Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on the Dark Athena review (multi)

I feel that before I start writing the review I should give it some context… this is the fourth time I’ve started writing it (all previous attempts seemed to mysteriously disappeared into the ether). If this review comes across as slightly jaded that’s probably why Very Happy

Background (Note: this section is entirely about the films so if you want to get straight into the review skip ahead to the next section)

The year 2000 saw many important events; Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi dies of a stroke, the billionth Indian citizen is born and in South Nigeria 250 locals are blown up whilst trying to scavenge gasoline from a broken petroleum pipeline. However the year 2000 saw one event more important than all of these… the year 2000 saw the release of ‘Pitch Black’ and the creation of the most badass criminal in all of the known universe, Richard B. Riddick. The role of Riddick was taken up by Vin Diesel (the only man to ever win an arm wrestle with a fully grown gorilla without the use of tranquilizers) who seemed to fit the character like a hand in a glove. Pitch Black picks up with Riddick after being rather embarrassingly captured by his arch enemy, a mercenary by the name of William J. Johns (Played by Cole Hauser). As you might expect though, the tables are soon turned as the ship that he is captive on crash lands on a desert planet allowing Riddick to escape. It’s not long before Riddick’s position as most badass thing on the planet is jeopardized though, as the ships crew soon find out that they’re sharing the landscape with a horde of carnivorous photophobic aliens.

This is where it all started

Pitch Black was met with a fairly mixed critical response, the crux of the issue seeming to be whether people bought into Riddick’s character. I personally found it to be a rather enjoyable film (although not without flaws), largely due to the fact that you were never quite sure what Riddick’s intentions were, or whether he was in fact a greater threat than the alien scourge. One of the films trademarks are Riddick’s luminescent eyes (that allow him to see in darkness) which he explains he received in the galactic super prison, ‘Butcher Bay’. This story became the focus of the first Chronicles of Riddick game; Escape from Butcher Bay in 2005. I’ll discuss this game at some length within this review as AOTDA contains a re-mastered version of the original game. Unfortunately 2005 also saw the release of a rather less impressive specimen within the Riddick universe in the shape of a film named ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’. Alas they lost the plot slightly with this one, replacing all of Riddick’s subtle deadly charm with an over jumped generic action anti-hero with all the poise and grace of a drunken badger. Fittingly the film was met with a withering response, as while the film was a fairly solid action thriller, it lacked any of the depth or nuances that made ‘Pitch Black’ shine. Thankfully, Butcher Bay was spared this kind of critical Butchering as it was actually a stunningly good game… and so the actual review begins.

Escape from Butcher Bay

A rare gem on the Xbox platform

There’s probably a few of those amongst you wondering if it’s fair to be reviewing a game from 2005 by today’s standards. Gladly I can inform you that for the most part, yes it is. Escape from Butcher Bay is nearly as impressive now as it was back in 2005 which is really a testament to the solid game design employed by Tigon Studios (Vin Diesel’s own game studio… how f***ing awesome is that?).

Papa always said "if you can't trust anyone else, you've got to do the job yourself"


As the name implies, the plot of EFBB focuses on Riddick trying to escape from the infamous Butcher Bay. Of course this isn’t as easy as breaking out of your regular joint; Butcher Bay is the prison’s prison, it has been designed with criminals like Riddick in mind (Riddick is a better class of criminal though). Before too long, Riddick is causing all kinds of hell within Butcher Bay’s walls. The story throughout is fairly solid with the only major gripe being that the prison paying to house Riddick doesn’t really make a lot of sense. This aside, I enjoyed the narrative all of the way through the games 10-13 hour campaign. The in game dialogue and voice acting is all of a supreme quality, with one of the highlights coming in the form of the vocal stylings of John Di Maggio (The voice of both Bender from Futurama and Marcus Fenix from Gears of War). It’s always pleasing to come across a game where quality writing has clearly been a focal point of the development process.


Ok, this is where we have to start making some allowances for EFBB taking into account its vintage. EFBB contains a mixture of stealth and FPS gameplay which for the most part are separated into distinct sections. There have been a number of big changes to the FPS genre in the last couple of years, the most important of which being the fabled cover system. As you might expect EFBB lacks this feature to its slight detriment. Another aspect of this game that modern gamers may find irritating is the putridly stupid A.I. The enemies in this game are really, really dumb; it’s quite difficult to get across just how dumb they are. It’s not uncommon for the bad guys to start walking in circles or into walls or to start shooting at absolutely nothing. It can be quite difficult to predict their movements at times, as their movement patterns are as erratic as those of a fish in an electrified tank which contains water laced with speed. My only other slight gripe with the game play is the weapon selection system. To select weapons in this game you have to press the right shoulder button (on the 360) to bring up a circular menu. You then have to hover over the weapon you wish to equip with the right thumb stick. This would be fine were it not for the fact that the menu is quite fiddly and imprecise and you often end up dying because you can’t change weapons in time. Despite all of these qualms though, EFBB is a bloody brilliant game. The FPS sections of the game are pretty standard fair, you shoot things, things shoot you and a bloodbath ensues. Gun play is pretty solid throughout with all of the guns feeling chunky and powerful enough to satisfy most FPS junkies.

"I told you the food court would be closed"
"Can we please not make this into an argument?"
"I'm just saying that if you'd listened..."

