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Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

I used to write articles on a monthly basis for my local newspaper. It was a great little job for me because I get to write about video games and movies and unlike these reviews, I actually got paid for it. I started a ìBest Entertainment Betsî column that I used to discuss my top picks for upcoming games and movies, and I picked the Chronicles of Riddick DVD as the best upcoming DVD. I received quite a few comments about my choice. Many people hated the film. I guess I can understand their point, but I think a lot of people are overly harsh against it because they think Vin Diesel is some muscle-bound dumbass. Though the movie might have been sketchy in some peopleís minds, the inevitable video game tie-in, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay turned out to be one of the best games for the Xbox.

For those unacquainted folks who’ve never had the privilege of watching either Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick, the basic plot goes something like this: you play as a notorious criminal named Riddick, a man wanted all over the galaxy for murdering hundreds of people. Mercenaries never give him the alone-time he craves, so he kills them. After that, more mercenaries come and they disturb him and then he has to kill them too. Itís a very viscous cycle for our hero to say the least. But, he isn’t always perfect. He’s eventually captured by a man named Johns and this is where the game begins, with Riddick being brought to the Butcher Bay prison colony to serve out his sentence. While the bosses are busy discussing the bounty on Riddick’s head, Riddick sets out to make friends and figure out an escape route.

Riddick is a fast-paced first-person shooter. Itís fortunate that the game is linear because of the speed you’re forced to act with. Youíre an inmate running for freedom. Thereís no time to stop. Around every corner is a new obstacle, perhaps a small puzzle to figure out in order to progress or a giant mechanized robot that wants to tear you to bits. At the same time however, itís a stealth game that encourages you to hide in the darkness and wait for the safest possible time to attack your adversaries, often through behind-the-back attacks. What sounds out of place in a game that Iíve already described as a fast-paced FPS actually weaves into the gameplay in a wonderful and entertaining way.

Riddick is often without weapons, especially in the beginning of the game. Youíll be forced to go toe-to-toe with your enemies, and the hand-to-hand combat works very awesomely. The hand-to-hand combat in this is very fluid and fast paced. Combos are executed simply by pressing in different directions on the left analog stick, but the moves never grow repetitive or tiresome because youíre constantly alternating strategy. Sometimes you’ll sneak up on them, and you can shoot your enemy with his own gun or you can sneak up behind then and snap their necks. Of course, it wouldnít be a first-person shooter without, you know, shooting, and though it doesnít offer 17 different weapons (each with alternate fire), Riddickís stable of firearms prove useful in most situations. Youíll use basic weapons like screwdrivers and shivs, and eventually youíll gain access to assault rifles and shotguns. The game only lets you access a few weapons at a time, which really works well to add to the design of the game.

Possibly the coolest way of killing your foes involves Riddick’s vision. One of the coolest things about Riddick is that his ìeyes are shined.î When itís dark, the click of an analog stick (which triggers Riddick to remove his goggles), the room lights up, without that annoying shine of a flashlight that only attracts unwanted attention. Itís much more fun to shoot out the lights in a room instead of the guards in it, take off Riddick’s goggles, and creep up on them for a much more entertaining execution. For fans of the movies, Escape from Butcher Bay explores how Riddick got his eyes shined in much more details than the movies ever did, so check it out if youíre looking for more information on the Riddick universe.

Even if you arenít a fan of The Chronicles of Riddick though, Escape from Butcher Bay still will offer up a lot of fun. The AI is solid, oftentimes cornering Riddick or creeping up on him slowly after noticing him instead of just standing somewhere and unloading dozens of clips of ammo in your direction. Theyíll duck for cover, and I never found them doing stupid shit like running into walls or spinning in circles, which is another plus. To go along with the great AI, the level design is some of the best on the Xbox. The prison is gritty and overcrowded and could definitely use a cleaning service to spruce things up a bit. Youíll spend a lot of time crawling through vents and climbing ladders and boxes, but thereís very little backtracking through the same areas because of multiple paths the developers included.

Escape from Butcher Bay looks better than most of the games on the Xbox, even the most recent ones. The character designs are top-notch, especially for Riddick, who was photo-realistically modeled after Vin Diesel. As I mentioned before, the levels that you will explore are gritty and grimy and just what youíd expect in a futuristic prison. Every other character looks good as well, though the guards all look the same (they wear uniforms with helmets though, so my complaint is about as valid as complaining that all the storm troopers in Star Wars look alike). There is some flickering and blurring, and obvious sign of a lack of perhaps experience with such a powerful graphics engine in the hands of the developer, but most of the time this can be overlooked and isn’t distracting. Vin Diesel not only provides the likeness for Riddick, but also provides the voice-over, and superstars like the rapper Xzibit join in the fun to provide voices for the rest of the cast members. The musical score kicks in during combat and is also nicely done.

With all this gushing, youíre probably wondering why this one isnít a solid ten out of ten. Two reasons: no multiplayer and the game is incredibly short. Multiplayer in this game could have been awesome, even if it was simply two-player split-screen. Imagine, you control Riddick and one of your buddies controls a mercenary, and Riddick must try to get to a point without being killed in order to ìwinî the match. Riddick would be unarmed, while the mercenary could be in one of the giant robots or in full-armor with a weapon. This would be awesome, but the best we can do is imagine, because while the game is Xbox Live aware, thereís no multiplayer content to speak of. As for the gameís length, I was able to beat Riddick in three sittings, accounting for about seven total hours. There are cigarette packs scattered throughout the game which unlock a bunch of extras like concept art and stills from the movie as well as the first chapter of the book adaptation of the movie, but they arenít quite enough to satisfy. Riddick is an excellent game and a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but unfortunately the game is far too short. I was left craving a little too much. Riddick is a worthy addition to any Xbox gamerís collection.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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