Ever since E.T. first made his blotchy appearance on the Atari 2600, gamers have suffered through hundreds of poorly made film adaptations. When Starbreeze first announced The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, people assumed the combination of a licensed title and Vin Diesel would not equal an enjoyable experience. However, the developers at Starbreeze crafted a masterful first-person action-adventure title that not only matched the quality of the film, but exceeded it. Now, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena brings back the original game and partners it with an all-new sequel on the same disk. Can this two-pack of Diesel goodness deliver a face-smashing good time?
Escape from Butcher Bay begins with the introduction of Richard Riddick, a deadly criminal that has been captured and taken to the most feared prison known to man. Once inside, Riddick immediately hatches a plan for escape. This involves making his way through the bowels of the facility and defending himself from naturally antagonistic inmates, guards, and security robots. The sequel, Assault on Dark Athena, picks up right where Butcher Bay leaves off, with Riddick being captured by a spacecraft full of treacherous mercenaries. After averting another imprisonment, he sets out to free the other hostages and take down the icy Captain Revas before blasting away to freedom.
Each campaign shares the same game play, which blends first-person shooting and adventuring in unique ways. While Riddick can (and will) use guns, the game is built more for hand-to-hand combat. As such, you will find plenty of objects that can be used to stab or bludgeon your opponents into the afterlife. The gun play is less successful, as enemies at long distance are hard to hit no matter which gun is used. While they understandably did this to encourage close quarters combat, it does make certain exchanges – especially in the gun-heavy Dark Athena – feel more frustrating than they should be.
Luckily, you can utilize the game’s stealth mechanics to avoid gunfights. You are able to hide in shadows and use a night-vision ability called Eyeshine, which illuminates your path through the darkness. If you manage to get behind a patrolling soldier, you are given the opportunity to perform an instant-kill attack. These moves are vital, as Riddick cannot survive for long under fire. Platforming also works its way into the game. These segments require you to climb or crawl your way through certain areas. While tromping around in this manner isn’t engaging, it does you a break from nonstop violence.
Both adventures share gameplay elements as well as problems. Butcher Bay starts off rigidly, including several moments of controller-throwing rage. This is because you don’t have the Eyeshine ability in the early going. Facing invisible enemies armed with guns isn’t the most pleasant experience. The Dark Athena campaign suffers from a lack of originality, as the generic sci-fi environments aren’t as interesting as what you see in Butcher Bay. The ship that houses the entire game has few distinguishing features, and most of the campaign is spent traveling through the ship wiping out identical-looking drones. The year gap between titles hurts Dark Athena more than anything, as it feels like more should have been done to evolve the series. While still fun, Athena lacks the spark that made the original so special.
If you need a break from the campaigns, Dark Athena offers multiplayer modes for up to 12 players. Most of the modes are standard FPS faire (deathmatch, capture the flag) that don’t take advantage of the series’ unique aspects, but the Pitch Black mode offers something different that fans will enjoy. PB sets one player as Riddick and everyone else as flashlight-equipped guards. The levels are completely dark, and Riddick must use his Eyeshine and blades to take out as many soldiers as he can before getting gunned down. Once you kill Riddick, you become him. This mode is well worth trying if you can get a lag-free game.
The visuals of Butcher Bay were mind-blowing back in 2004, and Starbreeze has gussied them up a bit for this re-release to keep jaw firmly on the floor. While some of the animation is a bit stiff in the older title, both games look great and employ a realistic style that emphasizes the grittiness and darkness of Riddick’s world. Unfortunately, this blackness leads to some drab environmental design, as there is not a lot of color. Many of the areas that you find look similar to ones that you have traveled through before. On the flip side, Dark Athena includes some fantastic facial animation that accentuates the dialogue and adds personality to the unfortunate souls that you encounter.
It also helps that these unfortunate souls are being voiced by high-class Hollywood talent. Stars such as Ron Perlman, Cole Hauser, Michelle Forbes, and Lance Henriksen join Vin Diesel in bringing these characters to life. All do an excellent job, though Diesel’s work as the enigmatic Riddick stands far above all. The rest of the audio is equally exemplary, as the music heightens the tension and action at the exact right moments while the sound effects personify the violence with their graphic detail.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena includes two lengthy first-person action titles that are sure to please. While each campaign has its share of problems, the entertaining gameplay, clever design, and heart-stopping moments of both missions will leave you longing for future installments of the Riddick saga.