Area 51 is a first-person shooter survival horror video game that was released in 2005 (2006 in Japan) and it was developed by Midway Austin and published by Midway Games for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Microsoft Windows and is a loose remake of the 1995 light gun video game of the same name. The player controls Ethan Cole, a HAZMAT operative sent to the Area 51 base to assist in the cleanup of a mutagenic virus.
Area 51 at first starts out with intense combat where the player has several AI teammates with him (ranging from two to seven most of the time) versus hordes of mutants. Notable among the voice actors are David Duchovny as the player character and main protagonist of the game Ethan Cole, Marilyn Manson as Edgar the ancient and powerful Gray, Powers Boothe as Major Douglas Bridges and Ian Abercrombie as Dr. Winston Cray.
Area 51 is a first-person shooter, played from the perspective of the protagonist, Ethan Cole. The game does feature some operable machinery, including plasma turrets, besides the player's inventory of weapons. The player begins with a team of three other HAZMAT soldiers, who cannot be killed by the game world, unless it is scripted into the story.
Throughout the game, the player uses a variety of weapons, both Human and Alien in origin, to defeat their adversaries. Most weapons can only be wielded one handed, however the player can dual wield some weapons, such as the Shotgun and the Sub-Machine Gun. Each weapon can also be used as a melee weapon for close quarter combat and for its original intended purpose. Each weapon has two modes of firing, the first being the primary method, while the second is of a much higher power level, at the cost of ammunition and accuracy to the player. The player can also use grenades, one of Human origin and the other of alien design.
At a later stage in the game Ethan Cole becomes infected with the mutagen and the option to turn into a mutant temporarily is obtained. Mutating offers a variety of benefits, such as increased strength, stamina, as well as the initial ability to fire health-replenishing parasites as well as the later ability to contaminate enemies, both at the cost of mutation time reduction. While in a mutant form, players can easily spot enemies, which would otherwise be cloaked to the regular human eye, albeit with a slight ocular defect.
Players can replenish health and mutagen either through the use of medical syringes found throughout the game or by using parasites and mutagen by melee combat or "using" infected corpses], or by finding mutagen syringes.
A notable aspect of gameplay is the ability to scan and analyze various objects in the game environment. This is possible by using the scanner present on the player's suit, worn throughout the game. While using a scanner, the player has no access to weapons, apart from melee, and must switch to an available weapon in order to fight. Scanning provides detailed information on a player's surroundings, as well as combated enemies. The scanner, when equipped, adds a translucent bar to the player's HUD, which changes in color and height from light blue, to deep red. This bar indicates how near or far a player is, to one of many scannable clues, such as file folders or personal digital assistants. The scanner can collect information from the items without it being touched. The HUD shows red when the player is very close, and blue when very far. Items which are scanned are viewable in-game, providing insight into the workings of Area 51, as well as proving necessary to unlocking secret videos made by Dr. Cray or Mr. White.
In July 1947, an alien spacecraft crashed near Roswell, New Mexico in the United States. The craft was recovered by the US Air Force and taken to Area 51, Nevada, where all of the survivors of the crash; the Greys were held captive by the US military. Eventually, the Greys opened a dialogue with the Illuminati led by the ominous Mr. White (Phil Proctor) and struck a deal with them; the Illuminati would give the Greys a research base 3 miles below the surface of Area 51, the use of the base as a landing site and give them human test subjects, where they (along with human scientists) would research a mutagenic virus to use in a war on their homeworld and in return the Greys would give the Illuminati exclusive access to Grey technology. The Illuminati used some of this technology to spy] on the Human population.
