Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Review
Thursday, May 21, 2009 2:47 PM
Riddick's back, and he's got another escape attempt planned.
Unlike the Chronicles of Riddick film - which was a badly-directed, poorly-written mess - Escape From Butcher Bay was an excellent stealth-action title and is still one of the best film-licensed games available. Since then developer Starbreeze has impressed audiences with their fantastic storytelling skills again in The Darkness, and now they've gone back to Riddick to complete his journey.
Of course, this isn't just a sequel. The whole of Butcher Bay has also been included, fully remastered so it looks like a modern game. As value for money you can't really fault this package, since you're really getting two excellent games in one. Even if you've played Butcher Bay before it's still worth playing the game again so you can sample the incredible job Starbreeze has done with the graphics.
If you remember my scathing preview, you may have noticed that I wasn't impressed with the demo's graphics. Fortunately that's not the case here, as not only does five-year-old Butcher Bay look great now, but Dark Athena looks even better.
Animation in particular is superb, and I'm prepared to say that, in Dark Athena at least, it's the best I've personally ever seen in a game. The voice acting and writing is similarly top-notch, with all the characters being well-realised and intentionally likeable or dislikeable. Starbreeze is really beginning to define themselves as premier gaming storytellers, if not setting the standard altogether.
I won't get into too much detail about the stories, but basically Vin Diesel (doing fine saying cool lines menacingly) is the incredibly dangerous Riddick, who you have to guide as he escapes from first the titular Butcher Bay prison, and then the other-titular mercenary ship Dark Athena. It's a hell of a lot more complicated than that, but that's the general goal: escape.
One of the most praised elements of Butcher Bay was the way it often gave you a choice of gameplay styles. If you wanted you could creep around in the dark, satisfyingly taking out enemies without them ever being aware of you, or just go in all-guns-blazing with little or no regard to stealth. If you were spotted, that didn't result in game Over, it was always more amusing playing the game in a sneaky way.
Of course this is still true of the remixed Butcher Bay, but Dark Athena falls down a bit here. There were always moments when you'd be forced one way or another in the original, but there's far too many times in the sequel when you simply have no choice.
It can't be denied that there's a lot of gameplay variety here, with stealth, shooting, mech assault, melee combat, platforming, RPG-style quests and even adventure game-style puzzles to tackle, but while COR never gets boring, some of the player choice offered in Butcher Bay would've been appreciated. Far too often you'll be sneaking around armed only with Riddick's Ulak blades having a good time, and then suddenly you'll be thrown into a heavily-lit area with armed enemies and die, quickly.
This is because of an idea that is at once one of COR's most unique and brilliant assets and the biggest source of frustration. Guns and bullets really matter here, so if you're under fire in an open area you won't last long. It's not quite realistic, as you still have a health bar (which acts almost identically to Far Cry 2's. which came after Butcher Bay, of course), but even though it can be upgraded it stays worryingly tiny for the entire game. This means a challenging game, but it can really get on your nerves if you die several times in one area, which you will, especially since there's no manual saving.
Apart from these quibbles, Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a great package. There's loads of variety and every genre it tries to tackle is done very well. It may get frustrating occasionally, especially in some boss fights where you're given no clue about how to take them out, but there's nothing wrong with having a challenging game. And did I mention that it's two great games in one? I enjoyed almost every minute of it, and frankly in the end I didn't want to escape. I suspect you won't either.