BlackSite: Area 51 is an FPS with a strong emphasis on atmosphere and frantic firefights. Scheduled to release this September, the demo recently landed itself on the Xbox Marketplace and the team got together to see what all the fuss was about. Read on for pictures and impressions.
From the get-go the game has a very sinister and atmospheric feel, with eerie music playing in the main menu and an overly dark color scheme, you just know this ain't gonna be no Viva Pinata. A suspenseful (read: long) loading screen comes between you and the opening sequence, which really shows of the graphics and the developers use of the Unreal 3 Engine.
Exhibit A - Ugly Chops, now with built in glowing Jaffa Cakes
What stood out straight away for us was the facial animations, very realistic and lifelike, not at all the dull affairs we've seen in previous shooters. After the short speech explaining the situation one of your team mates moves out and pushes up against some nearby wreckage, much like his facial expressions, his movement was impressively fluid. From here on in we really noticed that this is a very good looking game, with a very gritty overtone which permits the artists to use only various shades of brown, but we don't mind because it fits well.
We look up and see the sky being ignited with some of the best looking effects we've seen on next gen consoles to date, lightning strikes looking breath taking against the moonlit sky. It's soon realized that stargazing probably isn't what the developer had in mind for this game, so we focused on our more immediate surroundings. A lot of the textures in BlackSite are very, very good, nicely detailed to a degree we've all come to expect on next gen consoles, but they aren't all brilliant, there are a number of weak looking textures, which all said and done don't look finished at all, but that's excusable seeing as this isn't the final version of the game.
On to more pluses. The explosions look fantastic, Chris noting that they were particularly well defined - we all promptly agreed. Shadows in the game, more specifically that of your team mates, were first-rate, much better I would argue, than Splinter Cell. There is a lot of detail wherever you look, be it up on the gas station roof, or in the corner of a dingy room.
Exhibit B - transformer-come-elite?
The enemies you face are fairly varied, 3 of which can be seen in the images peppered throughout this preview. You've got exhibit A, ugly chops up at the top. He's just your average mutatedly evil human with bizarre glowing Jaffa Cakes on his shoulder pads - no special abilities, just the ability to shoot a gun and flank you. Then there's exhibit B, just above, he's more of a transformer-come-elite from the Halo series. Much more interesting to fight: he stomps around a bit louder; shoots a bigger gun; and when you shoot his legs off him comes scrambling towards you using little arms, bless him. And last but not least, you've got exhibit C, looks fairly familiar doesn't he, I should hope so - not to dissimilar to the Antlions from Half Life 2, these are pretty boring to fight in all honesty. Basically 'damage sponges'; they walk towards you waving their scythes wildly before they've even got close, as you walk back pumping lead into them till they decide they can absorb no. more. lead.
Speaking of lead, the guns are fairly basic, we only had a pistol, assault rifle and some grenades available to us. They all look excellent, no doubt thanks to the excellent Unreal 3 engine, with the constant rainfall pitter-pattering down onto the frame. But don't really provide anything revolutionary in terms of game play.
Exhibit C - Looks familiar, doesn't he?
The control layout will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played an FPS on a console in the past 5 years, BlackSite adopts the standard 'Halo layout'. You have basic abilities at your disposal, nothing more nothing less - shoot, run, grenade, duck, strafe, ooh, and melee. Despite the lack of anything special, what BlackSite does do, it does very well. The movement and aiming is very solid, the one thing which stood out for me was how strong the auto-aim was (an aid in console shooters which dampens the sensitivity of looking around when you hover your reticule over an enemy - making it is easy to track them whilst they move) - very strong and sometimes made it too easy to just pile bullets into your foe, detracting somewhat from the action of it all.
Aside from that little quibble the game play is excellent, the firefights are frantic, and the environment around you is incredibly interactive, and quite often destructible, of particular delight to Matt. Think the Matrix lobby scene with the crumbling pillars, the same applies here. You can shoot out almost all light sources, one shining example of this is when we shot the gas station price board and the lights fizzled out, then our funny guy team mate chirped in with "yeah, I don't like those prices either". Your team mates, much like how you control them, are simple, not a nuisance neither a pain. Controlling them is done by pressing Right Bumper and that alone. Point and press at a door, they open and clear it, point and press at an enemy, they focus their firing efforts at that enemy, useful for the larger and tougher Exhibit B.
Overall we were all thoroughly pleased with our time with BlackSite, taking positives previously seen in past 360 greats such as Gears of War and Prey and putting a tried and tested FPS spin on it, we're eager to play more. Treat yourself this evening and download the demo and give it a try.