The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (Xbox 360)
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Release: April 7, 2009
More often than not, video games based on movies are, to put it gently, awful. Fortunately, some decent film-based games do slip trough, and I’m happy to say that The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a decent enough game. It does suffer from a few problems, but the overall game play, eye catching graphics and outstanding sound design make this a worthwhile purchase. Certainly, one of the great things about this game is that you get not one, but two games. Not only do you get the new Assault on Dark Athena game, but you also get a remake of 2004’s Escape from Butcher Bay (which was release for the original X-Box). Butcher Bay is apparently regarded as a bit of a classic, and it’s nice to see it brought up to date for the PS3 and 360. It’s too bad that the follow-up is just a mediocre shooter that doesn’t make good use of its central game play element, namely, Riddick’s ability to see in the dark.
Escape from Butcher Bay serves as a prequel to Pitch Black, and shows how Riddick got his most unique feature, his glow in the dark eyes. It also serves to fill in the back story between Riddick and William Johns, his jailer from Pitch Black. In the game, Riddick is sent to the titular prison of Butcher Bay, and immediately plans to make his escape, while fighting his fellow inmates. Assault on Dark Athena follows that story up with a similar one as Riddick is captured by mercenaries and again has to escape, this time from a space ship. Butcher Bay has a fun story, as you see how Riddick got those amazing eyes, and how he makes his eventual escape. Dark Athena also has a decent story, but feels more like a retread, although they do use it to explain some of Riddick’s softness for kids.
One of the main highlights of the game is the voice acting. It’s like a B-movie and Sci-fi Channel who’s who: Lance Henrikson, Michael Rooker, Michelle Forbes, Ron Perlman, and the one, the only X to the Z (or Xzibit). Of course, the man that holds it all together is the big guy himself, Vin Diesel. Between this and the Iron Giant, I’d be okay of Vin limited himself to only voice acting gigs. Something to say about the script though is language gentlemen, language. I haven’t heard this many F-bombs dropped since the last Tarantino film. This is not to say it doesn’t fit in with the plot of the game. I mean, you’re running around in a futuristic prison; I’d expect the language to get a little blue, but just be prepared it. The script is fun though, and Riddick has a lot of good one-liners, and the whole thing feels like it could be one of the movies.
The fighting works okay, although it’s not very complicated. You generally use your fists or other hand to hand weapons, and after a few punches, the game takes over and has Riddick dispatch his enemies in a variety of brutal ways. It looks pretty good when he does one of these kills, it’s just a shame the player doesn’t have more control of it. Basically, this is a first-person shooter without a lot of the messy shooting, at least until the second part of Dark Athena, at which point the game becomes a big of a frag fest, which is not to the benefit of the game play.
One major issue with the game play is the absolutely horrible AI. It might be okay if the enemies were consistently dumb, but unfortunately there are times when the enemies have no idea if you’re right next to them, and times when they can hit you with pin-point accuracy from across the level. This can lead to a lot of frustration at times, or can lead to some head scratching moments. It’s the unevenness that annoys me. The other issue I had with the game is that for a game that wants you to sneak around a lot, they sure go out of their way to make sneaking as worthless as possible. I found that in general, it was always better to have a gun and shoot it out then to sneak around. Going back to the worthless AI, at times you can be doing what needs to be done to sneak around the level, and it will work, and then there are times when the enemies can spot you while not moving in a pitch black room. It’s this kind of thing that makes sneaking a pointless exercise.
There are some online multiplayer options included on the disc. You get the standard FPS multiplayer games; Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, as well as some game specific modes. One mode, called Pitch Black, has one player assume the role of Riddick, while the rest of the players try to hunt him down. Arena, is basically the same as Deathmatch, except it takes place in one big room. The third mode is Butcher Bay Riots, which pits three teams against each other as the try to control the flag. They’re all fairly standard, and while it’s nice to have them on, they don’t really add a ton of replay. You’ll be playing more traditional online FPS games before you put this one in.
Overall, you can’t argue about the value you get with this game. Two full length games for the price of one is a good thing in my book. Fans of the films or fans of the original release of Butcher Bay will want to give this a look as well, but if you’re looking for a great FPS, well you won’t find that, but you will find a title that’s at least worth a rental. And if you’ve been waiting for that third Riddick movie to come out, you may as well play this to pass the time.