It's been a while coming and if you've kept an eye on this site and the previous reviews for the original, the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was one of those games that garnered a high mark from virtually every game site on the planet - it was the movie tie-in game that proved that movie games didn't have to latch onto the story and could follow their own storyline without messing with the film or having to shoehorn in the requisite flying, driving, boring sections of films.
Now it's back for the 360 and brings with it a brand new escapade, Assault on Dark Athena - along with some multiplayer too that has an old school Quake/Unreal Tournament kind of feel.
Richard.B.Riddick must escape one of the most brutal slams in the universe in the EFBB segment of the game and discover along the way, just how he affects the lives of others. In Dark Athena the game picks up after EFBB and pits Riddick against the mercenaries and crew of a massive sprawling pirate ship that picks up derelicts and spacers, transforming their crews into something less than human, meat-puppets that can be used as frontline soldiers, remote controlled warriors.
Riddick is a game that plays from the first person perspective and switches to third for various events, such as climbing a ladder, hanging from a hang-rail and climbing up onto a box, using a Nanomed machine and many of the game's dialogue related exchanges/cut-scenes. It can feel jarring for first time gamers expecting a straight first person experience but doesn't harm the game at all in my opinion.
Gunplay (there are several pistols, rifles and so on) is not a requirement in many sections of the game and there's a fairly slick stealth system that allows Riddick to get the drop on his enemies, you can fall onto them and you'll automatically take out one of more closely packed bad guys or you can sneak around and quietly take them down with a single button press. Light and shadow plays an important part and you need to drag the bodies into the dark to hide them well. The screen tints blue to show you have effectively hidden yourself and you can use this to gauge good hiding places for stiffs.
The controls are simple enough to learn, there are in-game tutorials for the first time player and the various techniques you'll need to survive in both Butcher Bay and Dark Athena are introduced with a slow learning curve. Stealth isn't a requirement in either game; however, it helps to deal with some of the more tenacious enemies that Dark Athena throws at you and some of the more resilient opponents of Butcher Bay such as the Riot Guards.
Riddick's trademark eyeshine is there and helps when you douse the lights, either with a swift shot from your weapon of choice, or by a melee smash with the butt of a gun. It can work against you when the enemies shine a light directly in your face, fortunately you can turn it on and off with a touch of a button.
Along the way you're going to have to get used to melee, suitably improved from Butcher Bay and retroactively applied to the rebuild. Hand to hand can happen with fists or with various equipped melee weapons, from knives, shivs, clubs and maces in BB to the mighty Ulaks in Dark Athena, Riddick's curved knives from the movie. These weapons are a beast and they will make quick work of an opponent if you can get to grips with them. Hand to hand has suitable visual cues that indicate when you can counter an opponents attacks, usually this results in a bloody display of retribution as Riddick lives up to his name and skills. A melee weapon will glint, or Riddick's palms will open slightly if he's fighting bare handed.
Health works on a regenerating scale, as long as you can avoid losing a full block and find a safe place to hide, you can regenerate that block back. Once the last sliver is gone though, so is the block. There are various upgrade units around the levels that you can locate; these will permanently increase Riddick's health. Some are in out of the way places and can easily be missed. Explore everywhere, especially if you discover vents that don't seem to be in the direction you're looking to go.
There are also packs of smokes in BB that open up extras, as well as Bounty Cards for Dark Athena.
Butcher Bay has been augmented a little as well in terms of Gameplay, all of the changes from Dark Athena have been retroactively applied to the BB chapter and the sections from the PC version of the game have been added and revamped, as well as several areas from BB that were too confusing. There's a section that involved some hard to navigate sewers, these have been tightened up and now it's easier to get through, less frustration and a slower respawn rate to certain enemies.
Riddick also plays with the concept of Hub levels; in BB you have a large prison area and some interesting side missions. Dark Athena has something similar and allows you to return to the same place to learn more about what's going on. Many people would see this as padding, however, it's done so well in both games you very rarely feel that you're being made to replay the section again, just pass through it on the way to another rendezvous with the Athena crew and Riddick's Ulaks.
I'd mention more about the drones, but I am going to let you find that out for yourselves.
This all adds up to a highly polished Gameplay experience that still remains strong to this day, right up against the market leaders.
