I imagine its rather tough being around Mr. Richard B. Riddick. It’s bad enough that you will get stabbed, shot, beaten, run over by a mech, thrown into rotating blades etc. Worse is that the man is incapable of holding a normal conversation. Any dialogue is only, and only answered with an over the top macho one-liner. You would think that this would start to grate after 14 hours of gameplay, but Vin Diesel’s gravely, film noir voice somehow manages to make it sound fresh every time. So towards the end when a particular bad guy proclaims, “I am the baddest motherf**ker in the universe”, you can’t help but grin when Riddick quips back, “I’ll make sure they tattoo that on your corpse.” I guess in a way that’s what the game is like too; there is a part of you that feels that the game is repeating itself at times, but it’s so much fun that you don’t really care. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a combination of two games – the 2004 Xbox cult classic Escape from Butcher Bay and the new added-on campaign Assault on Dark Athena. It also has a multiplayer game tagged on, which no one (quite literally) is playing. The gameplay across both the campaigns is a mixture of stealth, combat (guns and hand to hand) and some occasional puzzles. But it’s in stealth where the game is at its best. That’s not to say that the combat sections are bad; far from it – hand to hand combat is brutal and engaging and gunplay is always tense and swift. However, there is a constant feeling that whenever you move from stealth to all out war, the game is a little less fun and you are just slogging through to get to the next place where you can hide in the dark and snap someone’s neck.
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So it’s a good thing that most of the game is played in a Thief-style stealth perspective. The mechanics of it are simple; shadows and cramped spaces are good, bright and wide open areas are bad. You creep around in the darkness waiting for someone to obligingly turn their back on you and then you pounce with the melee weapon of your choice for a brutal, fast takedown. And when I say brutal, I actually mean it. There are enough people getting stabbed in the face to make it feel like God of War at times.
All of this works fairly well most of the time, but it has its flaws. For example, if you get caught, your options become limited; very limited in fact. With the game not handing you a gun to carry around, it’s usually you versus half a dozen well armed mercs. And you literally have brought a knife to a gun fight. Stealth games work as long as you have an option to fight out of a tight situation. Or a quicksave key.
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The problem here though, is compounded because the game has a rather finicky check-point save system. About 90 percent of the time it will work well, but every now and then it will decide to really screw you over. So after clearing out a tough area, you will be spotted by a lone bad guy who will start shooting at you. And the next thing you know, his friends have joined him to serve you a lead sandwich. And once you die, the game throws you back where you were 10 minutes ago. This quite frankly is inexcusable. I imagine they did away with the quicksave system that was present in Escape from Butcher Bay (PC version) to amp up the difficulty, but they might have gone overboard with it. Thanks to the finicky checkpoint system and some tough battles around the last half of each campaign, the frustration can mount up pretty fast.
Speaking of campaigns, Escape from Butcher Bay is perfectly balanced between stealth and combat. The game keeps mixing things up brilliantly to keep you entertained. Just when you think the tension of creeping around in the dark is going over board and becoming ineffective, the game throws you into a mech suit. The feeling of invulnerability that gives you is a perfect release of the pent up tension of having to sneak around. Between all of that, every now and then the game will throw some weapons your way and turn it into a regular FPS. It even has some rather clever puzzles that add even more variety to the gameplay.
Next page: The verdict