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The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
In 2004 on the old Xbox, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was out to audiences and was the best licensed game, one of the best first-person shooters ever and definately one of the finest games released on the otherwise half-baked original Xbox. However it's been half a decade later and times have seriously moved forward. High quality shooters have been released like Call of Duty, The Orange Box and Gears of War and standards have changed considerably since Riddick's released half a decade ago. But now, Riddick returns with a remake of the original adventure, a brand new campaign which follows on from Butcher Bay and a multiplayer component to attempt to boost the game's longevity. Does it provide an experience to trump the original?
There are three parts to Assault on Dark Athena, so let's start with Butcher Bay-the remake of the Xbox original game. It was a fantastic game for it's time and still holds up today, even if it's not as groundbreaking as the original. The story follows Riddick, the biggest badass of the universe who is captured and taken to one of the most dangerous prisions in the galaxy called Butcher Bay. But rather than sitting there are simply doing his time, Riddick must escape from Butcher Bay by any means neccersary and though on multiple occasions it fails miserably, Riddick still tries to escape as he is sent down to the mines, put in maximum security and even frozen in cryo-sleep chambers. The story is fantastic, thanks to engaging characters which each have their own personality and agendas, a brilliant setting with the dark, dank prision environment and incredible voice work and dialogue.
Butcher Bay is essential a mix of very different genres. First-person shooting, stealth, RPG elements and melee combat are all put into the pot and come out very well because of how excellently they are implemented into the game. The objectives don't require one specific method most of the time-you can either sneak past everyone, performing stealth kills if neccersary, or go in guns blazing yet either way, if your method is well planned, it will probably work meaning there is a lot of freedom. However, at first your weapons are limited as the guns from guards can only be used by people who have entered their DNA into a system meaning anyone else who tries to use them will get fried by electric volts. It's a unique and interesting take on weapon restriction, meaning you need to ask around the prision and perform side missions and other objectives to get your hands on some melee weapons like Shivs and clubs to defend yourself.
Unfortunately, most of the time as soon as you overcome the weapon restriction you are captured meaning you lose all your weapons again. It keeps you on your toes and means you must figure out a way to get more weapons. The melee combat, which you will rely on when you don't have any guns, is fantastic as it captures a raw, visceral feel as you punch up a guys face. Towards the end, you can perfom a brutal finisher on enemies like stabbing a knife into a guys mouth, which is satisfying and awesome to watch. The gun combat is good too, as it uses the same aiming system from The Darkness. Thanks to powerful weapons, the gunplay is satisfying and most of the time, you won't have a problem using either method of combat in any situation. The action is also broken up by some light puzzle solving which doesn't slow down the action too much, but breaks up the shooting sections very nicely. You can also perform side missions on Butcher Bay like finding a Red tube for one of the inmates or taking out all of the blue skins in the prision area.
The other main campaign of Riddick is Assault on Dark Athena. Here, the story takes place immediately after the events of Butcher Bay. In an Alien 3 esque event, your ship is hijacked by a mercenary ship while you and your crew are in cryo-sleep. Riddick awakens pre-maturely though, and hides before the mercs capture the crew. He now is trying to find out what happened to the crew while finding a way to repair a ship and escape the Athena. The story on Athena is good, but not as good as Butcher Bay. Characters are still fantastic, but there are far less and the best ones are hardly used in the game. The thing you can say about Riddick though is that the antagonists are excellent, always being smug and evil in the most diabolical way possible and this also comes through on Butcher Bay, though it's better in Assault. The story is engaging though, and the dialogue and voice acting is still fantastic on Assault.
Unfortunately, Assault feels like it's following in an opaque shadow compared to the fantastic Butcher Bay. The good is that it still has the fantastic combat of Butcher Bay, and the choice to fight using whatever means neccersary. Riddick gains a pair of Ulacks, which are shown on the front box in case you don't know what they are. They're fantastic to use and almost chop up enemies into salads, though not quite. The cool thing is that the choice of how you play is still here- whether you decide to sneak in, go in guns blazing or melee kill everyone-a planned attack will probably go well in Assault too. That's the fantastic thing about both campaigns-the choice of how you use your combat to plan an awesome attack meaning most of the time, experiences can be very different.
