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'Riddick' assaults a new generation of gamers

May 8, 2009

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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With such an intriguing video game alter ego, it's a mystery why Vin Diesel would ever want to go back to the big screen and rehash his character in the 'Fast and Furious' franchise, or any other for that matter.

The guy is tailor-made to play the merciless, tough-as-nails loner Riddick in the 'Chronicles of Riddick' series. The latest chapter in the series, 'Assault on Dark Athena' only proves that point even more.

The Chronicles of RiddickFor the uninitiated, 'The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay' still stands as one of the best games to be released on the original Xbox. Set before the events of the cult movie classic Pitch Black (which also stars Vin Diesel), 'Butcher Bay' turned the first-person genre upside down, focusing on stealth, conserving ammo and a real sense of fear.

It came out of nowhere to blow away critics, and the game has been redone in 2009 in high definition for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles. But beyond that, an added chapter has been put together, called 'Assault on Dark Athena.' It's set after the events of Butcher Bay, with Riddick landing on a mercenary ship in the middle of space, which he has to fight his way out of. There is also a multiplayer portion (which we'll touch on later).

'Dark Athena' plays very much like 'Butcher Bay', which is to say, kind of like Splinter Cell but in a first person view. With Riddick's ability to see in the dark, along with his almost complete lack of firearms, it's often preferable to sneak quietly past enemies than to engage them directly.

It's also a lot of fun.

Though Riddick is plenty capable of snapping a man's neck with his bare hands, he'll earn a pair of ulaks (think razor-sharp brass knuckles) early on in the Dark Athena campaign. The enemy he'll encounter most are drones, which can be taken out like anything else - sneak up behind one and slice and dice. Once a drone is down, Riddick can use the gun it carries, but he can't remove it or move, so the tradeoff is - lots of bullets, but at the cost of mobility.

The Chronicles of RiddickIf you're a trigger-happy gun slinger who wants their first person shooters full of non-stop action, the Riddick games will not be for you. There really is a lot of sneaking involved, and unfortunately a fair amount of trial-and-error as you figure out the best way to get around guards. There are some fantastic all-out action sequences mixed in here and there, but for the gamer who simply just wants to hear shell casings hitting the floor, the time involved in getting to these sequences won't be worth the effort.

Speaking of guards, the AI in both Riddick campaigns is extremely smart, and sometimes annoyingly predictable. For the most part, there are only two scenarios - stay in the dark and never be caught, or step into the light, even for a second, and be found instantly. There is no grey area here, and it can make the game frustrating. Moving through some rooms becomes almost like a puzzle - move to the next shadow, just as the two guards turn around at just the right time, and make sure not to make a sound. Do anything wrong whatsoever, and you'll be sighted, killed in a hail of gunfire, and forced to start over again. Yes, this can be fun, but only to a certain extent before it becomes annoying.

The shortcomings are definitely outnumbered by the successes though, and for every negative, there are at least a few positives. The controls feel rock-solid, the graphics are superb, and the voice acting is second probably only to the Grand Theft Auto series in terms of overall quality.

Pacing is a little awkward, as it seems the developers almost threw in the aforementioned action sequences to appease impatient gamers, but we do like how combat comes into play in different ways throughout the campaigns to change things up. If you like hand-to-hand combat, there's a whole mission that involves squaring off against several prisoners in jail. There are several sections where you have to make use of nothing more than a shiv or a screwdriver to take out members of other gangs. And you better hope you have sneaking down to a science before sneaking up on a guard with a rifle in his hand.

It's not all perfect, but there should be plenty in both the 'Butcher Bay' and 'Dark Athena' campaigns to make gamers quite happy with their purchase.

The Chronicles of RiddickIn terms of multiplayer, The Chronicles of Riddick does a respectable job, but this is no 'Halo 3'. Games are very fast-paced and feel almost Quake-ish. Lag is a problem though, in that when switching weapons or zooming in, there is always a split-second delay. This shouldn't happen in any online game, especially not one as quick-moving as Riddick.

The biggest thing going for the multiplayer is the 'Pitch Black' game mode, which pits several players who play as grunts with guns, against one player who controls Riddick himself. Levels are set in almost completely dark environments, and all players have to see are the flashlights equipped with their guns. Riddick of course can see in the dark, so it's a race to kill or be killed. Whenever someone kills Riddick, everyone respawns from a set point and the cat-and-mouse chase starts once again. Whoever kills Riddick becomes him at the beginning of the next spawn.

But besides this game mode, everything is fairly by-the-books. It's a nice addition to add to the overall package but the real draw here is the 'Butcher Bay' and 'Dark Athena' single player modes.

Though it hasn't aged quite as well as we assumed it would, 'Escape From Butcher Bay' is still worthy of another playthrough, and certainly worth checking out if you missed it originally on Xbox. 'Assault on Dark Athena' is a solid followup as well. Both of these campaigns combine to make for a pretty darn good value.

 

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Starbreeze
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site: http://atari.com/riddick/

Rating: 7.5 / 10

 
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