Riddick Continues to Shine
Back in 2004 The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was released exclusively for the original Xbox. Although it was an excellent title, the game didn’t do as well as it should have due to a few very important factors. The first is that it was a game based on a movie franchise, which more often than not is a completely legitimate reason for staying away from a title.
The next major reason was that there just weren’t a ton of Xbox consoles in homes, leaving the game with a very small audience to attempt to win over. Lastly, even once the Xbox 360 was released and quickly gathered a much larger installed base than the original Xbox, the new system’s limited backwards compatibility prevented any newcomers from playing this classic from the previous generation. While it is always sad to see any great game go underappreciated, Escape from Butcher Bay (EFBB) is finally getting its chance to shine thanks to the multi-console release of The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (AODA).
Much like the Orange Box before it, AODA is another prime example of getting loads of gaming bang for your buck. Aside from containing the entirety of the classic EFBB, this package also comes complete with a full-length sequel called Assault on Dark Athena, as well as an additional online multiplayer component. Both of the included single-player campaigns will take around ten to twelve hours apiece to play through, and it can be quite easy to spend just as much time dispatching foes online. As an added bonus, EFBB is also more than just a straight port of the original version, as it now includes a mech driving segment that was previously only available in the PC version and has gotten a complete HD graphical overhaul.
For the uninitiated, both EFBB and AODA’s events take place before those of Pitch Black, the movie that started the franchise, and provide players with insight into a few of the characters’ pasts. EFBB’s story follows the series’ main character Riddick, who is taken to a prison named Butcher Bay by his bounty hunting nemesis Johns. Not wanting to take up permanent residence, players are tasked with escaping this previously inescapable slam using any means at their disposal, including Riddick’s trademark ability to see in the dark. In fact, players will actually get to see how Riddick came to acquire this built in night vision during the course of EFBB.
Players will spend a good amount of time conversing with and doing favors for other inmates trying to find their best possible exit strategy. Aside from these conversations, the gameplay consists of a mix of action, stealth, platforming, melee combat, and some more traditional first-person shooting. While this may sound like a weird blending of elements, it actually ends up being very satisfying. Since you are in a prison, much of the game revolves around using stealth instead of just blasting through waves of enemies. Even after you’ve found a gun, it is often more useful as a tool to shoot out lights to create darkness than as a weapon. Instead, most of the enemies you’ll need to dispatch will be killed using a melee weapon such as a screwdriver or a shiv. Players can take out enemies by either sneaking up behind them and quickly executing them, or by using the game’s hand to hand combat. Melee combat works quite well, using the left trigger to block, the right trigger to attack, and the left analog stick to perform different attacks. Players can even counter an enemy’s attack by pulling the right trigger at just the right time while being attacked.
AODA picks up right where EFBB left off with Riddick and Johns in cryosleep flying through space. Their spaceship is found and taken aboard a massive merc ship named the Dark Athena that is under the control of an unstable captain named Revas. Of course, as Riddick, you evade the boarding party and must make your way through the Dark Athena in order to escape with your life. This is made more difficult because of the army of drones, think remote-controlled Borg without the hive mind, that are constantly patrolling the ship’s hallways. Sadly, while some of the early parts of AODA will allow players to continue using the mixture of stealth and melee combat that was so satisfying in EFBB, most of the game encourages you to play it like any other first-person shooter. This can be fun at times, especially when making use of powerful new weapons like the SCAR gun that allows you to shoot sticky mines that can be detonated at will, but it definitely feels like a step backwards for the series.
Still, no matter which campaign you are playing, there is plenty of fun to be had. Besides the more straightforward gameplay that is included, you’ll also occasionally find yourself in some over-the-top action sequences. These segments work as a nice distraction from the rest of the game, as every so often you’ll be able to get behind the controls of some sort of overpowered mech, or even a drone or two, and attempt to take out hordes of enemies. While each of these portions share a common goal, they still manage to feel different, as controlling a somewhat fragile drone is quite different than piloting a virtually indestructible heavy guard.
Visually, you will definitely see a difference between EFBB and AODA. Even with EFBB’s new HD coat of paint, you’ll still notice some graphical issues such as glitchy and disappearing polygons during in-engine cutscenes and some pretty poor lip-synching. AODA looks much better but isn’t without its problems either. During the course of both games, you’ll frequently witness many weapons and items floating in the air. While this doesn’t really adversely affect the gameplay, hovering objects tend to ruin the feeling of immersion that is otherwise being cultivated. Still, these are only minor annoyances that don’t overly hinder the experience and will hopefully receive a patch post-release.
The final piece of the AODA package is a competent online multiplayer component. When EFBB was originally released it didn’t have any form of multiplayer, at least partially due to the fact that it would have felt really out of place. However, now with the more shooter-focused AODA also being on the disc, the online multiplayer seems like a better fit but still comes off as a little unusual. Here you’ll find some standard modes like deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag as well as new offerings like Arena, Butcher Bay Riot, and Pitch Black. Arena consists of one vs. one or two vs. two matches on a small, enclosed map with the winners staying to face the next challengers and the losers having to watch and wait for their next turn. Butcher Bay Riot has three teams (guards, prisoners, and mercs) facing off against one another in an attempt to gain control over a power module. In this mode, players will earn cash for killing enemies and capturing power modules that can be used to purchase better weapons, armor, and ammunition between every round.
Pitch Black was perhaps the most enjoyable of the bunch, pitting a group of mercs against one player controlling Riddick himself. These matches take place on very dark maps, giving Riddick the advantage. Mercs will need to rely on their flashlights, firearms, and teamwork if they hope to take Riddick down before being killed themselves. Whoever controls Riddick will earn points for killing unsuspecting mercs using the trusty Ulacks, your only weapon, while merc players can score if they harm or kill Riddick. If someone does happen to kill Riddick, then that player will become him for the next round. This mode was fairly interesting, especially since the more powerful guns also have much weaker flashlights.
In the end, AODA is a great package well worth its asking price. Getting two excellent single-player campaigns as well as a sizeable online offering should please fans of the original game and newcomers alike. While there are some minor graphical issues that can be found throughout both games, they thankfully never adversely affect the gameplay. If you happened to miss EFBB the first time around, you shouldn’t make this same mistake twice, especially since it now comes with the addition of another full new game and online multiplayer on the same disc.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
While Escape from Butcher Bay does slightly show its age despite its updated visuals, and there are a few graphical hiccups to be found in Attack on Dark Athena, as a whole, both games look great. 4.2 Control
Everything controls well and the weapon select wheel is an excellent addition that makes playing both games much more user-friendly. 4.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work is well done, the soundtracks are great, and the sound effects are lifelike and help to immerse you further in the game world. 4.6 Play Value
With an updated version of the excellent Escape from Butcher Bay, a sequel single-player campaign, and the addition of online multiplayer, you’re definitely getting a lengthy and enjoyable experience for the price. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.