You know it is very rare in this day and age to find a good movie to game title or a good game to movie. I have to admit I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to my movie and game translations; most of them have been appalling. I did quite like Enter the Matrix and the whole franchised story experience that came from it.
I was a bit perturbed when I heard that we were getting that same kind of treatment via another fairly well established, if a low budget (at the time) movie character in the dark future horror genre. I am speaking of course about Pitch Black the film that has now spawned not only a great sequel (But see the US Unrated) but one anime and a very atmospheric game on both PC and Xbox.
This is the first of what will be Games Xtreme's new style of reviews that come with a comparison of the game on the various formats, we're trying something new so bear with us as we ease into it.
Before I talk about the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay's story I really want to take a few moments to bring people outside the Cult of Richard.B.Riddick into the whole scheme of things, because unlike most movie to game tie-ins the team behind the films and the game know what they're talking about.
If you want the whole Riddick experience you really need to play the game, watch the movie: Pitch Black view the anime: Dark Fury and finally catch the Unrated US version of The Chronicles of Riddick in that order. It's not really required but it's one heck of a ride if you do, the story is richly told between all of these mediums and we begin thankfully with the game.
Riddick is an escaped con, a mean badass killer that moves from system to system dodging mercs and bounty-hunters a-plenty; of course they say that every dog has his day. Enter Jones, a smart-talking and ambitious merc with a grudge against Riddick ten-miles wide.
The first main CGI takes place after the anime, and sets up for a few twists for the actual game and Unrated Riddick movie.
Butcher Bay as a proper game opens with a scene aboard a prison transport where it's obvious from the outset that the game is set up to be story driven, which is a good thing to see in what was originally a console only title. Riddick is his usual mean-talking bad-ass self and it transpires that this is one of the most cunningly crafted tutorial levels in a game, one that has a twist in the tail or should that be tale?
I can only say that the use of sharp narrative, gritty dialogue and the odd black humour really does increase the merit of this already well-crafted rollercoaster of a ride.
An area that thankfully remains the same on both PC and Xbox is the way the game plays, most of the time it's in a first person action view and you can view Riddick's hands, feet and so forth. When interacting with scenery and objects we get a short cinematic view of the main man himself, and it looks like Riddick which is something that a lot of movie games usually fail in.
Not this one.
When Riddick climbs or is involved in a situation where you as a player might need to see him, the camera spins out to a third person view again and allows for finer control, especially when you're using monkey-bars to avoid highly suspicious and dangerous prison guards.
The game is an action game with some interesting stealth moments and some hair-raising white-knuckle running from overpowering odds. Yet it manages to pull this off without a hitch in my eyes, I have really no gripes about the whole shebang, except that the game is a short one on the Xbox. PC owners have something to look forwards to, since they have actually added extended levels and new ones to the PC version of the game, including where Riddick gets to steal a suit of powered 'Riot' armour.
Riddick also features a slick first person hand to hand combat system that leaves the one on Project Breakdown standing at the starting line. The system is easy to use and has a small learning curve, not before long you will be blocking and lashing out with fists, shivs and even a hammer at one point.
Riddick also has some stealth-kill moves that are accomplished when crouched, sneak up behind a guard and choose to either kill them quickly (a fair amount of noise) or silently. Depending on what Riddick has equipped at the time in the way of hand to hand equipment, depends on the kill.
The same goes for blocking in combat with a weapon equipped, if you time it right you can knife a guy and kill them in one. Guards can have their guns stolen if you charge at them in hand to hand and get close; the animation for this is particularly cool.
I think I prefer the PC mouse and keyboard combination control wise over the Xbox controller since it makes aiming/shooting a lot easier, there seems to be a bit more control over the fighting system as well. But I can happily play both of them with no real complaints.
Riddick can make multiple choices in a conversation but these are really only minor cosmetic things, they can lead to interesting side-quests and more trouble if you pursue them at all - generally they involve wasting someone or finding something someone needs.
Later on in the game Riddick gets his trademark 'eye shine' and things become a little more tactical, as bright light can blind him. Shooting out lights is quite useful and might alert the guards - of course, you're Riddick, they ain't no problem...as he would say.
The Xbox delivers its formidable style and gritty atmosphere well, the environment effects and the special effects are suitably impressive. There are all sorts of nifty graphical tricks, the shadows are gorgeous and the various levels are well detailed and full of individual design features, lots of care and attention to how things look has been paid to this game graphically.
The PC version when hooked up to a nice graphics card has even more bells and whistles, utilising some of today's new features and bringing the level of atmosphere up even more.