The sad thing here though is that it lacks a lot of things that made Butcher Bay good. There are hardly any of the RPG elements in Assault like side quests meaning it feels more restrictive and you find weapons on a linear progression-I belive there is only one side mission in the entire six hour campaign which finds an optional weapon. There's also less puzzles, platforming or other gameplay elements in Assault, meaning instead of feeling like a fantastic mix of different genres it's more like a first-person shooter which lets you use melee weapons or guns. However, there are some fantastic moments in Assault. When you aquire a Scar gun, which is a weapon which fires an explosive gas which you can detonate at your own will and is funny to watch as enemies are sent flying. The other great moments are when you enter giant mechs and litterally dominate everything, a giant alpha drone suit which, again, dominates and a done as you watch the other enemies confused as to why they're being shot at by their own drones.
The final piece of the Riddick puzzle is the new multiplayer component. If you remember Starbreeze's other game, The Darkness, realise how bad it's multiplayer was thanks to game-breaking lag and a horrible community, and then realise they've added a multiplayer mode into Riddick, then you may have a tear brought to your eye. And its warrented-Riddick's multiplayer is quite average indeed. The standard modes are deathmatch and team deathmatch as well as capture the flag among others. The only real shining spot on Riddick's multiplayer suite is the Pitch Black mode, where one person is Riddick, who can see in the dark while it's pitch black but only has his Ulaks, and the other players are guards who are limited to their flashlights but have guns. Unfortunately, there are several issues with multiplayer that pretty much break it. The lag with too many people will ruin the game-yet there is pretty much no one actually playing the game meaning there's almost no point in the multiplayer-it's just tacked on.
At least there's quite a fair bit to do on Riddick. There are two six hour campaigns, which means from the single player you'll get about 12+ hours of gameplay which is longer than Butcher Bay on Xbox. There are also hidden cigaratte packets hidden around Butcher Bay and Bounty Cards on Assault on Dark Athena, which aren't easy to find. They unlock hidden content like artwork and videos, as well as achievements. Speaking of which, they suck. The single player achievements aren't too bad, some of them are quite cool, but most of them can be earned with no effort on your first playthrough. There are also far too many ridiculous multiplayer achievements too, like winning 1000 matches-not completing WINNING 1000 matches. I haven't even played 1000 games on Call of Duty, and that's my favourite multiplayer game. And they take up about half of the gamerscore, so unless you really get into the multiplayer, don't plan on getting 1000gs anytime soon.
The graphics on the Xbox Butcher Bay were incredible for their time. They brought a lot of modern technical nicities to the table for the first time like bump-mapping, advanced lighting and more. Butcher Bay on the 360 looks good but does look rough in places. Some of the textures look quite bad, more like Xbox textures, and some of the facial animation in cutscenes looks shoddy and unchanged from the first game. However, it does look much better than the old Xbox game and it does look comparable to most games out nowadays. However, Dark Athena looks much better-there are rarely any technical issues and the visuals look sharper which is probably due to the fact that is was built as a brand new product rather than a remake like Butcher Bay. Multiplayer looks comparable to Butcher Bay, which is good considering its multiplayer. Shame the actual gameplay of the multiplayer component sucks.
Is Riddick good, bad or ugly?
Assault on Dark Athena is a bit of a mixed bag. You get a fantastic gem from 2004 in the form of Escape from Butcher Bay, which is fantastic, doesn't show its age, is a huge and succesful variety of different genres and is incredibly fun. If you haven't played the original, this does make the package worth it. However, the other components of Riddick aren't as good. The new Dark Athena, while a good bit of fun and far from poor, just doesn't compare to the Escape from Butcher Bay. Fans of Butcher Bay will find a good bit to like here, but people who haven't played Escape will find it just a first-person shooter with fantastic melee combat and an above average story. The lackluster multiplayer, however, feels tacked on and is not worth your time. So essential, it's the good, the bad and the ugly and it's questionable whether you should buy this or not. Butcher Bay is worth the price alone, but if you've played it to death already, it's questionable whether you should buy it just to play a new, six hour campaign. But people who haven't played Butcher Bay should buy this to play that, and maybe try out Assault on Dark Athena at a latter time.
Assault on Dark Athena was released on April 24th, 2008 for the Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3. It is rated 15+ for very strong language, strong violence and sex references and can be bought for £35-40.
Taking advantage of new hardware technologies, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena will present a reinvention of Escape from Butcher Bay, delivering 2004's award-winning experience in high definition with stunning enhancements. Also included is the Dark Athena chapter, an expansion of the original game with an exciting new story and new gameplay features.