The BlackSite Atrocity

On the 29th of November 2007 Harvey Smith, lead designer of Midway’s BlackSite: Area 51 project, announced at the Montreal International Game Summit that the project was “so ****ed up” and that he was not excited about making it. On the 30th of November 2007 Midway announced that he was no longer in their employment.

The result is a game that had a truly staggering amount of potential, but that has so much lacking – not least collision along the cliff walls beside the gas station in the first episode. In Harvey’s own words the game “went straight from alpha to final”. It also seems that the game was made in reverse order to how it’s played because the game seems increasingly more polished the further you progress through it. The first episode feels like a prototype and the last like a game that has been polished with pride.

Putting someone who isn’t keen on the project in charge of it’s design and development is a software development atrocity because it’s bound to murder it. If another designer is capable of that role isn’t it better for them to do it? And if you can’t convince another designer to take the role then is the project worth making at all? If you then run into problems but don’t have the time available to account for them because you’re crunching for Christmas then something has got to give and it’s almost always the game that suffers.

Look at the worm-like monster on the bridge as he swipes at your helicopter. Now remember that they called the other monsters “octopus-dogs”. Look at the detail in your team mate’s models for a text book example of good modelling. Then watch him get stuck as he’s unsure which way to turn so (to please everyone) he turns and moves in all directions. Look at the eerie debris-strewn corridors in the last episode and remember that you got lost on the way there because there are no arrows or pointers to guide you. The final boss’s speech is empassioned and furiously articulate, but it’s not good enough to account for all the “filler” speeches trail up to it.

Much fuss has been made about how short the single player campaign is and how BlackSite as a whole is not nearly as good as Call of Duty 4. The vast majority of first person shooters aren’t as good as Call of Duty 4 but we’ve got to move on at some point guys and BlackSite had a lot of cool things in it that Call of Duty lacked (the ability to drive vehicles and a variety of enemies for instance). In fact this game would probably have been in far greater demand if it hadn’t have been for Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 which dominated the market this Christmas.

If you’ve played Call of Duty 4 to death then this is worth picking up. The BlackSite game can best be summed up as a marriage between Call of Duty 3 and Gears of War that didn’t work out but I enjoyed playing it all the same. Sadly when a project fails it rarely gets a sequel, so the true potential of this intellectual property will probably never be realised.

- John

Play nice. This one’s better than most FPS (that aren’t Call of Duty 4).

About John

INX's resident professional games designer!
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