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Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Developed by Starbreeze
Published by VU Games
Released 6.1.04

Here he comes
The guy in the purple sock thing deserves to die for crimes against fashion.

I have seen neither Pitch Black nor the Chronicles of Riddick (I like being uninformed, it gives me a unique angle). I am not sure Vin Diesel doesn’t suck, and yes, I know he likes D&D. I also know I saw the Pacifier, though that was more strawberry margarita’s fault than his. Combining my hesitation about Mr. Diesel with my general apathy for FPS’s, and the fact that most games based on movies are secretly designed by Hitler, I was not convinced the Chronicles of Riddick game would be anything more than god awful.

The first cut scene in the game did little to allay my fears. A poorly directed action scene is one of the last things you should see in a game about an action movie. Maybe Starbreeze were just taking a cue from the reportedly bad movie. After leaving a sour taste in my mouth, the game proceeded to what I would later learn was a tutorial.

I wasn’t happy with it at the time, but the tutorial set me up very nicely for the real game, and what a game that real game is. Riddick is an excellent blend of shooting, pugilism, melee weapon fighting, platforming, and stealth. My favorite parts of the game were gunfights in the dark. Anyone who’s seen the movie, or, say, has a roommate who has, knows that Riddick has glowing eye things that allow him to see in the…wait for it…pitch black™. These fights are very thrilling, but the designers, knowing how not to ruin a good thing, made them few and far between. Oh well, I still have gun fights in the dark in my dreams and in liquor stores.

The stealth system is well implemented. A color shift indicates you are hidden from your enemies, which is a clever design because it keeps the screen free of icons and symbols. Sneaking up on your enemies is often the only way to take them out without being blow to pieces as you die in only a few hits. I appreciate the difficulty; it adds to the realism.

Watch the eye!
If being stabbed in the neck heals a person, there are plenty of people I’d like to heal.

The melee fighting is pretty brutal. For a majority of the game you don’t have a deadly gun so you’ll get used to stabbing people with a shiv or whacking them with a club. Besides the handful of hand to hand tools and a few guns, you won’t see a lot of variety in the weapons. I can cope with that, but the shotgun is inexcusable. Resident Evil 4 mastered the weapon and all designers should be forced to study how to not make a wussy shotgun.

Platforming is necessary but not overwhelming. First person games need to be careful with their platforming elements lest they become infuriating like Metroid Prime. Riddick doesn’t have many skin of your teeth jumps and there are no bottomless pits. The platforming usually takes place when there are no enemies around and it’s primarily done to get onto a crate or shimmy into an air duct. The platforming elements add to the overall experience by making you feel like a super spy. Apparently Microsoft doesn’t think platforming is a word so this paragraph is almost entirely red. Screw you, Bill Gates, I’m trying to help you.

The enemies are intelligent enough to hide behind objects for cover and they don’t forget about you if you give them the slip for a minute. I’m impressed with how few bosses there are in the game. Starbreeze didn’t finish a cohesive game then drop in five more boss battles where they don’t fit. At the same time, boss battles are fun so I chide them for not artificially inserting more into the game.

Level design is well done. The areas are mostly enclosed, adding to the claustrophobia of a prison environment. There are a decent number of different environments and very little back tracking through them. Now and then there are a few ways to get to the same place, but for the most part the game is linear, but in a good way that gives you just enough freedom to not feel led by the nose.

Ouch
One of the deadlier enemies in the game .

The games short length is one of its strongest qualities. Each section feels fresh because it isn’t the fifth time you’ve encountered the same scenario. For example, there’s an area in the sewers where you fight zombie mutant creature things. I prepared myself for at least a few hours of gameplay revolving around these guys, but they were in the game for probably a half hour at most.

Riddick’s plot was surprisingly good. Your character is a bit one dimensional, but he sure is a badass. I’m not usually impressed by “cool” characters, but Starbreeze pulled off the main character brilliantly. The secondary characters are also well done, and expertly voice acted. The dialog was mostly good and even contains some genuine laughs. I can only assume different people wrote the main script and into action bit.

For a game that doesn’t go far out of its way to build a whole world, Riddick is amazingly immersive. The lack of an onscreen graphic user interface, the fine voice acting, the stellar graphics, and the realistic level designs all help you really become Riddick. Watch for guards who will even taunt and beat you if you get too close.

Speaking of taunting, the game really earns its M rating. You’ll hear plenty of curses, snap plenty of necks and spread plenty of blood. If you’re a little girl or Jack Thompson, you may want to stay away (or sue).

There are a few problems with the game that I legally have to mention (it’s called the Reviewer’s Code, look it up). Now and then the controls would drive me crazy. A few instances in the game call for you to land directly on a guard from dozens of feet above. Good luck. If you suck as much as I did, you’ll have to just reload until you accidentally land on the guy.

Cut scene
This guy doesn’t look like the other guys. That means he must be a boss.

Because of how the camera was positioned, sometimes I felt like I was about three feet tall. This was basically the only thing that ruined the previously mentioned immersion. Also, I couldn’t tell when I hit checkpoints where the game would auto-save. I ended up replaying decent sized chunks of the game because I assumed it must have saved after certain major scenes or battles.

After beating the game you unlock some designer info and sketches. If you enjoy the game as much as I then you’ll want to browse through everything Starbreeze offers. Apparently, they had planned on a spectacular ending but ran out of time. They also mention that their publisher made them change the art of a bad guy or two. I will speculate wildly now and accuse Vivendi of keeping this great game from being greater. Go back to balancing the books and let the artists do their job.

This Xbox exclusive is a strong reason alone to buy the console if you haven’t yet. It is also further proof that Swedes can do anything (Starbreeze is Swedish). I only wish I had more of the game to play. It’s a shame the movie flopped because it may have screwed us out of a great sequel.

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4 Comments

  1. Cyril @ Defunct Games said on April 5, 2006:

    Go watch Vin’s early work and then check out Find Me Guilty. After that tell me he can’t act. There is no denying that he’s made some TERRIBLE movies, but when he’s giving the right stuff (not mindless action movies) he’s actually pretty darn good.

  2. jay said on April 5, 2006:

    Wasn’t Ben Affleck good in a movie once, too?

  3. jay said on August 11, 2006:

    Cyril, if you think Find Me Guilty was a powerhouse performance (or anything besides a bad movie) then our tastes our just too different. We are breaking up.

  4. Shota said on February 25, 2008:

    You know Jay, you are being just plain unfair to Cyril. When i think of three truly great thespian performances of all time I always think of: Sir Alec Guinness in The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and of course Vin Diesel in Find Me Guilty.

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