Rather than just take the game and port it from Xbox to Xbox360, Starbreeze have taken the game and rebuilt it from the ground up. There's no old textures that have been reused, no level design that has been revamped. They have rebuilt the game and it shows if you look at the comparisons between the old 2004 and the new. The prison's corridors are even more detailed, better lit and have far more character than they did in the previous iteration. The levels have a bigger feel to them and of course with the new lighting they can take advantage of better shadows and design than before.
It's not just the levels that have been remade; the models too have been given a brand new look. There are significant changes in many of the key characters, Hoxie (the Warden of Butcher Bay) has been given a more reactive face, the hands now have better articulation with their fingers and the various subtle differences to the models textures are echoed in their clothing as well. Hoxie is wearing a totally different costume in the 2004 game. Every model you can think of has been redone and retextured.
Not content with remaking the graphics, Starbreeze have also redone the animations, they are more fluid this time around and take into account a wider array of combat moves in hand to hand. There is still the odd glitch where a stealth kill doesn't sometimes line up properly; it's not a game breaker though when you're having so much fun. There's also a greater degree of emotion to the character's faces as well as more motion to their bodies in general.
Riddick always seemed a little physics light, not having as much boom as other games. This remains the case, though the reactive physics in combat are excellent and you can shove people around, knock them on their ass and in turn they can do the same to you. It makes the hand to hand very visceral and brutal. In gun combat a headshot will take a single foe down and it will take more shots to the body or limbs on many guards. The physics system seems a little more Hollywood for the firearms and people will often fly backwards flailing through the air - again who cares when you're having so much fun.
Having spruced everything else up, the AI has been polished some more, it takes advantage of cover a lot more...it can sneak around and it will often use teamwork tactics to flush you out. When in the dark it will activate a flashlight if that option is available, if not, then most of the time it will dig in and wait for you to make a mistake. In hand to hand combat you can be swarmed by several enemies at once and they won't wait for Riddick to make the first move, or attack one after the other. They also react to dead bodies and unconscious team mates.
The sound design has been redone, there's a lot more in the audio palette this time around and the various atmospheric and spot effects of both chapters are an excellent way of building the whole suspension of disbelief. Weapons have a nice aural quality to them and the hand to hand sounds solid.
A great soundtrack accompanies the game and it has been extended to cover Dark Athena, this has its own themes and evokes the personality of the ship.
Voice and Dialogue
A trio of great writers including Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten have returned to the Riddick-verse and re-done the script, polished old dialogue and created more for Dark Athena and the extra parts of EFBB. The voice cast does an extremely good job with this solid script (tipping its hat to the Riddick movie more than once) and it was great to hear Lance Henrikson cast as one of the characters; he delivered his lines with panache and great timing. Vin of course plays Riddick well enough and the true star of the show is the Captain of the Dark Athena herself (Revas as performed by: Michelle Forbes), an excellent and hateful character. Hoxie returns with the voice of Dwight Schultz and Abbott is just as gritty as ever in Xzibit's mean and moody hands.
The original was panned for not having multiplayer by many gamers, most press didn't care and I was one of them. Rather than feeling completely shoehorned in ala The Darkness, Riddick's multiplayer actually feels pretty Ok. It's not ground breaking and it might be a little too Quake or Unreal Tournament style for many gamers out there, lacking the quality of something like Call of Duty 4. There's the usual capture the flag style game, deathmatch, team deathmatch and some others that are the staple of the multiplayer arena. There's also Pitch Black mode than could have been a really good stealth based hunt for Riddick.
However it falls flat because it degenerates into a typical fps multiplayer experience and griefing pretty quickly. Kill Riddick, become Riddick... and so on.
If you missed Butcher Bay the first time around or you're a fan of the old game then this 360 outing is tremendous value for money. You get the Escape from Butcher Bay and Dark Athena chapters of Riddick's story, with the Dark Athena chapter weighing in for me at around the 10 or so hour mark. I can imagine both chapters taking a player around 12 hours each to finish if they're looking to play it sneakier than I did and find a lot of the bonus items. You get a solid but essentially lack-lustre multiplayer mode as well, all for the price of just one game.
One caveat I will give you, Riddick earns its rating and if you're not fond of swearing - then this game isn't the one for you.
I would like to see another Riddick game from Starbreeze for definite.