Previews

Blacksite: Area 51

Stranglehold destruction meets sci-fi FPS

Well this one came out of nowhere, unless, magazine fans, you read OXM 360. Technically the follow-up to the 2005 FPS Area 51, Blacksite is in all reality loosely based on its not-so-great precursor, with sci-fi shooting shenanigans a bit like Resistance meets Rainbow Six: Vegas, meets Stranglehold destruction - an all-round excellent action cocktail.

We didn't know quite what to make of Blacksite when we approached the admittedly empty hands-on area at Midway's Las Vegas Gamers' Day, but it turned out to be quite a promising little shooter. The premise has you fighting off an alien outbreak in the surrounding ghost towns of Area 51, where laser beams, weird hurricanes and alien beasties are cropping up like nobody's business.

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This demo specifically has us trawling through the little desert town of Rachel, which has been devastated by a crisis at the neighbouring army base where internet crackpots would have you believe all sorts of nasty alien experiments go on.

A gigantic laser is pulsating from the sky causing all kinds of nasty weather, the ground is scorched and cracked and buildings are utterly destroyed. Even better in the distance you can see the outline of some particularly horrific alien heads, searching the dead streets for some wise-cracking marines to munch for their Sunday roast.

Rather excitingly Blacksite's story is being penned by Gears of War and Bioshcok scribe Susan O'Conner, and upon grabbing the 360 pad and joining our gun-ho marine mates we make the link instantly, thanks mostly to liberal scattering of some very adult swearing. Susan has a dirty, dirty mouth.

One of the game's main touting-points is its simple squad controls, which allow us to simply and effortlessly order our subordinates behind cover and against enemies, much like the system in the most recent Tom Clancy efforts. The beginning of the demo helps us get to grips with the system, having us order our tolled-up chaps to set a charge petrol garage door (a bit more fortified than your local Texico, obviously), which sends panels and vending machines scattering realistically.

This is another of Blacksite's hallmark features in action; the 'Massive D' destruction technology you may recognise from fellow Midway blaster Stranglehold, which makes virtually every bit of the environment destructible. As with Woo's effort, nearly every item in the demo we played could be chipped, smashed and generally destroyed, making previous FPS destruction champ Black look rather rubbish.

It's not long into the demo that we encounter the first of our extra-terrestrial shooting targets, some creative little gits on walkers who can be shot right on to floor and come crawling after you for a bit of a nibble on your feet.

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In this early demo there's not much to the shooting but there's plenty of potential displayed in squad combat; team mates already work together to take down baddies and cover your back when you're recharging Call of Duty-style behind some run-down car. We're impressed, and intrigued to see the system put to the test in more open sandbox-gameplay situations.

Moving further into the destruction past a burned-out tanker and a building comedically marked-up as Midway's offices, we encounter a second alien breed which looks a bit like a horse that's recently been out with Halo's flood. We didn't have enough time to truly figure these enemies out, but our AI lads managed to dispatch them rather quickly. Fodder.

Then suddenly, boom! A touch of slow motion and trancey video effects signals the arrival of a gigantic alien tactical smashing through a neighbouring building, and then darkness - our short time with Blacksite is over.

The demo gave us only a small taste of what Blacksite has to offer, with more creative alien foes and even bigger set-pieces promised for the final game. There's certainly a lot to be nailed-down before its release in mid-2007, but promising AI and an abundance of atmosphere make Blacksite well worth keeping an eye on, and we're certainly keen to see the other tricks it has hidden behind the hanger doors.

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