Way back in the waning months of the original Xbox’s life-cycle, the little-known Swedish outfit Starbreeze Studios released a surprise gem in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. I say surprising because, generally speaking, movie tie-in games are destined for pure suckdom. Escape from Butcher Bay was anything but.
Escape, which came packed with excellent graphics, storytelling, and voice-acting, served as a complimentary chapter to Riddick’s haute cinema adventures Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. Brief plot summary: Vin Diesel plays Riddick, an intergalactic criminal who, flushed with angst, waxes poetic and beats the ever-love crap out lots and lots of mercenaries, bounty hunters, and prison guards. Not to mention, any game that offers the use of a homemade shiv can’t be all bad.
Back in the now, Starbreeze has returned with a next-gen offering set in the Riddick universe, subtitled Assault on Dark Athena. Assault picks up where the last title left off, both in plot and in style. This is by no means a bad thing, as the hallmark stealth/shooter gameplay is back in full force. Even better is the third method of progress; that is to say when neither sneaking nor guns-a-blazing will do, you’ve always got the option to engage in some interstellar fisticuffs with the enemies you encounter on the Athena’s decks. Luckily, Riddick seems to have put in ample time at the gym to give you a fighting chance.
Where some video games today see to offer a little content at retail, forcing you to buy add-on after add-on to complete the experience, this latest Riddick title takes the opposite approach. In a classy move, publisher Atari has included a remastered version of Butcher Bay on the same disc along with Dark Athena, effectively giving you two games in one. In my opinion, both are certainly worth a play through as they are equally atmospheric, feature exciting combat, and showcase some of the best voice-acting you’ll find.
This compilation also introduces local and network multiplayer into the equation. You’ve heard me say before that, by and large, only the blockbuster titles can get this right and/or maintain a community to play them. In that regard, the multiplayer experience here is neither great, nor unplayable, but it introduces one new gameplay mode that I think is quite notable. I found the new Pitch Black mode to be absolutely nerve-wracking (in a good way). The basic premise is this: one player is Riddick and the rest are hunting him. Riddick can, in effect, see in the dark. The other players are limited to the field of vision illuminated by their weapon-mounted flashlights. If you manage to kill Riddick you become him for the next round. It’s definitely one of the more visceral and tense experiences you’ll find to play through online.
All in all, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena definitely rises above some of the mediocre shooters you’ll find vying for your time and gaming buck. The inclusion of the entire Escape from Butcher Bay title makes it a superb value. Beyond that, Riddick’s brooding environments make a great torture-test for your new TV’s highly-touted contrast ratio. If you choose to partake, just resist the urge to start speaking in an unusually low voice and to oil your muscles.