The Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay is regarded by many as one of the best movie tie-in games ever produced. Featuring the smooth talking real life actor Vin Diesel as the gravely voiced Riddick character and a plot that meanders around the movies ‘Pitch Black’ and subsequent ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’; the game offered a heady mixture of first person stealth and action set within the prison confines of Butcher Bay. It was an excellent game on Xbox and showcased the talents of Starbreeze Studios in partnership with Vin Diesel’s own Tigon Studios.
Xbox seems far away now, and whilst we’re all comfy with the current generation of consoles and their games, it’s always interesting when the word ‘remake’ is tossed about. Interest is peaked due to whether the game is worth being remade in the first place, and if it is a good choice bringing fond memories to the fore, how will it play and look. Well, a lot was mentioned of the game prior to release, and initially, it was going to be a remake with a new chapter. However, it turned into something more with the originally planned remake of Escape from Butcher Bay and the all new adventure Assault on Dark Athena. So that’s effectively two games for the price of one, with the deal made all the more sweet if you’re a Riddick newcomer.
For those of you who are unawares of what’s entailed in the Escape from Butcher Bay Xbox remake, then take a look at our review of the game here, the remake version is quintessentially the same game with a graphical makeover and some minor gameplay tweaks. However, the source material was of the highest standard on Xbox and so the upgrade might not be so stark if you’ve played the original recently.
So, onto pastures new with the next game in the adventures of Riddick. Assault on Dark Athena manifests itself as a perfect companion to the previous game, offering familiar stomping grounds, and the well enjoyed gameplay. After escaping Butcher Bay with Johns, their craft is captured by mercenaries using the prison ship the ‘Dark Athena’ . It’s a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, except in this case, who is jumping out of the frying pan, the mercenaries or Riddick? Well that’s for you to decide as you work your way through the game’s levels. It’s clear that the layout and general pacing is very similar to its predecessor, what with an open map, a hub area and the usual mix of NPCs and overzealous, shoot on sight guards. As a first person shooter, there’s potential action around every corner, except you’d be missing the core element of the game and what separates it from being a standard shooter.
The stealth gameplay remains intact and with the exact same mechanics as used in Butcher Bay. You’ll be able to hide around in the shadows, where a blue hue across the screen lets you know you’re hidden. You can skulk around vents and shafts, and more importantly, get up close to the patrolling guards and whip out a bone crunching stealth kill. As mentioned, you’re able to secure weapons from the fallen (a lot more readily than in Butcher Bay) but also use the melee combat to great effect. This element is still a little fiddly, but remains very satisfying when you trade blows in this manner. Whether armed with a screwdriver, club whatever or unarmed, there’s something charming about the brutality of squaring off with the AI and then finishing them off with a killer blow. However, it’s equally satisfying to get behind a guard and simply take him out with one hit before dragging the corpse deep into the shadows to keep ones cover secured.
The enemy AI is rather hit and miss at times, where you’ll never truly know what works and what doesn’t. Whilst it’s good to not have canned reactions, at the same time when the unpredictability leads to seriously unfair situations, it can get annoying as you are forced to restart the checkpoint or lose most of your health. Luckily in this regard, Assault on Dark Athena is a little more lenient and you’ll hit a checkpoint fairly often. The inclusion of more firepower into the gameplay also means you’ll have that choice whether to unleash the guns or not when things get hairy for the bald Riddick.
The gun play itself is adequate but just feels like there’s some edginess missing, it’s not easy to put a finger on why it feels this way, but it’s clear the game’s focus is on that of stealth and melee combat (a greater part of Butcher Bay’s gameplay). That said, the gun battles rage on and depending on how you play, the assault rifle, pistol, shotgun and compulsory sticky grenade launcher are worthy ballistic companions to have throughout the game whether you’re playing stealthily or not (shooting out lights is very much encourage to give you the tactical advantage).
The game’s graphics offer some great uses of light and shadow, and with the bold blue hues and over saturated colours when using Riddick’s shine eye ability, looks impressive. Vin Diesel has been modelled very well and the overall design is well thought out. However, the move from Butcher Bay to Dark Athena has opened up Riddick’s world, because although there are still a lot of confined areas, this time there’s some outdoor action as well. In fact the whole of the game is wildly different and makes for a more visually pleasing adventure. Butcher Bay felt very ‘samey’ with its full on cold interiors for the entirety of the game.
Audio is once again very dynamic and compliments the stealth gameplay versus the action. The voice acting is very good as you would expect, and as usual Mr. Diesel reprises his Riddick role, perfectly. The supporting cast do an admirable job also, including whoever voiced the rather insane ‘ExBob’ character. Gun sounds, guard chatter, and the ambient sounds of the Dark Athena and beyond are all featured as you would expect, and provide enough aural satisfaction to not only draw you into the game world, but assault your eardrums should you boost the volume.
An all new feature for Riddick fans is the inclusion of a multiplayer mode which offers the usual online madness to mess around with. When you include the multiplayer with a reasonable length Assault on Dark Athena story on top of the Butcher Bay campaign, then there’s plenty of hours worth of entertainment. Yet looking at the merits of Assault on Dark Athena alone, and you’re left with quite a brief experience. The game’s achievements are spread out over all three sections of the game, and with collectibles and sub tasks to perform, there’s plenty for everyone looking for challenges outside of the scripted story events.
There’s no denying that as a complete Riddick package, then you can’t get better than having a remade game, and a sequel rolled into one. Whilst both games play very similar, there’s enough stealth or action based gameplay to keep most gamers entertained for quite some time. Assault on Dark Athena hasn’t really progressed much from Butcher Bay, and remains familiar in many ways, and that includes the over use of predictable hard-man lines in the script.
For fans of stealth gameplay, the first person viewpoint is welcome and puts you right into the character. With the speedier gameplay to accommodate the shooting, it gels well and is certainly worthy of your attention. If you’ve not played the first game, then you’ll no doubt be well pleased at having two chunks of fresh gaming to satisfy your hunger. For anyone else, the return to nostalgic realms is pleasant, but the over-familiarity of Dark Athena, might leave you burned out. Still, what’s here is a very well produced and an exciting game to play which should be picked up immediately if no nonsense stealth is your calling. For action fans, there’s enough of that here too, in Dark Athena at least, but with other more tailored experiences available, you might find the gunplay less than agreeable with your tastes at times. Overall Assault on Dark Athena is well recommended for purchase, Riddick is a cool as beans character, and the games he appears in are equally as dark and intriguing.