When The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay came out back in 2004 it was the arguably the best game on the Xbox. It definitely had the best graphics, but the unique thing about this game was its blend of stealth, action, story, and a badass main character that made it so appealing. So it comes as no surprise that much of the original Xbox community was in an uproar when it did not make the backwards compatibility list. Enter Starbreeze who heard all of our collective cries, and decided to remake the original Riddick game but also create a sequel and then package it on the same disc.
Assault on Dark Athena (the name in which this game is packaged and sold under) was one of those titles that almost wasn’t due to Activision’s foolish mistake. You might remember them cutting three titles due to them “not having the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential”. A “derp” (from South Park) moment if I have ever seen one. Luckily Atari saw the potential in this title and saved it. So now not only are we able to play the original Riddick game on our 360’s but we can also play multiplayer this time around, the only thing that was missing from the original.
Like I said above Escape from Butcher Bay was the best looking game on the original Xbox. It had the advantage to come out late in the systems life cycle and newcomer developer Starbreeze and Tigon (founded by Riddick himself, Vin Diesel) managed to pull every ounce of juice out of the console. Well fast forward five years later and Riddick is no longer top dog on the graphics front. Don’t get me wrong, this game still looks damn good. And don’t think that this game was just a simple graphics upgrade, no it is much more. Every single level was rebuilt from the ground up using the engine that is powering the Dark Athena campaign. Even though stat wise this is what they are saying, I can’t help but notice that Dark Athena looks a tad bit more polished than the Butcher Bay campaign.
First thing you notice is that the lights and shadow work in this game are very well done. It really has to be done this way since this game is very stealth heavy; at least Butcher Bay is but more on that later. One of the better graphical features in this game is Vin Diesel who is fully rendered. When you are in the first person view and look down you can see legs and feet, another thing this game does is when you are shimmying from pipes, or climbing up ladders it cuts to third person and you can see Riddick performing those actions. Speaking of which all of the character models in this game are amazing, very detailed and they all look exactly like the actors.
While you will find no “jaggies” this time around with the graphics you will notice some slight graphical hiccups during some of the cutscenes on some of the models. It’s nothing really game breaking, it’s just noticeable is all. The textures in this game are also worth noting. While for a lot of the both games you will only see grey metal, and steel there is a point where in the Dark Athena campaign that you end up on a planet surface. This is where I think the graphics shine, the water effects are nice while you cannot go into the water the waves do splash and look very good. So to sum up my feelings on the graphics, this game is very pretty. While not mind blowingly awesome, its gets the job done and looks very good while it does it.
First and foremost in the Butcher Bay campaign you are sent to prison (DUH!) if you have seen Pitch Black they mention Riddick escaping from a triple max slam, well this is the one he escapes from. So since you are in prison you really only have two weapons, your fist and a shiv. You get the shiv later but really, all Riddick needs is his fist. The hand to hand combat in this game is very much like the original Xbox game, Breakdown. While Riddick doesn’t have kicks or anything he is very brutal with his punches. When Riddick throws a punch he means for it to hurt-really bad. This is evidenced by when you randomly punch at a wall. Not only will you hear a loud smack, but you will notice blood on the wall where his fist landed, you will see blood on his fist as well. As I was saying the combat in this game is very guttural and brutal. Now even though you will acquire guns in this game because you are breaking out of prison you will find that stealth is your best friend. Which means creeping up and breaking necks, or stabbing someone in the “sweet spot” (watch Pitch Black if you wanna know what the sweet spot it) The controls with the fist fighting is very simple, the right trigger controls your punches and the left will enable you to block. As you pull the right trigger if you move the right analog stick in any direction you will be able to control what type of punch is thrown. Be it uppercuts, or right hands, or even a smashing elbow to the face.
I think I have spent enough time talking about the Butcher Bay campaign, I am sure if you want to see a full review for that game you can find many reviews on the interwebz. Assault on Dark Athena, as I said above is a bit of a sequel to Butcher Bay. It picks up the story where the last game left off, with Riddick and a friend in a deep cryogenic sleep on a spaceship leaving the prison planet. They are picked up by a gang of mercenaries who kidnap people, kill them and then turn them into mindless military drones that can be remotely controlled. These are the main enemies that you fight in the game, and they can change the quality level of their A.I. based on whether they’re being remotely controlled or not. Kill one and you can use his undetachable gun for a minute, but in the early goings it’s a lot easier to stick with hand to hand combat. Especially when you’re wielding the Ulaks, which are like brass knuckles with a long curved blade on the end. Most of this game will be hand to hand combat, and honestly I stuck with my Ulaks like they were my best friend.
The stealth and melee combat feels unchanged from the first game, which is fine with me since it was really good in Butcher Bay. Still though it would have been nice to see a few upgrades or new features. Towards the end of the campaign it becomes much more of a shooter, though charging into rooms like “Mr. Get-Bad” is definitely not the way to play. You’ll still be well served by taking advantage of the shadows and your eyeshine (For those that missed Pitch Black, Riddick has the ability to see in the dark. Which is known as his eyeshine, you acquire this ability in the Butcher Bay campaign) capabilities. It doesn’t feel like your average shooter, which will alternately turn some gamers off and some on. What’s important is that the game stays true to its nature and its main character, the last of a dead race known as Furians with amazing abilities, but not much else besides the few times you get to drive a Mech.
The story this time is a little more engaging too, though I’m sure some people will be turned off by the favor nature of the game. But the first game did this too. It’s really the old adage “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” When you talk to someone about something you need more often than not you will have to go do something for them. Even though the game’s levels are fairly simple, you aren’t really given much direction. Which isn’t really a bad thing, because if you really were Riddick you wouldn’t have a radar, or map to lead you around but as a gamer some sort of map function would have been nice.
In closing the remake they did on the original was absolutely amazing. It was great to not only play this game again, but this time run around in HD to boot. So getting both these games on one disc is great, you have your original and a sequel no need to wait 3 years for part two. The other thing that I didn’t talk about is multiplayer, yes they did add it and the Pitch Black mode is nice but to be honest there are better multiplayer games out there. The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a very solid game, with some excellent features, and a badass main character. For your hard earned sixty bucks you can’t ask for a bigger package, two full games and multiplayer. I just hope that the sales from this game inspires them to complete The Chronicles of Riddick movie trilogy, because after seeing another side of this character in these games you will want to see more of him.