Thunderbolt logo

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay was quite the enigma when it came out some four years ago. How could a game based on a critically panned summer action movie turn out so fantastic? The unique blend of stealth, action, and classic adventure mechanics were all tied together neatly in a first-person package, delivering what is now regarded as a classic. Starbreeze, the relatively small studio behind Butcher Bay, went on to craft the cult hit The Darkness; now, they’re giving gamers a double dose of Riddick with Assault On Dark Athena. The disc is crammed with two games – a remastered Escape From Butcher Bay and the all-new Assault On Dark Athena, as well as multiplayer modes. Each campaign is fairly long by shooter standards, and the inclusion of multiplayer in a previously singleplayer-only game, that’s one hell of a value.

screenshot

“Players are given the option to sneak, shoot, or weasel their way through various sections of the prison.”Of course, it’s only really valuable if the core experience is any good. Riddick is an odd pill to swallow at first: the game combines so many styles together at once, it can be a little overwhelming. In the first campaign, Riddick, the infamous interstellar criminal, has been brought to Butcher Bay, a maximum security prison run by a sadistic man who looks and sounds like a gay space nazi. The game features a huge amount of dialogue for an action game, and a wide array of side-quests are available at various points throughout. Players are given the option to sneak, shoot, or weasel their way through various sections of the prison. Butcher Bay offers a massive amount of freedom for a story so linear.

Dark Athena, on the other hand, is much more focused. Through a comedy of errors, Riddick winds up on a mysterious space cruiser where things are clearly suspicious and rotten. Once again, Riddick has quite a few options up his sleeve (or tank top, as it were), but the amount of side quests and choices in regard to getting from point A to point B have been whittled down a bit. The trade-off is that Dark Athena‘s giant spaceship is even more exciting to explore than Butcher Bay‘s titular prison; the ship oozes personality and atmosphere, and the gorgeous graphics are a step up from the remastered Butcher Bay – and that game is damn pretty, as well.

screenshot

“The fighting is bloody and intense – a visceral experience akin to a first-person Bourne movie. “Combat is where both games excel. Riddick has a wide variety of weapons to choose from, ranging from screwdrivers to shotguns. Melee combat is extremely satisfying, and the array of animations keeps it fresh at all times. The fighting is bloody and intense – a visceral experience akin to a first-person Bourne movie. However, it’s possible to avoid confrontation, as Riddick’s trademark is total darkness. Using night-vision allows players to see in the dark after cutting the power, shooting out light sources, or simply skulking into a dark tunnel. Stealth takedowns are a great way to get through Riddick, especially since players can drag bodies into shadowy corners to avoid suspicion from ever-prowling guards. Still, if blasting through the opposition seems like the most appealing choice at hand, there are plenty of futuristic firearms that can get the job done. Riddick sports an on-the-fly cover system where Riddick will aim his gun in whatever way makes the most sense at any given moment. For example, crouching behind a crate will force his arms into a position firing either around or over the box. It’s extremely fluid and intuitive, and considering how easy it is to die in the game, a welcome feature.

screenshot

On the multiplayer front, things aren’t quite as unique. The modes pigeonhole the great gameplay into a basic “run around and shoot each other” series of gametypes that are entertaining, but mediocre compared to the campaigns and their unique features. Thankfully, there is one mode that alleviates this sense of disappointment: Pitch Black. In a Pitch Black match, one player assumes the role of Riddick, while the rest of the players are cast as soldiers hunting him down. The maps are dark and full of shadows and places for Riddick to hide, but each guard packs a mounted flashlight; however, the stronger the weapon being carried, the weaker the light from the attached lamp. These matches are the stuff of nightmares, and an absolute blast. It’s like the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse; and honestly, it’s the only mode that really needed to be included with the game. Pitch Black is the only multiplayer mode that comes close to capturing the essence of Butcher Bay and Dark Athena‘s gameplay.

screenshot

“In Dark Athena, every conversation is animated in wonderful detail, with moody camera angles and lifelike animations that blow Butcher Bay‘s out of the water.”The presentation of all of these various pieces of Riddick is fairly impressive. Butcher Bay was praised upon its release for having beautiful graphics – of course, that was in 2004, so its received an extensive overhaul since then. The textures and lighting are fantastic, and the eerie music helps complete the sense of dread the game is trying to convey. Dark Athena, on the other hand, is obviously built up from scratch. While Butcher Bay is impressive, its geometry is nowhere near as complex, and the cutscene animations are decidedly wooden and dated – especially the faces, which make many characters look like puppets. In Dark Athena, every conversation is animated in wonderful detail, with moody camera angles and lifelike animations that blow Butcher Bay‘s out of the water. Dark Athena tends to err on the side of style, whereas Butcher Bay still exerts a huge amount of substance.

In the end, it’s a little disappointing that Butcher Bay is the better game included in the package. Dark Athena is by no means bad, but it’s a bit like coming on after Bill Hicks at an open mic; no matter how good your set was, the performance in front of you set the standard. Still, it’s a great deal having both campaigns on one disc, as each one clocks in at a fairly lengthy 12-15 hours. Unfortunately, after finishing both adventures, there’s only one online mode worth playing. Granted, it’s a fantastic experience, but it’s too bad that the rest of the offerings are so bland. The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena is a great package that is sure to please fans of unconventional gameplay. It’s just a tad annoying that the star of the show came out four years ago.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.