Development delayOriginally slated for a Fall 2004 release, Area-51 was criticized in previews for not doing anything new to the genre. Midway delayed the game to a Spring 2005 release.
Over that period of time, Midway made lots of changes to the game. This can be seen by comparing a demo on Official Xbox Magazine's November 2004 demo disc to the full retail version of the game. Most importantly, they added a "scanner" that scans secret documents for information that can later be read when the game session is quit. If the scanner is not pointed at a document, it will display the statistics of an air sample. The other changes to the game include:
- The HUD, title screens, and menus are changed.
- When the player dies, the death will be seen from a first-person view.
- Health packs increase the health more.
- Added cutscenes.
- There is now dual-wield for the machine gun and shotgun.
- Information at the top of the screen tells the player what type of item was picked up.
- The pistol has a sight feature.
- The shotgun is no longer pumped after two individual shotgun shots, but will still pump after doing the "2 shells at once" alt-fire.
- The protagonist now loads two shells into the shotgun at once when reloading it.
- The sniper rifle's zoom is now tinted green.
- Changed gamepad vibration effects.
- Changed voice acting.
- Changed control setup.
- The level design is less linear. Levels in the retail version include keycards in addition to usable objects, both of which the demo lacked.
An updated demo was included on the April 2005 demo disc of the Official Xbox Magazine.
European and German versionThe European version of Area-51 is cut in comparison to the US release: there are cuts to black during two cutscenes and various changes to the level design, e.g. in the level "The Search" the player has to activate a scanner with a cut off arm - in the European version the door can be opened without any hassle.
The German version is even more censored: it removes all blood (even the green), ragdoll effects, damage models on enemies. A list of all changes can be found on schnittberichte.com (German).
Freeware releaseIn October 2008 the Windows version of the game was made available free of charge. The download link can be found in the related links section.
ReferencesIn the first level, an original Area 51 arcade cabinet can be seen.
Information also contributed by M4R14N0 and Sciere