STAFF REVIEW of Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (Xbox 360)

Thursday, May 7, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Box art The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is actually two games in one; the very successful Escape from Butcher Bay classic that was on the original Xbox, and Assault on Dark Athena; the new expansion. Both take place in the Riddick timeline before the movie Pitch Black takes place and is a great way to see the back story of the character and plot.

The Butcher Bay game is the true star of this title, and even though either game can be played and chosen from the start, it?s seriously recommended to start with Butcher Bay before hand and go from there.

Though playing a remake of a game that?s only about 5 years old may seem boring, I myself forgot almost everything about the game and was reminded how superb the original title truly was with its unique gameplay and mechanics and blended well together.

Keep in mind that this title is 3 different experiences in one; Butcher Bay, Dark Athena, and Online. They should also be played in this order to get the most out of the purchase.

You are Riddick (magnificently voiced by Vin Diesel himself) and you are a criminal sent to Butcher Bay (the futures substitute of a ruthless and inescapable Alcatraz-like prison) to live out your sentence. Being a survivor and knowing you?ll do whatever it takes to live, you manage to break out of your cell and then begin to break your way out of the maximum security prison while taking out anyone that gets in your way, whatever the cost. Riddick is always against the odds and has to face many enemies at once, this is where the darkness becomes his home and he stalks his prey one by one.

Gameplay is a delicate mixture of stealth, melee, gunplay, platforming puzzles, and learning to use the shadows as your cover. You only start off with your fists and you will be forced into some brutal fist fights, eventually handling knives and clubs and eventually guns.

On top of a great mesh of different play styles, Butcher Bay when released for the original Xbox was ahead of it time by breaking the typical movie licensed game gone horribly wrong by also adding amazing voice acting and stunning visuals.

Because Butcher Bay is essentially a remake, I?ll focus more on the changes rather than going through the whole story once again as it can be read up on older reviews.

Improved controls and graphics are the most notable changes from the original release about 5 years ago. Also now having achievements is a nice addition rather than it just being a backwars compatable game.

All the textures looked to have been redone, and it does look better than its original release, but the difference was that compared to the Xbox release, it doesn?t look as good for its time comparatively. On the original Xbox, the graphics for Butcher Bay were astounding at the time, while now they look adequate.

While the visuals have been slightly improved, the rest of the game is intact for the most part; flaws and all. Characters still move very stiff and faces will rarely show any kind of expression. There are also very many shadow anomalies on the characters even during cutscenes that is kind of a distraction. The original minor clipping issue is still in as well, but even being half a decade old now; it still can hold its own in the first person genre.

There was a section in the PC version of Butcher Bay that Xbox owners never got and now console players can use a mech during a part of their escape. It?s not much but it?s nice to have a cleaner, fuller version of the title. Even if you?ve completed the game previously, finishing this version is more than worth it as it?s still a superb title that deserves the play through once again.

Dark Athena happens directly after the story of Butcher Bay ends. It?s an expansion that adds about 6-8 more hours to Riddick?s story, but it?s definitely not a sequel, simply an expansion since it basically used Butcher Bay as a template and not even to the proper degrees as its predecessor.

While you are able to directly choose to play Dark Athena first, I don?t recommend it as it won?t make sense at all if you don?t know the basics from Butcher Bay; that and it?s meant to add value to the Butcher Bay story and gameplay.

There are only a fraction of the characters when compared to Butcher Bay (that was a whole prison), but one of the major pros is that the voice acting in Dark Athena is superb and some of the best I?ve heard in quite some time. Unfortunately the characters that Riddick converses with are vastly underused and make it difficult to actually care about them in any deep way, even when some of them get killed.

Almost everything in Dark Athena is simply recycled and reused from Butcher Bay (mechanics, stealth, and mech sections) yet there isn?t very many improvements that instantly come to mind other than your new trusty weapons; the dual Ulaks that are vicious in any circumstance. It?s a great play that will last a few hours, but it?s the same game.

Dark Athena is also much more linear than Butcher Bay and barely had any side quests to do. In the original title pacing and play styles were very well meshed together, in Dark Athena you are forced into different styles of gameplay at different parts and the pacing is sporadic at best. At times you will be doing a long section of stealth, then a barrage of gunplay, then nothing by traversing and it almost feels like sections rather than an all-together experience.

