fnord's The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (Xbox) review

A good movie-based game?

It’s not very often that a movie-based game, or, for that matter, a game-based movie, has been any good. Such abominations, such as E.T., or Charlie’s Angels, or ones so bad they’re painful to bring back into memory, such as Ringu for Dreamcast… *shudder*. Occasionally, you will find a good game based upon a movie, such as GoldenEye for N64, or the recent Lord of the Rings games, where the game is as good, or sometimes surpasses the movie experience.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
, I’m happy to say, fits into this second category; this is a movie-based game that all companies wishing to make a movie-based franchise game should look to for inspiration. What makes this game so great? Well, let me start by talking about how it overcomes the main problem movie-based games have experienced in the past. While the game does tell more in regards to the recent movie, and his previous film, Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, it is a completely different story from either movie. The movie explores something touched on briefly in the first movie, Riddick’s escape from the Butcher Bay Correctional Facility, also where he received his unique “eyeshines”, the ability which allows him to see in the dark. Because of this, there is no need to shoehorn a plot which was designed for non-interactive entertainment into a gaming experience. No convoluted plot, no hokey and contrived sequences to get you to follow the plot of the movie, and no levels which duplicate some sequence out of the film.

Because this is a completely different story, the game creators have the ability to create and expand upon the Riddick universe, and they do a very good job of it, of fleshing out various aspects of Riddick’s past, and the universe, which you never would get to see in the movies. The plot generally involves Riddick, voiced and modeled by Vin Diesel himself, trying to do everything he can to escape from Butcher Bay, the inescapable prison. There isn’t much more to the plot, other than constantly trying to escape, and delving further into the depths of the prison, as you are captured and put into progressively stronger and stronger areas of the prison, and you causing problems and trying to escape. Alright, so the plot isn’t going to win any awards for creative writing, but it gets you to the action of the game pretty quickly, and you never really miss the complex plot; in fact, a complex plot would seem out of place in this game.

As mentioned above, Vin Diesel himself provided the voice and model for the main character, but unfortunately, as the game is a first-person perspective game, you don’t get to see Vin as much as would seem prudent in a game featuring him as the main star. The camera will pull away from the first-person perspective occasionally during cinematics, or when you heal, or when you’re on a ladder or overhead bars, but other than that, the game stays constantly in first-person perspective. The game does employ a body-awareness system, such as in recent games such as Thief: Deadly Shadows, so your point of view is actually from Riddick’s eyes in the realistic model, so if you look down, you will see feet, which is a nice change after so many years.

The game itself looks and sounds amazing. The developers used a system called “real mapping”, which is basically using a light-map from a high-polygon object projected onto a low-polygon model. What that means to people who don’t speak technogeek is that the game looks surprisingly good; well past what should be capable on the XBox. With the model of Vin Diesel, you can see the care they took to make everything look correct. The only thing I can really say bad about it is that, while it does look damned good, they have yet to get to the point where the models are expressive the way a human would be, so looking at the models in the game, you get the constant impression that something is wrong with the person, especially with the eyes. But, since Riddick spends two thirds of the game with goggles on, it stopped bothering me. But it is a real testament that the developers could squeeze enough juice out of the XBox to make the characters seem almost completely convincing as real people.

The voice acting in the game is also top-notch, with Vin Diesel providing the voice to go along with the body, and various other people from the Riddick universe showing up in the game as well, such as Cole Hauser reprising his role as Johns, Riddick’s bounty hunter. I was quite surprised to see Ron Perlman in a roll as well, as well as Xzibit, who’s on a show on that MTV thing the kids are all crazy about these days. Vin Diesel himself provides the lines of Riddick in a sort of low growl, which tells you that he could, at any moment, flip out and kill someone, which is basically what happens anyway. The game is also peppered with enough foul language that you’re going to want to keep this one away from the kids and grandma.

The game itself is a blend between stealth and action, with each option being available at every opportunity. While Riddick has the ability to see in the dark and hide, he also has the ability to beat people senseless and use various weapons to even the odds against the heavily armed guards. A lot of the game does involve prison combat, using your fists, a homemade knuckleduster, or even a shank. The game normally provides you with several different ways of getting from point-A to point-B, and every option is available to you, so someone who enjoys more stealth-based action can run around snapping necks, while someone who enjoys fighting can run around and beat practically anyone into a bloody pulp.

All in all, this is a very good game, with a bit of challenge, and plenty of side-quests that will have you going back trying to unlock all of the various concept art and pictures from the recently released movie. The game is a little short, and you may have to load a few fights over and over again till you get it right, but this is an excellent game which attempts to out-do Halo, and, except for the missing multi-player component, it succeeds very well as a single-player game. Sadly, since there is no multi-player, there is no real need to bring this game out at parties. Still, if you want to play Vin Diesel playing a badass, then give this game a try.

4 “shined” eyes out of 5.

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