The Greys and the human scientists eventually developed a powerful alien being - known as the "Theta", which spread the virus. Unbeknownst to the Greys and many of the scientists working on the project, the Illuminati were also planning to use the virus against the Earth population, and dominate the world. When the Greys and Dr. Cray found out about the plan, they let loose the "Theta" and the mutagenic virus throughout Area 51, in an effort to slow them down. This prompted the United States military to send in a Quick Reaction Force led by Major Bridges to quarantine and contain the virus. HAZMAT Team Delta, the first team initially sent into Area 51 are ambushed by the "Theta" creature, sustaining casualties, before withdrawing deeper into the base. HAZMAT Team Bravo, composed of team leader Ramirez, McCan, Crispy and mission specialist Ethan Cole is sent to find Delta.
After initially encountering the mutants, McCan is killed when a mutant decapitates him. Deeper into the base, Crispy and Ramirez are both ambushed by the Theta and killed, leaving Cole on his own. Cole manages to locate the rest of Delta, however they are attacked again by the Theta and all but Cole and Lieutenant Chew are killed. Making their way topside, the Illuminati disables the cargo elevator, killing Chew and leaving Cole bitten by one mutant, partially mutating him. Able to switch between human and mutant form, Cole is guided deeper into the base by Edgar reanimating corpses to deliver information telepathically. Cole is guided to Dr. Cray's bio labs, where Cray claims there is time to decontaminate Cole and rid him of the virus. Before he can be cured, the Illuminati attack, killing Cray and stopping the process.
Cole is teleported to a alien mothership beneath Area 51 where he eventually finds Edgar a powerful Grey, where he reveals the scientists used his DNA to create the virus and the nature of the experiments at the base, which killed dozens of his species to harvest it. He then tells Cole the history of the Greys and Area 51. Edgar gives Cole the cure to the mutagenic virus, and instructs him to destroy the Illuminati ship, that is leaving with dozens of Theta duplicates. Cole is teleported miles beneath Area 51 where he locates the vessel and destroys it by overloading its reactor, and uses an alien teleporter to escape into the Nevada desert. He lands by the "White Mailbox" area and watches Area 51 being destroyed by the exploding ship in a tornado like explosion. Cole watches as a truck drives past, with a green, alien-like container on board with unknown contents inside and walks away from the site, not knowing what is going to happen to him next and saying that Jean-Paul Sartre was only half-right about "Hell is other people".
- David Duchovny as Ethan Cole, HAZMAT Team Bravo's Mission Specialist.
- Powers Boothe as Major Douglas Bridges, Commanding Officer of the Quick Reaction Force, sent into quarantine Area 51.
- Marilyn Manson as Edgar, an ancient and powerful Grey, whose DNA was used to create the mutagenic virus. Marilyn Manson was particularly attracted to the role, as he saw parallels between himself and Edgar, both having a general distaste of humanity, and Manson himself feeling alienated at times.
- Ian Abercrombie as Dr. Winston Cray, a scientist who releases the mutagenic virus and the Theta weapon inside the Area 51 base.
- Phil Proctor as Mr. White, the ominous leader of the Illuminati.
- Marco Rodriguez as Ramirez, Team Bravo's Team Leader.
- Josh Keaton as Crispy, a member of Team Bravo.
- Nolan North as McCan, a member of Team Bravo.
- Beng Spies as Lieutenant Chew, Team Delta's leader.
- Sean Donnellan as Marco, a member of Team Delta.
- Brian Cummings as Victor 5, Dr. Cary's lab assistant
"The majority of the engine technology was developed in-house, including our editor, which is PC-based, rendering engine, physics, and animation systems."
Area 51 runs on a proprietary game engine developed by Inevitable Entertainment, the studio who later would be known as Midway Studios Austin. The Studio leveraged technology and knowledge from previous games developed at the studio; which not only kick started the project, but made the Engine unique to Area 51.
Being in development for nearly three years - almost half of that time was spent just building the game engine, toolset and art pipeline, which was absolutely vital for executing on the original vision for the game.
"Without the characterization brought by these entities - and their specific AI behaviors - Area 51 would be a very sterile and boring place; they are absolutely crucial to a compelling game".
