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The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Review

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  • X360

Dark Athena joins more content to the brilliant, grim Escape From Butcher Bay, which for the most part has aged quite well.


The game makes it clear Riddick is not a man you want to mess with.
Those of you who missed The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay back in 2004 may find it hard to understand why a licensed summer action movie tie-in--starring Vin Diesel of all people and coming from a then-unknown Swedish developer--was so damn impressive at the time. Riddick came pretty much out of the blue and defied all the expectations of its pedigree with a brilliant mixture of shooting, stealth, light platforming and dialog-based adventure elements, and the most vicious, in-your-face first-person melee combat I've seen before or since. It also happened to be one of the year's best-looking and most shockingly yet believably brutal games. Escape From Butcher Bay was a real class act in its own right; the double whammy of its unheralded arrival and its brazen defiance of the crappy-movie-game curse truly made it one for the record books.

Sorry, I get a little misty thinking about how good that game really was in its day.

Now it's five years later, and if you didn't play Butcher Bay the first time around, Starbreeze and Atari are giving you the chance to join Riddick in his escape from the galaxy's hardest slam in a modern context with the new repackaging Assault on Dark Athena. This is a generous piece of content, since it not only contains the entirety of Butcher Bay touched up in high definition and with a few minor graphical improvements, but also an entirely new quasi-sequel episode that takes place directly after the end of the original game. There's a smattering of multiplayer modes here too that range from decent to unnecessary, but which honestly didn't even need to be in here to make this package recommendable to fans of mature, violent action games.

What really hooked me in the original Butcher Bay is how thoroughly and convincingly it immersed you in the role of the galaxy's baddest mother-effer Richard B. Riddick and his utterly grim, fatalistic world. From the moment the bounty hunter Johns (Cole Hauser, in his role from Pitch Black) and the head guard Abbot (played by Xzibit--yeah, the rapper) lead you through the gates of the prison, you're really in that world. You don't just start shooting and slashing your way to freedom; you have to integrate into the prison's hierarchy, wheeling and dealing with the other inmates for favors, for shivs and other makeshift weapons, for information. You spend nearly as much time sneaking through the guards' quarters or engaged in well-written conversations with prisoners as you do sneaking up on people and snapping their necks, or doing the old run-and-gun thing. The game's cast is literally dozens of characters strong, all with unique faces, voices, and personalities, and Riddick's arguably the best of them. He's an amazingly deadpan, badass character, and like him or not, Vin Diesel's throaty delivery really brings him to life from one excellent one-liner to the next.

The melee combat packs a serious punch.
Those kinds of narrative and environmental aspects are timeless, and they carry over into the Assault on Dark Athena episode which picks up directly after you (spoiler!) escape from Butcher Bay in the first game. Riddick is captured by a mercenary ship aboard which the nefarious crew is creating a legion of armed techno-zombie drones from its prisoners. So, of course, you end up fighting a ton of both mercs and the less intelligent drones throughout this campaign. There are plenty of memorable characters anchoring the story here, including the ship's hard-ass captain Revas (Michelle Forbes, who I'll always remember as Ensign Ro Laren from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and a fellow prisoner voiced by Lance Henriksen, of Aliens and plenty of other sci-fi movies and TV shows. (I don't know why most of the dudes in Riddick's world sound like they smoke three packs a day, but that's just one of the many elements that gives it such a hard edge.) The pacing in Dark Athena is less even than in Butcher Bay, but it's got that same gritty reality to it that makes it well worth playing from beginning to end.

If you're wondering why I keep doing that pretentious list-every-noteworthy-voice-actor-and-their-non-game-credits thing like I'm a movie critic, it's because those characters and plenty of others really are such standouts. Some of the one-on-one dialogue-tree sequences in Butcher Bay and even more so in Dark Athena--scenes that would be rote and boring in a lot of other games--are utterly gripping here due to the convincing realness of the scoundrels you're dealing with. These people are absolute scum who range from sociopaths to far worse. One prisoner in Dark Athena in particular got so under my skin with his disturbing behavior that I was both sickened and genuinely relieved when I had a chance to kill him. The game has among the best writing, voiceover, blocking, and character animation I've seen in this sort of game, and that makes these characters so unsettling and your interactions with them so riveting.

In gameplay terms, the Butcher Bay port in this package uses pretty much the exact same blueprint the original did in 2004, and the Assault on Dark Athena episode also relies on those same mechanics, though it uses them in different proportions. The former reins in the shooting, giving the stealth and the lulls in the action room to breathe. Dark Athena leans more heavily on shooting and wasn't quite as engrossing for me for that reason. Both of the games still play quite well after all this time, though it's important to remember going into this package that a lot has changed in five years in terms of game design. Some aspects of the controls and your interactions with enemies feel a little antiquated at times compared to fresher games. The shooting isn't as refined as you might want, and the AI can act a little goofy when you disable lights to give yourself more darkness to hide in. Despite occasional moments of frustration, though, both halves of the Riddick whole offer a gameplay experience that's noticeably different from other first-person games on the market, even today.

