As any conspiracy theorist can attest, deep in the confines of the Nevada desert lies the super-secret Area 51, a hotbed for extraterrestrial activity unlike any other in the world. Atari took arcade gamers to this mysterious locale in 1995, as a highly trained marine from STAAR (Special tactical Advanced Alien Response, of course) whose mission was to rid the base of a gaggle of unfriendly interplanetary visitors and (for good measure) their human zombie cohorts. The result was a hit in arcades around the globe.
Through the use of digitized cut scenes, players moved through various stages as if in a science-fiction film – through a multitude of hangers, secret labs, hidden caves, and eventually- an enormous and daunting alien mothership. The controls were as simple as could be, just a trusty light gun in which to fire away at every ET that showed its slimy face, as well as a number of inanimate objects that offered a plethora of bonus points. Aliens reared their heads from behind crates, doorways and any place else they could cleverly conceal themselves, and players simply tried to blast them to smithereens. Of course, one had to exercise caution as well, because amidst the chaos, were other STARR agents as well that could easily be hit by friendly fire.
While players only had a limited amount of rounds in their weapon, reloading was a relatively simple task – simply aim the gun off-screen and, voila, a whole new clip of bullets. And, should a player manage to hit various designated spots on the screen that popped up intermittently, they could increase the firepower of their weapon for a short time. Seasoned veterans of the game also learned that by firing at some not-so-obvious targets, they could unlock two secret rooms for added fun.
Area 51 was an instant hit in arcades everywhere, thanks to its polished digital graphics and stellar sound effects. A few years after its release, Atari decided to pair it up with another of their popular shooting games, Maximum Force, in 1998. Each game was given a few additional secrets to compel old-timers with a new reason to battle it out with their respective opponents. Also that year, Atari released a sequel called Area 51: Site 4. This time around, players trained in 18 missions in sites 1-3, before earning the ability to face the alien bigwigs in the daunting level 4. They also had a few new weapons at their disposal, including night vision.
Don’t let anyone tell you that all is humdrum in the deserts of Nevada. Area 51 proved that a whole team of extraterrestrials were hunkered in and just waiting to make their move. And only a couple of quarters and well-aimed light gun stood between them and us. This time, the conspiracy theorists had it right.
If you spent a few bucks keeping our planet safe from these pesky interplanetary invaders, we welcome all of your recollections of playing Area 51 in our comments section.