PC REVIEW: CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: ESCAPE FROM BUTCHER'S BAY: DIRECTORS CUT

The Chronicles of Riddick: EFBB appeared on the Xbox a few months back and received positve feedback from the gaming community. Simply put, Starbreeze took us by surprise by releasing a smart well designed FPS that broke convention and just happened to star Vin Deisel and was based on the cult movie Pitch Black released in 1999. Could anyone have predicted this game would be worth playing? Sometimes life is like that.

Chronicles of Riddick the movie released this past summer has little to nothing do with Escape From Butcher's Bay aside from the main character and thats a blessing in disguise. This game is essentially a prequel to Pitch Black which introduced Riddick's ati-hero qualites and thus gamers unfamiliar with the subject matter won't be missing out. In fact, it sets up the events of Pitch Black to an extent and thus will act as a springboard to a new fanbase.

This Director's Cut of the game is equally as brilliantly executed and for the first time perhaps EVER, actually lives up to it's promise of being a Director's Cut. Fans of the Xbox game will find there is a lot to like during their return to Butcher's Bay, especially if they have the horsepower to run the stunning visuals at warp speed.

While the game plays identically to its console counterpart, it's the extras that will get Riddick fans excited. Included in this cut are enhanced visuals, new enemies, a new level and a commentary track which can be unlocked. All of the extras are worthy, but it's the commentary track which blew me away. It's absolutely revolutionary and it works wonderfully. As you wander the areas of Butcher's Bay, the developers will provide you with details, anecdotes and maybe even reveal some secrets of the game. You will definitely see this feature again in future games. Absolutely brilliant and would be worth the price of admission alone even if that were the only enhancement.

Starbreeze took some chances when it made the decision to remove the typical heads up display (HUD) in favor of allowing subtle details to remind you of health, stealth and taking damage. This uncoventional approach allows the gamer to further involve himself within the confines of the games reality. For example, if Riddick crouches in dark areas he will be in stealth mode and the screen will turn a hue of blue or if he is taking damage, a flicker of white bars will appear - but only when the impact is felt.

Weapons located in Butcher's Bay are not plentiful and in fact, some can't even be used thanks to a DNA feature on guards weapons which will shock anyone if they pick it up. Of course there are ways around these unfortunate predicaments at times... Riddick can also rely on his fists which can get him out of tight situations. The first person fisticuffs scenario has been done before (Namco's Breakdown) but never to this extent of success. Beating down guards with a flurry of punches is extremely satisfying and some challenge-hungry players might like to see how far they can get with their knuckles. The barefist fighting is quite detailed and combos can be executed depending on directional moves. You'll even be able to pull off countermoves which will catch you by surprise, so I don't want to ruin it here.

To keep the game cemented in its own universe, Riddick can interact with dozens of inmates, each with their own unique stories, objectives, look and voice. It will be entirely up to the player to chose whether Riddick wants to take on these side quests then, later or never (replay value!) and their inclusion only adds to the illusion that Butcher's Bay is a living, breathing, dank, hellhole completely separate of Riddick and his situation. Further to this, the developers abolished the tradtional linear level mechanic and instead allows the game to flow freely without resorting to fancy level splash screens which only result in the suspension of belief and remind the player that they are indeed sitting at home playing a game, rather than fighting their way out of a brutal scenario.

Since no one would ever accuse me of being a Vin Diesel fan, I was surprised at how much his overall presence in this game didn't bother me one ioata. Perhaps it's because he already plays videogame characters in film that the juxtaposition works in this digital interactive format. His tough-talking, no-nonsense Riddick is the perfect protagonist for a game like this and Diesel takes the subject matter seriously, rather than mocking it with Arnold-like catchphrases and oneliners played for cheap ironic laughs.

Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 eye candy buffs should take notice that there is a new kid in town. The Xbox version was one of the graphical standouts of 2004 and Starbreeze manages to up the ante on their personal best with the visuals in the Director's Cut. You won't find beautiful lavish outerworlds in Butcher's Bay, but the dreariness of the prison and the subtle visual details of the innerworkings within are sure to catch your eye. As well, the guards, prisoners and Riddick himself are some of the most realistic looking polygon characters you'll see this year. The level of detail in the facial contortions alone are benchmark raising.

The voiceacting also works in a way which supports the entire experience a thousandfold. Diesel's delivery is perfect for the gaming world and while he carries the game on the heroes side of things, all of the other actors are equally as impressive. The episodic soundtrack appears when things heat up onscreen but back off during quiet moments and while it works better this way, it's almost too bad because the music is definitely worth listening to.

Difficulty modes are selectable and you'll be overjoyed to find out that while the hardest difficulty provides a challenge, it's not Halo 2 on Legendary - which means it's accessible to most gamers to enjoy once they've been through the game once or twice.

While there are some issues to knock, a package like this which truly stands on it's own two legs is hard to fault. The lack of multiplayer will annoy certain gamers but since Starbreeze spent so much time delivering a game that will revolutionize the FPS genre (and I believe it will) they can be forgiven for not including a half-assed multiplayer game. Another issue is the sheer horsepower you'll need to get this baby working to your liking. If you've read the minimum requirements and are going to take a chance, just don't bother. Minimum requirements should be outlawed from PC boxes. They're a joke.

What you've got here is a game that doesn't have a lot of high impact hype surrounding it, but it's just as good, if not better, than most FPS shooters available. Doom 3 can't even touch the class that exudes from this Director's Cut. If you have a PC that can handle it - even the high end ones might experience a hiccup in framerate or two - then I demand that you play it, even if you've played the Xbox version. Hats off to Diesel himself who had a hand in the development and to Starbreeze who are destined to create great things to come.

 

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System: PC
Dev: Starbreeze
Pub: Vivendi
Release: Dec 2004
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
5.0
GRAPHICS
5.0
CONTROL
4.5
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
4.0