But you dont like Vin Diesel, a friend said to me when I proclaimed my excitement upon getting my hands on a copy of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. True, I wasnt a fan of The Fast and the Furious, XXX or A Man Apart; however, I did like Boiler Room and Knockout Kings. So I wasnt one to run out and see the latest Vin Diesel flick, but almost any first person shooter will get me salivating in anticipation. As I drove home to play, I realized that I hadnt seen Pitch Black, the film that introduced the world to the Riddick character. After making a pit stop for some sodas and a copy of Pitch Black, I rode on into the sunset to prepare for Vin Diesel night, and what a night it was.
Already established in the film Pitch Black, the character Riddick is considered one of the universes most notorious and dangerous criminals. One of the elements the makes Riddick such a difficult animal to hunt is his ability to see in the dark, thanks to a procedure known as eye shine. While eye shine is advantageous in the dark, it can be hazardous in the light, which causes a blinding effect. Thankfully, Riddick has a badass set of wrap around sunglasses to keep those harmful UV rays at bay. Unfortunately, nifty shades wont be enough to stop the carnivorous aliens of the planet Riddick is stranded on. Will he make it through another tough situation? Rent the movie if you want to know. This review concerns events that occur before Pitch Black.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay opens on a small ship transporting prisoners to the infamous Butcher Bay prison. This isnt just any old prison. If the prisoners dont kill you, the prison itself will, and the only way out is in a body bag. At this point, Riddick is already notorious, but Butcher Bay maybe his final stop, bragging that someone like Riddick couldnt even escape. Guess what your overall game goal is? Dont get cocky though. This isnt like any other prison in the world of gaming. Spread out over tens of levels, Butcher Bay offers multiple tiers of danger with cellblocks containing more sadistic killers then any video game in recent memory. Remember, there are no friends, theres only enemies who dont want to kill you right now.
While Chronicles of Riddick appears to be just another first person shooter, nothing could be further from the truth. The best way to describe this game is a full emersion first person perspective game. While the formula is a bit unclear, here is what Ive come up with:
Halo + Breakdown + Deus Ex: Invisible War + Splinter Cell = Chronicles of Riddick
The start of the game puts you in the midst of the general population of Cell Block A, which of course means you are unarmed. Not only are the guards pissed at you, but the leader of one of the many prison gangs wants to claim your head. Whats a convict to do? Be prepared to put up your ducks and settle this the old fashioned way. Its going to be a long time before you get a gun in your hand again. Best find yourself a blade and fast. Needless to say, because of the heavy emphasis on unarmed combat, the fighting system in similar to that of Breakdown without the awkward aiming system.
In the beginning, hardly anyone wants to give you much of anything, especially favors. So walk around and try to warm up to your prison mates. Most of them will just say hey and keep going, while others will ask you for favors, most of which involve killing another prisoner. Like Deus Ex, you have the freedom to choose your own path and decide who you will help out. Best advice I can give is to help out as many people as possible in order to earn items and weapons that will help you along the way. Remember, the choice is yours, so if you choose to be a jerk, the prisoners will treat you like one (but dont let them take advantage of you).
So where does Splinter Cell come into the mix? Perhaps the coolest aspect of Chronicles of Riddick is the means of taking out an enemy. Of course you can go heads up and with fist flying or guns blazing, but there are a couple of other ways that are way cooler. First, you can get all stealthy and sneak up from behind and break a guards neck. Second, should you get caught while trying to sneak up on someone armed with a gun, you can time your hit right and grab the guards gun, blow his head off and take the gun for yourself. Finally, should you happen to be hanging above an opponent, you can drop down and smash his skull into the ground. While all of these are great ways to dispatch any bad guy, sometimes the quieter the kill, the better. Shooting guards can alert even more guards, so take your time, utilize your ability to see in the dark (once obtained) and go Sam Fisher on some unsuspecting sucker.
The gameplay is smooth as can be, and the best part is there are no frame rate issues whatsoever (thank you). The action is fast and will keep you creeping around corners in order to keep from confronting a room full of guards. However, if youre looking for a challenge, best switch over to hard mode right from the get go. Easy and normal difficulty will have you get through the game in no time (After six hours of normal mode, I still had not been killed). Hard mode will keep you on your toes and make sure you utilize the stealth kills rather then going in shooting. Walk into a room of six or so guards and chances are well never see you again.
Controls are standard for a first person shooter type game. About the only thing to get used to is using the right thumbstick to shift your punches from straight head shots to uppercuts, as well as aiming your knife swings. In fact, the right thumbstick may very well be the most important button in Chronicles of Riddick because it also controls your eye shine ability. Similar to Splinter Cell, sometimes the best strategy is to hit the lights and watch your enemies feel their way around. About the only annoying thing in the game is the weapons select function. Not only do you have to use the Y button to scroll through available weapons, but you then have to hit the right trigger to confirm and switch over (not the first game to do this, but still a pain to deal with) which could cost you heavy in both the life and time departments. My advice, dont get caught trying to break a guards neck and have to try to switch weapons in a matter of seconds.
Graphically speakingall you need to do is look to the back of the game case. The best-looking Xbox game weve ever seen, and weve seen them all, so says the Official Xbox Magazine and I couldnt agree more. The little details make this game an instant graphical classic. The flickering of candle light and the shadows it projects are some of the best Ive ever seen. Another of the visual physics that is simply incredible is the blood projection from fighting and shooting bad guys. Instead of the typical random splatter effects, Vivendi Universal used computer simulation programs to determine where the blood would land (it seems kind of sick to be so amazed by something like this, but it is just freaking cool). Finally, the size and dimension of the environments is simply jaw-dropping (take an early dive on of the drop platform in the after you are caught trying to escape and watch just the distance between your cell and the bottom level.
The sounds of the game can really throw you off a bit, both in a good and a bad way. In the sewer levels, you hear footsteps from all sides, which makes you terribly paranoid (and when you see what lives in the sewers, your paranoia will turn to fear). On the flip side, there are a few occasions where you need to listen for a particular voice, and it can be difficult to tell the different voices (three accidental deaths resulted in that mistake). One thing that is a welcome change from the usual is the amazing voice talent; lead of course by Riddick himself, Vin Diesel. Like or hate him, Vin Diesel is Riddick, and he was a necessary component of the game. Finally, the background score was affective enough to enhance the environments, but subtle enough for you to forget about them before the start of the next level.
Whats not so good about Chronicles of Riddick? Not much to complain about. Aside from the common sounding voices in the sound department, everything is in order. One common complaint has been that the difficulty is not balance. People have said that easy and normal are too similar in their simplicity, while hard mode is the only real challenge. Id argue that the easy mode is a fantastic difficulty level for beginners and people whove never played a first person shooter (believe it or not, there are still some out there). It might have been more of an issue if it wasnt for the challenge that hard mode provides players. So just forgo the beginner jitters and go directly to badass mode (hard mode).
Overall, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay breaks the typical licensed game curse (all licensed games suck) and becomes an early contender for game of the year. The challenging levels, the variety of gameplay and the amazing visuals alone make it worth every penny. Dare I say (here comes the hate mail), it would be an even better game then Halo if it wasnt for a lack of multiplayer action. Nonetheless, Chronicles of Riddick will provide many entertaining hours of game play for fans of the Riddick film series and people new to Vin Diesels badass alter ego. For those counting down the seconds until November 9th (or Halo 2 release day for those not reading the forums), let Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay be a nice distraction and tide over your need for some crazy first person shooter fun.