"Yo dawg I heard you like weird casting choices!"
At any rate, it must be a credit to Butcher Bay's excellence that its gameplay holds up five years later as well as it does. The same goes for the graphics, which were way ahead of their time in 2004 and still stack up to other recent games in high definition now. Dark Athena does look a bit better than Butcher Bay, though the older game still looks way more than serviceable too. More than anything, it's important to know that nothing here looks like a port from the last hardware generation.

I remember a minor outcry going up back when the first game came out about its lack of multiplayer. I've never understood the idea that every first-person action game should have a multiplayer mode; Butcher Bay was a great single-player experience and multiplayer didn't even need to enter the equation. Nevertheless, you get plenty of online action here. The most interesting mode is Pitch Black, where one player as Riddick uses the eyeshine ability to kill mercs armed with flashlights in a completely dark level. Kill Riddick, become him. This mode is cool in concept but can be hit-or-miss in practice; since there's only one Riddick, you can go several rounds without ever seeing him or getting to shoot at anything, so it sometimes devolves into a lot of blind flashlight-waving. The other modes are inspired by game types you've seen in other shooters. There's a Rocket Arena-style one-on-one or two-on-two mode, and a Counter-Strike-style three-way team battle where you buy gear before each round and deliver a crucial item to a score point. And of course, look for standard Capture the Flag and deathmatch types. But again, the shooting isn't in the same league as games like Call of Duty, so I didn't get a lot out of the multiplayer here.

The real attraction in this package is the one-two punch of Butcher Bay and Dark Athena, which combined will take you quite a while to complete and offer plenty of value on their own. This game went through some turmoil when previous publisher Vivendi shed some of its projects after the Activision merger, but I'm glad Atari swooped in to save the day and I'm glad the developer took the initiative to revive Butcher Bay and give it such a thorough spit-shine in the first place. The more people who get to find out what made--and still makes--Riddick special, the better. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
64 Comments
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Posted by GioVANNI

Looks good. 

Posted by Ping5000

Oh god, nostalgia is currently kicking my shins and smothering my face in fecal matter. Fecal matter that smells like Vin Diesel's abs after an understated voice-recording session and tastes like smarties.


Escape from Butcher Bay defied all logic and natural law by being so astonishingly excellent. I wish the review covered the contents of Assault on Dark Athena more, but the primary reason I'll be getting this is to play EBB again and to listen to Michelle Forbes say words.
Posted by Livlig

I never liked it for the Xbox, but now I feel kind of turned on by this Vin-ilicious remake.

Posted by jNerd

Wow, I wasn't expecting much from this game. I'm suprised people are ok with a re-do. I thought there would be more bitching.

Posted by MrMiyagi

I think this will be a rental for me.

Edited by Cazamalos

brad are you thereeee? how many hours  both campaign last? is there any replay value?

anyway i guess you will be talking about riddick on the bombcast

Posted by Dudacles

I'm so picking this game up.

Posted by Meltbrain

Awesome review, B-rad. I only played Butcher Bay for the first time a couple of years ago, well after it had been released and I did love it to bits. Such an excellent game, and one of the first, if not the first, to include a developers commentary in the Developer's Cut. I think I shall have to pick this up, even though I own the original on PC.

Posted by Jackel2072

Its not the fall that kills you... its the sudden stop. =)

Posted by KingOfIceland

Sweet, I'm totally getting this now

Posted by Venatio

Damn I want this game but I cant afford it right now, I will have to wait

Posted by DJJoeJoe
Where's the button to force you guys to do more video reviews? I want more content of you dang it, you rock!
Posted by mubress

Never played the original, so will almost certainly be getting this. Nice review!

Posted by daniel_beck_90

Nothing like superb voice acting makes me love a game . Fantastic review by the way .

Posted by ExtremeJesus

@jNerd
What do you mean a re-do? There's a whole new game in there as well...

Posted by ahoodedfigure

My old XBox still runs, and I still have Butcher Bay, so there you go.

Posted by raidingkvatch

Butcher Bay was fantastic, I was never not going to buy this. Sweet review dude

Posted by 8th_pacifist

I bought Butcher Bay a few months ago not knowing it wouldn't run on my 360.
Stupid, huh?
I guess I'll trade it in now. Might get a few quid. See if this is worth a purchase.