Where Butcher Bay focused mainly on stealth and melee combat, Dark Athena is almost exactly the opposite and will have you wielding a gun for the last half of the game and simply shooting out lights to make artificial darkness. It feels like it?s a completely different Riddick and while he?s still bad-ass, he?s more menacing when he?s outnumbered and has to use the darkness for cover when taking out enemies one by one.

Drones are a new type of enemy in Athena which are prisoners that are turned into mindless drones. Mindless is the description I used purposely, as the AI in Dark Athena is simply terrible. If you aren?t standing directly in front of an enemy, he won?t have an idea where you are at. You can even shoot enemies that are beside each other and they won?t do a thing even though their partner just got shot a foot away. Also, whenever a drone is taken out, you are able to stand them up and use them like a shield while using the guns attached to their arms almost like a turret. It?s another example of how Athena feels completely different that its predecessor. Even the non-drone humans are just as incompetent and it?s quite disappointing that I can get away so easily even then they have flashlights and can?t find me.

As stated before, Dark Athena is meant to compliment Butcher Bay instead of being a stand-alone title, yet it plays almost completely differently. Relying heavily on guns really disappointed me, but the amazing voice acting almost made me forget it.

Vin Diesel?s voicing is just as good as it was in Butcher Bay and the support cast is equally as good (especially in Dark Athena). The character models and especially facial movements in Dark Athena are also top notch and very expressive of emotions. Everything just seemed to move and sound fluid and authentic.

You will also get used to seeing a lot of blue, which means you are hidden when crouched. Riddick also has his eyeshine (equivalent to night vision) that works quite well for navigating in the dark, but it can become a pain when having to switch it on and off because a bright light completely blinds you, and then you can?t see when it?s destroyed.

Health is a set of boxes in the top left corner and you start off with about 4 boxes worth of health. Punches for example take a few hits to completely deplete a box of health, and when a box is gone, it will not regenerate until you find a med station to refill your health completely.

A feature that any of the original fans wanted from Riddick was an online multiplayer component. Well now there is online multiplayer but it?s quite bland other than an original mode called Pitch Black. Pitch Black is a 5 on 1 mode that pits one person playing as Riddick that only has blades facing off against 5 other soldiers that are using any guns they can find. Riddick can see in the dark with his eyeshine ability and players have to use the flashlights on their weapons. The catch being that the higher power weapons have a lower radius light while the pistols have a might broader light. The player who ends up killing Riddick ends the round and becomes him for the next. It?s very tense to play and quite entertaining trying to find a creeping Riddick in the shadows.

The other online modes are very bland and offer nothing unique at all and found them quite dull and too similar. Even though there are 15 maps to play, the only mode worth playing is the Pitch Black mode. While it may not be a robust offering, at least the one mode is more than enough to keep you entertained online.

I do wonder if we?ll ever get a true sequel for Riddick (possibly between movies in the timeline), but having a rounded back story to the movies is a great way to get more depth on the Riddick character.

Escape from Butcher Bay is still an excellent title if you?ve never played it before; this package can?t be beat value-wise and is a must for those that never got to experience Riddick in his original adventure. The best way to this purchase is Butcher Bay with a bonus campaign expansion and a mediocre online component.

For the price you can?t go wrong for a strong single player experience as on overall package and try to think of both games as a single and longer experience even though it may not be even in quality or experiences. You aren?t going to find a better valued package for the price, especially during this slow time of year for newer titles.

I forgot how great Butcher Bay really was even though I?ve completed it years ago. Even if you?ve completed it before hand as well, it?s worth experiencing again even if it?s only for the achievements. So get comfortable, turn off the lights, hide in the shadows and experience the best Vin Diesel game made to date as the voice acting will truly surprise you and prove that games can have real acting included.

-AI that isn't braindead

-Multiplayer that means something other than one mode

-An expansion that feels like Butch Bay, not Riddick 1.5 with guns.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.8 / 10
Visuals: 8.6 / 10
Sound: 9.2 / 10


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