— Jim Stiefelmaier
The AI in the game is actually divided into three main categories: squad, mutant / alien and civilian / other. The "faction" system is so robust they evened designed a player mutation ability around it. Contagion causes an enemy to switch faction and attack his friendly team first. A good trick is to use Contagion on a Theta and watch as the hulking giant mauls the leapers that were threatening you.
The squad combat was designed to mimic the Military Operations in Urban Terrain instruction our soldiers undergo in advanced infantry training courses. They provide mutual covering fire, take cover to reload and throw grenades - or provide covering fire while another teammates throws one. They will try to attack an enemy that is actively shooting at and hitting a teammate over an enemy that is simply maneuvering.
Mutant and alien AI took a lot more consideration. They needed to feel different than humans. A good example is the Leaper AI. This was patterned after the way a leopard strikes its prey, by stalking and hitting its victim, then quickly sliding off to one side and then striking again. Leapers are also fun because they leap and crawl on all fours, including crawling on walls and ceilings.
Gray Aliens needed to feel ethereal and above mere humanity. They walk around and barely notice you, except every once in a while, they'll stop and study you with their creepy eyes.
There's also some boss creatures called Thetas that really required a lot of programming and thought.
The civilian / other category provides the behaviors of the populace that inhabits the base. It even includes Dr. Cray who navigates via high-tech wheelchair. Some Illuminati villains are thrown in the mix as well as biological entities that relentlessly home in on you.
"When you are exploring and not causing mayhem, you can get a sense of the environment around you just by the sound. Then you can go back to blowing s%&! up!"
— Jim Stiefelmaier
The sound effects in the game were designed from day one to utilize the Dolby Pro Logic II technology for the PS2. All of the non-visual ambiance - room tones and streamed ambient sounds - were PLII encoded to set the player in a surround space. The visually based sounds are 3D positioned at runtime as expected.
The Area 51 audio system - lovingly referred to as Cacophony - takes advantage of more than just the standard sound memory so that it can give the player a more diverse and immersive experience. Creatively the sound design follows a similar path as most shooters. The emphasis is on the weapons, death and destruction! For Area 51, it tried to up the ante a bit by adding a more emotional take on the ambiance, utilizing more subtlety instead of bashing the player over the head with sounds coming from nowhere.
There was a lot of deleted material in the early version of area 51, like how HAZMAT Team Bravo was suppose to die. HAZMAT Team Bravo was supposed to be infected by exploded mutagen tanks after they take their helmets off.
|GameRankings||78% of 100%|
|1UP.com||6.5 of 10|
|Game Informer||8.5 of 10|
|GameSpot||7.2 of 10|
|IGN||8.5 of 10|
The game received largely average to positive reviews on its release, scoring 6.9 on GameSpot, who praised the game for its audio effects, sharp-looking visuals and the multiplayer, but criticised the game for its weak voice acting, and repetitive gameplay, coming to the consensus that "For shooter fans in serious need of something new to play, Area 51 fits the bill adequately. But for anyone looking for something more than an average shooter, it probably isn't worth it". Likewise to GameSpot's review, the game scored 6.2 on GamersHell, with the graphics and sound scoring the highest. IGN gave the game a positive review, with an average user rating of 7.5 out of 10 - a "Good" rating. The graphics and the sound scored the highest in IGN's review, like GamersHell's review, scoring 8.5 out of 10 each.
In 2004, ahead of the game's release, Paramount Pictures announced that they had reached an agreement concerning the film rights for the game. In March 2007, comic book author Grant Morrison was hired to adapt the game as a screenplay. This project is unrelated to the upcoming movie Area 51 by Oren Peli.
Creature models were handled by Stan Winston Studios. Screenshots and conceptual drawings reportedly promised a whole array of beings--from the grey aliens we're all familiar with, to beings that resemble mutated, eight-eyed skinless dogs.
Area 51 on Wikipedia