Richard B. Riddick is the universe’s biggest badass and a perfect example of an antihero. Both a revamp of Escape From Butcher Bay and an entirely new adventure, Assault On Dark Athena has a lot to offer for those who want to strap on Riddick’s cool shades, lurk in the darkness, and knock off a bunch of bad guys.
Even if Starbreeze Studios had merely decided to re-release Escape From Butcher Bay with a high definition graphical upgrade, it would have been worth it. Riddick’s first video game adventure is perhaps the best adaptation from a movie license ever made. It tells the story of Riddick’s incarceration in the prison colony of Butcher Bay and the subsequent events that lead to his escape. Inside, Riddick meets several colorful characters and stirs up enough mayhem to cause the establishment to have a very bad day. Vin Diesel provides the gravely voice of Riddick for the game, and Cole Hauser also makes an appearance, reprising the role of Johns from Pitch Black.
Fortunately Starbreeze decided to continue the story of Riddick after his escape from the prison colony by creating a brand new adventure. Soon after leaving Butcher Bay, Riddick’s small vessel is boarded by a group of renegade mercenaries from a ship called the Dark Athena. Riddick is able to sneak aboard and find out that the leader of the mercenaries, Captain Revas (voiced by Michelle Forbes), is an old enemy. There is a bit more going on in the depths of the Dark Athena than is first apparent, revolving around the Borg-like drones that patrol the ship. Riddick must prowl the vessel and fight his way through the mercenaries to once again make his escape.
Riddick may be a badass, but the tank top he wears doesn’t provide much protection from bullets. Therefore, it is usually best to stick to the shadows and take your enemies by surprise. The game uses a combination of regenerating health and health bars that must be restored by medical stations. Once you start taking damage, you can regenerate it fully if you take cover and stand still, but once you lose a square of health, it can only be fixed by using any of the NanoMed stations found throughout Butcher Bay and the Dark Athena. Lose all of your health squares, and it’s lights out for Riddick. Gunfire can quickly tear you apart if you’re not careful.
There are several times during both adventures that you will find yourself face-to-face with an enemy armed only with your fists or a small shiv. For most, this would be a cause to panic, but as Riddick, these are moments to relish. The melee combat in Escape From Butcher Bay is still just as good this time around the block. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to think of any other game that throws you into a fist fight in the first-person perspective any better. Recently, Mirror’s Edge attempted first-person hand-to-hand maneuvers, but the five-year-old system from Butcher Bay is much more immersive and satisfying than anything Mirror’s Edge was able to accomplish when it comes to fisticuffs. The system works well enough to remain unaltered in the Dark Athena section of the game.
When in a fist fight, you have several options to help defeat your opponent. Holding the left trigger will cause Riddick to raise his arms into a defensive blocking position while pulling the right trigger will initiate a swing at your opponent. Riddick can throw quick jabs, uppercuts, and powerful crosses, determined by the position of the left control stick when you pull the trigger. Good timing also comes into play when countering enemy attacks. Push the button at the right time, and Riddick will perform a devastating counter move such as grabbing his opponent’s arm and punching them repeatedly in the face. Completely wearing an opponent down will also result in a final blow that is always brutal and satisfying to pull off. Every fight is to the death, so you’d better be prepared to deal out some punishment. This system works similarly when you have a weapon in hand, providing options for several types of slashes, stabs, and swings.
While there are several opportunities for staged fights, the melee combat also comes into play when you are being stealthy. Creeping up behind an enemy unaware of your presence will allow you to perform a stealth kill. These are just as devastating as the counter moves in a straight up fight. The tamest by far is merely snapping an enemy’s neck with your bare hands, but why would you want to do that when you can attack with a variety of melee weapons? Each weapons has an assortment of kill animations associated with it, so dispatching enemies from behind never gets old. The most brutal of the melee weapons are the curved ulak blades found in the Dark Athena section of the game (also seen in the Chronicles of Riddick movie). The ulaks are particularly effective because you have one for each hand, as opposed to a single combat knife or club. Unfortunately there is no tea cup.
Now if you want to get the drop on your enemies (sometimes literally), you’ll have to stick to the shadows. Make no mistake, a majority of the game is spent in areas drenched in pitch black darkness. Partway through Butcher Bay, Riddick recieves his eye shine ability that lets him see in the dark. Eye shine brightens even the darkest corner, but stare at a light and you’ll be blinded. Enemy weapons are equipped with flashlights, so you aren’t completely safe in the shadows, especially when they find you and shine their lights in your face. Luckily you are able to toggle eye shine at will. I like to think of it as pulling Riddick’s shades on and off.
“What’s with all this sneaking around?” you may ask. “When do I get to shoot somebody already?” Assault On Dark Athena is technically a first-person shooter, so don’t worry, you’ll have a wealth of opportunities to fling bullets at your enemies utilizing several different weapons. You’ll find everything you’d expect in a shooter like an assault rifle, sub-machine gun, shotgun, and a pistol. You can even find a sniper rifle if you search off the beaten path a little bit. Personally, my favorite weapon is the stun gun with infinite ammo. Shocking an enemy allows you to run up for a close-quarters kill, and it is insanely useful for blowing out lights.
On a somewhat related note, wouldn’t it be useful to hijack one of those mechs that have been hassling you the entire game? I bet that would be an insane amount of fun! I will only say that Starbreeze has you covered and leave it at that.
When you aren’t sneaking around or shooting some guards, you’ll be interacting with other characters. Prisoners in Butcher Bay have things they want Riddick to do for them, and doing so will earn you small rewards such as getting your hands on a shiv. Some requests are required to move the story forward, and some are completely optional. The Dark Athena also houses several characters for Riddick to interact with.
Every character that you encounter in the game is very well realized, brought to life by good animation and excellent voice acting. Even the minor characters are interesting to talk to, and everyone feels completely different. Several of these characters will stick with you despite showing up for a limited amount of time. The main characters are just as well done with Michelle Forbes’ Captain Revas being a particular standout. Of course Vin Diesel’s portrayal of Riddick is the cornerstone of the performances, and he does not disappoint. His dry delivery of Riddick’s dialogue is a treat to hear, making you wish he would talk more often.
The graphics in the game are also especially impressive. Butcher Bay’s hi-def upgrade helps it to stand up to the graphical quality level of more recent games with only some lip-synching problems and a few blurry textures giving it away. The level design is still great, making the prison feel like a real place. The Dark Athena segment looks just a little bit better, even fixing most of the lip-synch problems in the process. The environments may be dark, but that doesn’t mean they look drab or boring. The lighting in the game is done very well, effectively setting mood and tension. When you finally escape from Butcher Bay to see a beautiful red sunset, it feels like a relief after all the dark passageways of the prison.
Assault On Dark Athena also adds multiplayer modes into the equation, something not included in the original release. All of your requisite modes are here including deathmatch and capture the flag. There are also a couple modes that put a slight spin on things such as the Pitch Black mode that has a bunch of mercenaries trying to track down Riddick in the dark. All of the modes are fairly fun to play, but you won’t be finding anything special here. It is pretty much a throwaway feature that is kind of nice to have, but you won’t be missing anything if you skip it.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena is a great game. It is very immersive, has an interesting story to tell, and makes sneaking around in the dark a blast. The revamped Escape From Butcher Bay segment is well worth the price by itself, especially if you have never played it before. The new Dark Athena section is an extremely solid continuation of the story, picking things up right where Butcher Bay left off. The multiplayer modes seem almost like an afterthought, but their inclusion doesn’t hurt anything in the least. If you like playing a game that makes you feel like a badass, then Assault On Dark Athena should be right up your alley.
Final Grade: A-