Again on the PC the textures are sharper and clearer than the Xbox version and take advantage of the latest graphical enhancements in the industry, but as you may have learned from me - I don't talk tech turkey at all. The texturing in Riddick brings to life the grungy slam that is Butcher Bay and from each scrawled bit of graffiti to every bloodstain you know you're inside one of the system's roughest prisons.
The Xbox version of the game only lacks in a couple of places but unless you happen to have seen the PC version in action, you won't really notice or care much for that. It's still a damn fine job of painting and lighting the various environments and areas that Riddick can explore.
This one area that shouldn't differ really but between the PC and Xbox version you can tell the PC only levels have been made to the same exacting standards as the original Xbox console version. The level design for Butcher Bay is really top notch; the developers have brought to life the slam with a meticulous attention to detail and design. The cells are suitably small and cramped; the open areas of the prison are just sparse enough to remind you this isn't a holiday camp.
There are a good few surprises in store and some of the levels have a few routes for you to get to certain objectives without being seen, or at least they lessen your chances of being seen.
There are no noticeable changes between PC and Xbox version here.
All of the characters in the game are modelled extremely well, Johns, Hoxie and especially Riddick all look the part and they are given the same attention to detail as the rest of the game. The slam guards and various other entities are slightly less detailed but it's only a minor thing really, they lack variety but then again when you're in the far future and you want to emphasise the faceless nature of The Man, this is what you do.
I particularly love the Riot control armour which reminds me of the early Terminator Space Marine models from Games Workshop and Warhammer 40K, this adds a hard edge science fiction style to the game and universe that gets my vote.
Weapon designs are also excellently done with the rifles and various guns looking the part, bulky and not very pretty. There's also a selection of hand to hand combat weapons like knuckle dusters and shivs (knives).
The PC and Xbox version doesn't differ at all and the animations on both formats are as good as each other. There isn't really much I can say about the actual animations except that to my eyes they're pretty flawless and the hand to hand animations are some of the best I have seen yet in a game of this type.
Again there's no difference between PC and Xbox AI. The AI in Riddick however could have done with tweaking a little bit, sometimes the guards are too sharp and they'll pick you up even if you are crouched in shadow. It can lead to some annoying moments when you think you've hidden a body in an area with a lot of guards and one comes over to check on his missing friend, only to track right to where you and the body are.
It's only a minor gripe of mine but it can spoil the whole feeling of being such a badass as Riddick.
In combat the guards are pretty well trained they'll get into cover, try and use team tactics and hunt you down if the lights go out (some have torches on their rifles). This can be pretty exciting since the combat system allows Riddick to drop on enemies from a height and knock them down in a small cut-scene. This happened when I was on a metal-grid floor and ended up being spotted, the guard shot at me, the floor gave way and both grid and Riddick dropped on his head - result, guard taken out.
No difference between formats, the music in Escape from Butcher Bay remains dark and foreboding for most of the game, matching the whole Riddick universe from movies to anime. It builds as the action kicks in and subsides as you return to a more normal quieter stealthier mode of play.
An aural feast for the right set of speakers and set-up on both PC and Xbox. Riddick sounds pretty gorgeous and pumps out environmental audio effects by the bucket along with suitable weapon effects, the scream of bullets hitting various surfaces and the heady 'thump' of fist on flesh from the hand to hand combat.
Vin does his character justice with the same dry and dangerous tones we know and love so well. He's joined by an all star cast such as Dwight Schultz (Howling Mad Murdock - The A-Team, Star Trek TNG Lt. Barclay). Ron Pearlman (The Beast from Beauty and the Beast TV, Hellboy from Hellboy and Reinhardt in Blade 2) adds his dulcet tones to the game as well, the list is pretty endless. The oddly named Xzibit performs admirably as Abbot, the dangerously psychotic right hand to Hoxie, the warden of Butcher Bay. Xzibit also adds his likeness to the game and it is a pretty stunning one.
The voice work in this game on both formats is top quality and I cannot find a single fault with it.
Are there any downers to this great game? Well yes, the real downer is that a dedicated gamer like me can play through it in 12 hours flat and finish the game with very few reloads on the Xbox. On the PC version it may take a little longer with the additional levels and material, but even being able to unlock concept art and extra videos by finding or buying cigarettes isn't enough to make up for having such a great game so short. I am also sure that someone will complain there's no MP across either format, well, Riddick is a singleplayer game plain and simple.
Regardless of the length of the game though I should point out that what you do get is a perfect addition to the Riddick Universe and it should be noted that in some ways it outperforms Doom 3 for atmosphere and downright scariness. It's well worth getting especially if you're a fan of Vin and the whole Riddick mythos, it answers many questions the movies don't and provides a good insight into the penal system of Riddick's future.