Heavy handed action
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay had an atmospheric combination of action and stealth that managed to be entertaining, even if it was a bit short and straightforward. Five years later we get a remake/expansion pack, Assault on Dark Athena, and it seems that not a whole lot has changed for Riddick in that time. Dark Athena provides the same brand of heavy handed action that its predecessor did, and delivers it in a similarly brief package. The result is a mixed bag whose validity will most likely be determined by your budget, aesthetic tastes, and history with the Riddick franchise.
The basic gameplay structure of Dark Athena is essentially unchanged from Butcher Bay. The game still toggles back and forth between stealth and shooter oriented action sequences, and delivers them with the same heavy handed gusto that Butcher Bay did. Being linear in design with light controls and simple enemy patterns, Dark Athena demands more or less a brute force style of play, which I found to be both refreshing and grating. It's kind of nice to know that the game will always lead you from one action sequence to the next at a snappy pacing, but it can also be frustrating to not have any real input on such proceedings. This frustration becomes especially apparent on the higher difficulty settings, where you may be forced down a hallway containing statistically superior enemies, and only by cheeseballing the game's simple mechanics can you push your way through. It's moments like these where the game's clumsiness makes itself extremely apparent, and reinforces the notion that Dark Athena is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill action/stealth game.
Which, of course, doesn't always have to be a negative. Dark Athena certainly isn't a bad game, and so long as you aren't put off by its shallowness and occasional rough edges (slightly janky controls, clipping issues, etc.) you'll probably have a fine time running through the game's campaign. You'll enjoy it even more if you're a fan of the Riddick universe, as the game contains its share of references to the films, and otherwise provides solid fan service. Vin Diesel voices Riddick with appropriately blunt one liners, and the whole vibe of the game reeks of the same dark atmosphere that fans of the franchise have come to love. At the same time, if you didn't previously enjoy the Riddick mythos, then Dark Athena probably isn't going to change your mind. This is very much a game that was made with established fans in mind.
Most of my Dark Athena experience was a hit or miss affair, but there is one feature that could push many potential purchasers one way or the other. Namely, while Dark Athena clocks in under a modest 10 hours, it also comes packaged with a remastered version of Butcher Bay. Seeing as the whole shebang will run you $60, I have a hard time recommending it to those who have already played Butcher Bay. However, if you missed Butcher Bay five years ago, then $60 seems to be a perfectly reasonable price for the combination of these two games. So long as you can handle a middle-of-the-road action game.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.