November, 1996: the arcade game which did not exist spawns a home version for PS1 which also does not exist. Welcome to Midway’s light gun, on-rails shooter. Welcome…to Area 51!
In 1995, when “The X-Files” had convinced all of us that we wanted to believe, Midway stormed arcades across the United States with Area 51. This on-rails shooter cast one or two players in the role of a member of a fictional SWAT-style military unit called “S.T.A.R.R.” sent in to figure out what has gone wrong at a top-secret facility in the Nevada Desert. One year later, Area 51 found its way out of the arcades and into living rooms with home conversions for the Playstation, Saturn, and PC.
Midway’s arcade game was a grandiose opera of shotguns, aliens, and explosions. It delighted in throwing gamers into the thick of the fray, sending us careening through the interiors and exteriors of Edwards Air Force Base’s highly classified tarmac and hangars while jeeps flipped, helicopters exploded, grizzled sergeants barked out orders like, “Follow me!” and “Stay low!”, and aliens by the mothershipload popped up from behind crates, leaned out of windows, and rappelled from the ceilings to ruin our day.
Using digitized actors combined with computer-generated imagery to create this pseudo-action film, Midway went all out with the available technology to deliver this chaotic rampage.
The home ports may have suffered a bit in the graphics area, but there was nothing at all like snapping a pair of light guns into your PS1 and going John Woo style on the unfriendly intergalactic invaders. There were other light gun games made for the PS1, but Area 51 sits in a class by itself as an enjoyable way to kill an afternoon.
Really the only problem with Area 51 is that most televisions today aren’t CRT displays but are instead plasma or LCD screens, which means that your light gun won’t work with them. While this doesn’t render Area 51 unplayable, it does mean you’ll have to use the controller or (if you were one of the 20 or so people who bought it) the Playstation mouse which sort of defeats the whole point of a light gun shooter in the first place.
Of course, if you believe the following ad, the game never existed. Which is a shame, because it sure seems like something that would have been enjoyable if only the government had allowed us to play it.