Posted by Captain_Felafel

You know, you wouldn't necessarily expect a 4-star score from such a glowing review, any reason it isn't the perfect "port + extra content" package?

Posted by simian

EfBB was awesome as I recall apart from the one section near the end. No spoilers you'll know when you hit it. Luckily it doesn't last long and the pace amps up nicely to make up for the sudden weirdness.

Posted by ElectricHaggis

I'll likely play this after my exams when I have some more time on my hands.  Nice review Brad.

Posted by TravisT

Nice review Brad. I never got to finish the first one so I'll be buying this to play both.

Posted by Tordah

Sweet!

Posted by Jackel2072

@Progn0sticator
i think it got 4 stars because from my understanding Dark Athena drops the awesome hand to hand combat of the first game in favor of a more run and gun style of shooter.

Posted by GeekDown

Getting both games makes an it an amazing value but I didn't really like the demo and haven't played Butcher bay so I'm not sure if I am gonna pick this one up..

Posted by Kohe321

Awesome!

Posted by pweidman

Excellent review..4 outta 5 seems spot on.  And I loved the detailled info on the voice acting....makes a good game even so much more immersive and is found too rarely in games.  Picking this up soon:)

Posted by eduardo

The original Riddick was awesome, so I'm tempted to give this a spn. Also, Pitch Black, great film... Chronicles, not so much.

Posted by SunKing

I really want this game but that damn SecuROM...MAN it pisses me off!

Posted by FlipperDesert

Baaaaah, I'm getting so behind games-wise now. I'll make a note to get this when I can, I can dig some Vin Diesel action.

Posted by Hamz

That was yet another great review from our resident Beard boasting Brad Shoemaker :P

Kind of gonna have to buy this game now. I didn't realise Butcher Bay was being included with Dark Athena, never played the first game but now I have the chance. Huzzah!

Posted by Aas

Would a quick-look be possible?

Posted by MeatSim

I gotta get this game sooner or later because I missed out on the original.

Posted by Vod_Crack

This is coming out at the end of the month for me and that sucks... I want it now.

Posted by Jayzilla

so if you have a crappy movie, then you can get a good game out of it? i like that formula.

Posted by Trnck

yo dawg

Posted by Crono

I played the original when it first came out on the Xbox.  The game was excellent but this review doesn't convince me that there is any reason to go back.  Good review.

Posted by Media_Master

nice!

Posted by HT101

@ Hamz: Brad no longer has his beard anymore.  It is a sad day as we mourn the loss of the awesomeness that was Brad's beard.  I really wish I had the money to buy this but I don't so I will have to wait until I do get the money over the summer.  A shame because Pitch Black is a pretty baller movie and Vin Diesel is, well, Vin Diesel.

Posted by Maxszy

Thanks for the great review. Nice to know about the Voice Acting, that can only help!

I wont be getting this right away, but I will be shortly!

Posted by BinaryMind

"the most vicious, in-your-face first-person melee combat I've seen before or since." While Butcher Bay is great in all its parts, tell me the brawling on its own isn't mediocre after playing the even more overlooked Xbox First Person Adventure Breakdown. Do play it.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Cool review, Brad. I am glad this game is good because I could have easily seen them messing up the package with the additions but I am glad they are worthwhile. I will get this one eventually.

Posted by artofwar420

Missed it the first time, not gonna miss it the second time.

Posted by Undeadpool

AH! C'mon, give us a little more warning on that spoiler alert, Brad! I had no idea you'd eventually escape from Butcher Bay! I thought maybe you'd...wind up taking out a lease or something. Integrate Into Butcher Bay not quite as compelling?

Posted by DavidSnakes

"vicious, in-your-face first-person melee combat I've seen before or since"

I'm amazed Brad hasn't seen Condemned 1 or 2.

Posted by eternaLightness

Man my "to-get" list is getting bigger and bigger

Posted by giyanks22

Looks pretty cool.

Edited by Jackel2072

@DavidSnakes

dude this game was made before Condemned 1 & 2.  at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference which one you think is more brutal, but im siding with Brad here. Still the best disarm move i have ever seen in a game. fighting a guard over his gun and in turn forcing him to shoot him self in the head was and still is amazing!

This speaks for it self!

  


Posted by lamegame621

Something really makes me want to play this game now..

Posted by Egge

Nice review, but the idea of playing through the same linear action game I played just a few years ago (with some added content which is basically just more of the same) doesn't appeal to me at all. Why remake relatively new games like Chronicles of Riddick at all, what's the point? Wouldn't it have been easier just to release the original version Butcher Bay as an Xbox Original available through Xbox LIVE, and instead focusing on creating a proper sequel with all-new content?

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