In my personal opinion though, where this game really stands out is the stealth sections. The stealth mechanics in this game are absolutely sublime. There are very few things more satisfying than hiding in the shadows, stalking a guard as he passes you and then stabbing him in the neck with a screw driver (or is that just me). You never have to worry too much about making a lot of noise as when you are stealthing you can go into stealth mode, which allows you to move silently as you stalk your prey. Most of the lights around the prison can be shot out allowing you to sneak by enemies with ease. You’ll often find that if a guard discovers a smashed light, they’ll get out their flashlights and will actually become more vigilant than usual making things more difficult for you.

Would you like your guard diced or sliced?

The game also contains some really good hand to hand combat often throwing you into fist fights with multiple enemies. There’s also a couple of awesome mech scenes thrown in to keep you entertained. Throughout your quest for freedom, you’ll be expected to talk to a number of your fellow inmates in order to gain favours from them. Of course they always expect something in return; this can vary from assassinating other prisoners to collecting moths for them. Some of these tasks are necessary for story progression where as others can get you useful equipment or information. For those collectable junkies amongst you, there are a number of themed cigarette packs to be found around the landscape in order to unlock concept art for the game. Overall the game play is a rich if slightly dated and very rarely disappoints.


For the most part the graphics in this game are pretty darn impressive. They’ve been completely overhauled to meet the potential of the next gen consoles and for the most part they’ve achieved that goal. Obviously some of the level design is a little uninspired by today’s standards as it wasn’t originally designed for modern consoles. Thanks to the improved engine though, both the lighting and the polygon count have massively improved making the adventure look very at home on the new consoles. All of the in game characters have been re-designed and wouldn’t look out of place in any modern shooters. There are a few minor graphical glitches present in the form of dead polygons and slow texture loads but these are fairly rare and don’t detract from the game in any significant way.

Assault on the dark Athena

Riddick is back... only this time marginally more awesome


The story in AOTDA picks up almost immediately after the events of EFBB with Riddicks escape vessel ironically once again being captured, only this time by a troop of rogue mercenary pirates. It’s established that Riddick has previously made acquaintance with the leader of the pirates and there is some animosity between them. I never felt that this was ever resolved very satisfactorily and found it to be quite disappointing. Thankfully though, once again the story is fairly solid with Riddick trying to escape the Dark Athena to do whatever it is that he does when he’s not escaping captivity (I’m never quite sure what it is he does when he’s not escaping). I don’t want to risk ruining the plot for you, but what I will say is that the story doesn’t all take place on the Dark Athena. The change of scenery in the latter portions of the game is quite pleasing and I found it to add some needed variety to the experience.


It’s the same as Butcher bay…

Ok, you also get some cool new weapons…

Well perhaps that analysis isn’t quite fair, but for the most part AOTDA is just a modernized expansion to EFBB. This is by no means a bad thing. You get an extra 10+ hours of game in a new setting and some cool new ways to eviscerate your enemies. The new blades (the shylaks) that Riddick uses are totally kick ass and make you feel even more deadly than ever before. On top of this, the new enemies (the drones) can be used as temporary gun turrets or can be controlled from remote terminals varying up the game play nicely. There’s also a return from the ever fantastic mech scenes. What else could a Riddick fan ask for?

Is this the face of a man that you want to piss off?


Again, the graphics are pretty much the same as in EFBB but you can tell that it has been designed for modern consoles from the ground up. The level design is a lot more ambitious with a lot of the games aesthetic looking absolutely stunning (especially later on). The areas in this game have been developed with the same level of love as EFBB and they really do deliver in terms of style. The character design is up to the same high standard again, my only quibble is that the main enemy looks a bit weird (it’s quite hard to put into words, but she definitely doesn’t look quite right).


Right, I’m going to keep this quite brief. The online multiplayer section of this game seems to be pretty functional and has a number of different modes to keep you occupied. I found that I wasn’t particularly engaged by it though, AOTDA is essentially a single player experience and the multiplayer element ends up feeling like a bit of an arbitrary grace. I guess in conclusion, I can’t really complain about it; it’s nice that it’s there and it seems pretty sturdy, it’s just not really my cup of tea. Maybe you’ll like it better.

This tactic is likely to get you killed, sure the A.I is stupid but if you stand in the middle of a room firing a gun they'll remove the gun barrels from their nostrils and dispose of you in no time


So, is it worth your hard earned cash? Well, bearing in mind all you get here for your money I certainly think so. You’re getting more than 20 hours of offline game play here and a fairly decent multiplayer experience to boot. If you’re anything like me, you probably watched ‘Pitch Black’ thinking “God he’s awesome, I wish I could be like him”. Now that I have the ability to be Riddick I couldn’t be much happier. Sure it’s a little dated and Riddick’s character is a little shallow, but this is all forgivable. The voice acting throughout is funny and convincing, the story is good, the game play is great and you have shylaks… tell me that this game is not worth your money. For those of you who are only really interested in the single player I’d recommend renting and then buying it if you decide that you actually like the multiplayer. I personally love this game, it does annoy me at times but then again so does my girlfriend and I’ve put up with her for longer than I care to think about (note: if you have to choose between this game and having a girlfriend then please choose the latter. Games are cool but they’re not very satisfying sexually… I take that back, Vin Diesel is a sexy man). Have fun with this one.

Story: 4/5
Graphics: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4/5 (a little dated in places but still awesome)
Sound: 5/5 (the voice acting is really fantastic throughout)
Multiplayer: 3.5/5 (sturdy, just nothing special)
Overall: 4/5 (definitely worth your money)

Thumbs up rental at the very least! I urge all of you to try this game, there’s lots on offer here!

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