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From Deus Ex to alien nasties - Harvey Smith slips out Area 51 to spill beans

Harvey Smith, famed for his work on Deus Ex, sits on the edge of the stage as if about to talk about some new theatre production. In fact he's getting comfortable in a Soho cinema and talking to us about Blacksite: Unreal 3.0-powered squad-based shooter and increasingly distant sequel to the inexplicably popular Area 51.

Astonishingly, the Blacksite team have opted to have 'seamless drop-in drop-out' co-op throughout the singleplayer game. "At every turn co-op has fucked us," says Smith. "We'll be looking at a shiny finished helicopter model, and 'oh damn, where does player two sit?'"

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Despite such developmental pitfalls it's a measure of Smith's confidence after 15 years (and a resumé that includes both Deus Ex games) that his team leapt at the chance to include a feature that so many other teams dare not even consider for a tightly-scripted linear shooter.

Smith is interested in real-world games and he's keen to emphasise that Blacksite takes place in moody small towns, marginal areas such as trailer parks, and open environments such as the backyards of hapless suburbanites in a forgotten cul-de-sac. He's also interested in what games say about their creators. "All games have a political perspective," he explains. "American's Army has a perspective from the Right, and Blacksite is from the Left."

Smith's team, formed from the tech-literate elite of Austin (a college-town bastion of liberal values in the Lone Star state of Texas), want to get across warnings about what the US government is capable of. Smith sees what they're doing with Blacksite as at least vaguely allegorical of the current political climate, without being "too obnoxious about it."

Whether these political themes make any difference to the overall game - which visits Iraq in its battle against alien forces - remains to be seen. What is clear is that Smith's team are exploring the kind of gaming terrain that has already been carefully trod by Half-Life 2, Call of Duty, Gears of War, and others.

There's always a danger that a game like this won't bring anything new to the table. What it does do, however, is bring together much of what already makes these games work so well.

The majority of the game is squad-based, and it'll be down to the player both to command these sidekicks - in a one-click Brothers in Arms style - and to manage their morale. The team take their lead from you: mess up and they start to pull back, act more conservatively, to the point of hiding and blind-firing from behind cover. Get more ballsy and your team gear-up too, pushing forward into close-quarters melee combat.

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With on-rails vehicular combat, destructible scenery, a blizzard of believable physics, and Half-Life 2-style in-game cinematics, Blacksite is looking very promising indeed.

It's is not far off either, so what lies ahead for Smith after completing this mission? Well, the open-ended urban fighting of Blacksite 2, of course. Yes, they're already working on it. That, and playing Stalker. "That's my kind of game," says Smith. And, ooh, it really is.

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