use of anti-aliasing. This makes playing the game even more difficult, especially when you're being shot at from a distance and you can barely spot, let alone shoot at your opponent with precision. Character detail is just about the only redeeming aspect of the visuals, as are the explosions. But when everything looks as bad it does, who cares? Blacksite is so marred by hideous image quality and an anemic framerate that nothing could've saved it from being a poor, poor looking game.
Much like the visuals, the gameplay feels rushed and ultimately suffers from being uninspired. Your missions are never terribly diverse, and you'll soon realize that you've seen this game many times before in other average first person shooters. The game's objectives simply do little to engross you into the experience, and that's a shame because the shooting actually feels rather solid.
Shooting down the game's enemies feels boring and tame, as impact per bullet feels lousy. For instance, as opposed to recoiling from the force of my bullets penetrating, the enemies show no sign of injury - they'll just drop dead. Again, this is unfortunate, because firing your weapons feels satisfying in the game, yet all of that excitement is sucked out when you find yourself questioning whether or not you're actually landing your shots.
As far as the story, it's your everyday plot about alien forces landing on Earth (Nevada in particular), and you command a squad of guys that will ultimately bring down this opposing, un-Earthly force. Commanding your team is done with a simple point and click, and is much more accessible as opposed to a game like Ghost Recon; you point your reticle to where you want your squad to move to, and hold R1. Likewise, your fellow squad mates' performance will be based on their morale; if you guys are taking a beating, the morale will be low. On the other hand, if you're performing well, their morale will be high and their nature will become a bit more aggressive. Additional control of your squad will be done by single button commands that you'll issue as you play the game. Commands will range from C4 planting, sniping, or taking control of the game's vehicles.
The campaign isn't terribly interesting no matter which way you look at it - the story is uninspired, the gameplay is hollow, and you feel little to no connection between yourself and your character. If it were not for a poor graphics engine that makes playing the game nearly impossible, and a slightly more connected feeling, Blacksite would've been an okay rental, despite its boring single-player campaign. Otherwise, the gameplay is as horrifically broken as the graphics are.
Finally, while I highly doubt it's even necessary to mention, if you're wondering about Blacksite's multiplayer offerings, it's nothing grand. If you needed more evidence that Blacksite was a rushed game, know this: at first, the online target was anywhere between 12-16 players, with a two-player co-op campaign mode. All of that is gone. Only 10 players can partake online, and the co-op mode was axed from the final release. Furthermore, there is also no split-screen multiplayer, so the game is online only. Couple all of that to a meager selection of modes, such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Siege, Capture the Flag, and Human vs. Reborn, and you've got one lousy online facet.
The sound isn't very impressive, everything sounded muffled and poorly compressed. The explosions lacked punch, and I simply didn't care to hear the game, unlike other FPS games such as Call of Duty 4 and Unreal Tournament III. Much of what goes on in the game is lackluster, and all of that translates to poor audio. Even the voice acting comes off boring, and your squad mates offer very little of substance when it comes down to dialogue. Blacksite's audio is as lousy as the rest of the game is.
By now, the point is obvious; this is a terrible game that isn't worth even a rental. Not even a budget price would warrant a purchase of Blacksite: Area 51 - no matter which platform you'd even consider it for. Along side of games like MX vs. ATV: Untamed and The Golden Compass, Blacksite is nothing more than an awful game, with horrific visuals, arguably the worst framerate this generation has seen, poor audio, and cookie-cutter gameplay that'll bore you to tears. As a torture device, Blacksite works extremely well, so if you're into masochism, this'll do the trick. Otherwise, don't look at this one more than twice, just pick up a copy of Resistance and a copy of Unreal Tournament III.
1/31/2008 Arnold Katayev