The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena

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8.5 Overall Score

Amazing voice acting, character models and lighting effects | Internesting and ijmmersive narrative | Represents one of the year’s best values in gaming

Some graphical glitches | Some uneven gameplay | Multiplayer modes are mediocre

In the movies, the portrayal of Richard B. Riddick never quite meshes with the mythos surrounding him, the allegedly fearsome escaped convict coming across as either too tame (Pitch Black) or too lame (The Chronicles of Riddick). But in the games, like in the darkness, he shines. In 2004, Starbreeze Studios’ The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay shattered expectations by being not just a serviceable interpretation of the movie’s universe and characters, but a pitch-perfect fusion of innovative gameplay and interesting narrative that finally gave us a Riddick worthy of the reputation of universe’s biggest badass. Now in 2009, Starbreeze and Riddick are back in The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, a full-blown sequel that comes packed with a beautifully remastered version of the Xbox original and a new multiplayer component. Even though the new Dark Athena content doesn’t achieve the delicate balance between sneaking and shooting that made Butcher Bay such a memorable experience, the two combined represent one of the year’s greatest values in gaming.

 

Five years after its initial release, Butcher Bay can still hold its own with the current crop of games, a testament to Swedish designer Starbreeze’s commitment to making more than just another movie tie-in game. The visuals have been given a high-definition overhaul, courtesy of Dark Athena’s graphics engine. Granted, you won’t be mistaking this for a new release, as it starts to show its true age when it comes to the stiff animations, flat textures and chronic lip-synching issues, but overall it looks surprisingly good. The tweaked lighting effects especially enhance the experience of sneaking around in the shadows, jumping prison guards and shivving fellow inmates before once again cloaking yourself in darkness. Aside from adding the bonus mech level from the PC version of the game, which temporarily renders you an unstoppable killing machine, the gameplay is the same perfectly balanced blend of stealth and action. You could race at enemies face first, hoping to take them down with a well timed swipe of your screwdriver or blast of your shotgun, but it is far smarter and healthier to keep to the shadows, sneaking up on your enemies and taking them by surprise. Stealth is the name of the game, and it feels as fresh as ever thanks to the tight pacing, strong narrative and brilliant voice acting.

Picking up where Butcher Bay leaves off, Dark Athena starts with Riddick and Johns having escaped the titular prison planet only to be captured by the Dark Athena, a ship full of rogue mercs who prey upon anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path, killing, capturing or converting them into Borg-like drones. This sets the stage for lots of murderous mayhem as you make your way through the ship via the ventilation ducts, performing favors for prisoners awaiting drone conversion, killing off mercenaries, piloting mech suits and tormenting Captain Gale Revas, voiced by Michelle Forbes of Battlestar Galactica and Half-Life 2 fame. She really does a great job bringing her character to life, infusing what could have been the typical thankless villain role with a sense of world-weary malevolence that’s truly creepy. It’s one of many cinema-caliber performances. There isn’t a single weak link in this well-acted cast –Diesel might be the main attraction, his gravel-voiced comebacks making you wish Riddick were more of a chatterbox, but even the minor characters are made memorable thanks to the excellent voice work and smooth character animations.

 

As for gameplay, the controls are largely the same but Dark Athena quickly diverges from Butcher Bay’s stealth-oriented blueprint when guns are introduced, shifting the focus from sneaking to shooting rather than blending them together. At first the only guns you can use are those anchored to the dead bodies of drones, but soon you’ll be packing a small armory worth of firearms, including a pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, submachine gun and eventually the S.C.A.R., an infinite ammo grenade launcher that allows you to fire up to five sticky mines with the right trigger and detonate them simultaneously with the left. As cool as Riddick’s trademark double-wielded Ulak blades are, you’d be crazy to bring a knife to a gunfight, a mindset reinforced during the game’s second half which transports you from the cramped corridors of the Dark Athena to the bright and open spaces of a besieged colony planet where ammo is plentiful and cover is limited. At first it’s kinda fun to see Riddick running around in the sunlight, unfamiliar territory for our nocturnal-natured predator, but having to constantly and cautiously peek around corners for fear of unmanned spider turrets or gigantic robot sentries just isn’t our man’s style, making him seem more hunted than hunter. It’s not that these sections are terrible, seemingly psychic enemy A.I. aside, they’re just not terribly original. In Dark Athena, the stealth and shooting sections feel like completely separate entities, making gameplay in general suffer in comparison to Butcher Bay’s seamless melding of the two.

Starbreeze has addressed one of the first game’s major criticisms, adding a competent multiplayer component to Dark Athena. All of the standard modes are accounted for, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag. There are also a couple of unique modes, like Butcher Bay Riot which pits three groups – mercs, guards and prisoners – against each other for control of a power module. But the best of the bunch has to be Pitch Black, which casts one player as Riddick and up to five others as heavily armed mercs, who have to flush him out of total darkness with their flashlights if they don’t want to meet a nasty end. The neat twist is that the stronger the flashlight, the weaker the weapon, meaning players not blessed with Riddick’s preternatural night vision will have to choose between firepower and visibility. The role of Riddick is constantly changing, with the merc who takes out the escaped convict becoming him, but it can be fun to play on both sides of the beam. That being said, you won’t be missing anything if you skip the multiplayer, though it does add some extra value to an already value-packed title.

 

Even though the new content doesn’t feel as balanced or original, it’s still easy to recommend The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena. Taken as a whole, it is one of the best movie games ever made, one whose blend of adventure and atmosphere perfectly captures the spirit of the films without feeling rushed or redundant. The high definition remake of Butcher Bay looks and plays better than ever, thanks to the new character models, improved lighting effects and tweaked gameplay. Dark Athena picks up right where Butcher Bay leaves off and proves itself to be a solid continuation of the story, bringing Riddick up to speed with the current crop of first person shooters. If you’ve never played the original game, or are looking for a fun if not perfect expansion of the Riddick universe, this is your chance.

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Author: Kristen Spencer View all posts by

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