"What? Vin Diesel created a game studio that'll develop games with him as a central character? LOL!" That was in 2002, and sure, enough, we've got egg on our faces now. To say that Tigon Studios has been a failure would be wrong. There's no doubt about it that Starbreeze Studios and Vin Diesel's Tigon Studios collaborated to create one amazing show-piece for the FPS genre in more ways than just aesthetically. Butcher Bay had all of the components that make a game great. Sure, The Wheelman wasn't the blockbuster people hoped for it to be, but Midway's hand in development is largely to blame there.
In 2007, Tigon and (back then) Vivendi announced that a remake of Butcher Bay is on its way for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, in addition to an all new Riddick game that'll all be featured as part of one package. The all new Riddick game, titled Assault on Dark Athena, was scheduled for a late 2007, but ultimately slipped into 2008, and then ended up getting delayed all the way to April 2009. So after many delays, the game has arrived, and while this review may be late (there were some mix ups), we're still here to tell you what's good and bad about this dual game set.
First, the good. Obviously the first Riddick never arrived on the PlayStation 2, so those looking to start from scratch can do so on their PlayStation 3 by booting up Escape from Butcher Bay first. Likewise, because the Xbox game is not compatible on the Xbox 360, the folks at Tigon felt it be best to just do a complete remake for the next-gen crowd. The great thing about the remake is that it leaves virtually every aspect of the original game intact, it is quite literally a visual makeover. Running both the remake and original game side by side, everything has been left alone, again, save for the graphics.
Butcher Bay starts out with Johns delivering Riddick to his prison, and your goal will be to escape from it. There are certain RPG-like aspects to the game similar to games such as Oblivion, Mass Effect and such. You'll interact with characters here and there, but the role-playing aspect is not a prevalent trait for the game, as it's only there mostly at the beginning of the game - midway through, and you'll barely encounter folks to talk to. And that's a good thing, because a game like this needs to be focused on one thing, and that's the core story, as well as the action.
The story here is very well done, and it gets even better towards the end. If you haven't played Butcher Bay before, then I highly suggest you don't select Dark Athena as your first entry into the world of Riddick, because Dark Athena's introduction will spoil the ending to Butcher Bay. In both games, stealth will be a necessity in various instances, and sneaking around, hiding the shadows, and popping out of those shadows to snap someone's neck is good fun.
Your killing doesn't have to be done stealthily, so if you're feeling rather Vin Diesel-ish, go on and use a shotgun or an assault rifle to mow your way through the opposition. Or hey, pick up your fists and beat the crap out of someone, instead. Or maybe you're looking for an in-between? Well, there are plenty of objects you can carry around with you, such as knives, which make for some really brutal stealth kills.
For the most part, both Riddick games are very enjoyable, but there are some annoying problems. For starters, running and gunning is difficult, and in fact, shooting in the game isn't very efficient. The problem with the shooting mechanic is that when your enemy is stunned, you cannot damage or finish him. You have to wait until his stun animation finishes and only then will your bullets damage him. You can try to aim for a headshot, but the reticule is extremely tiny in the game, and you do not have access to the sniper rifle immediately. Furthermore, because the A.I. is extremely cheap and difficult, taking your time to aim at an enemy's head means having a huge chunk of your health depleted, and the game's health regeneration is not as friendly as other games. So if you have five health squares, and have depleted two and a half, the game will only refill you up to the third square, and not all the way to the fifth.
And that creates another problem. If you got into a scuffle and lost nearly all of your health, you'll now have to run around with one health square, and seeing as how cheap the A.I. is, you're going to die very often until you succeed and find a health station (which aren't very abundant in either of the games). So just how cheap is the A.I.? Well, aside from not being able to see you when you're crouching in the shadows, they can spot you just about any other time, even if they're not facing your direction or looking anywhere near your direction. It's rather annoying, and you're going to experience a lot of trial-and-error restarts because of this, and since the game's load times aren't exactly great (20 seconds or so to restart), this becomes very frustrating.
Now, getting back to details, allow me to explain Dark Athena a bit. The game takes place directly after Butcher Bay ends, and it introduces a few new concepts to the series. For starters, Dark Athena is made up of drones, enemies that have a human form, but are controlled through various pod stations throughout. These Drones were once human beings, but have been turned into mindless creatures implanted with a control device. When you aren't able to secure any weapons or aren't able to get somewhere, you'll be able to sit inside a drone station and take control of, what seems to be, an infinite supply of drones. Controlling the drone puts you right into its shoes, so you're still in a first-person perspective shooting around and helping open up paths for Riddick. Additionally, when you kill a drone, you can pick it up to use its gun if you don't have a weapon. And for those curious, yes the same problems mentioned above apply to both games.
Lastly, yes, there is multiplayer, but unfortunately it's only good for up to 12 gamers, and in a world with 32, 40, and 60 player deathmatches, 12 is extremely tiny. At least 16 would've been nice. But ultimately, I don't think gamers should purchase Riddick based on its multiplayer value, but rather for the game's stories. Both Butcher Bay and Dark Athena are full fledged titles with great stories. And considering that originally Dark Athena was supposed to be an expansion that lasted only a few hours, you're getting more game than what Tigon announced initially.
With the amount of variable lighting and seeing as how it plays such a pivotal role in the game, I was happy to see how great it looked. The lighting work is rather impressive in Riddick, and it's especially impressive when the textures are lit up, as well. On that note, Riddick also boasts a nice collection of good quality textures throughout both games. Obviously, there are the red-headed objects that weren't given their proper coating of super slick textures, but they aren't terribly prevalent or that obvious. There are some visual glitches, though, which I did not expect. One involving Riddick himself. You see, when you're controlling your character, you're not just controlling a head with arms, but actually an entire body that casts a full shadow. Occasionally, I've noticed a glitch where Riddick's arms will just start spazzing out and contorting. My other complaint with the visuals is that there isn't enough enemy design variation, so the game's art-direction feels a little bland. Beyond that, there is a nice picture that upscales to 1080p, with a native of 720p, and a framerate that's largely on point.
Now, it's the audio that's perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game. Even though Vin Diesel's ultra-baritone and monotone voice may make you think of the worst, it's actually perfect for a cold character such as Riddick. And because Vin Diesel is reprising a past role of his, he sounds and acts very comfortably. Other characters are also voiced superbly well, further helping to make this Riddick package one of the best acted games, right up there with the likes of Metal Gear Solid. And beyond the voice acting is an aural ambiance that is rife with fantastic noises and tones to make this one very pleasant home theater experience.
Riddick is a fine first person shooter and I'm glad that throughout its troubles (losing Vivendi as a publisher after Activision's buyout), it found itself in the shelves of stores nationwide. There are a number of annoying problems with the game, but they aren't large enough for you to look away and not consider this purchase. With two adventures on one disc, both of which boast superb story telling, great audio, and nice visuals, The Chronicles of Riddick is a worthy purchase. The multiplayer may not be the most in-depth, but hey, at least it's there and there's some fun to be had with it.