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Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

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Escape from Butcher Bay was loved by PC gamers the world over and today we take a look at the sequel which follows Riddick on his new journey. “They say hope begins in the dark … The Darkness, for me, is where I shine.”

These first words introduce the player to the fact that Riddick is a night creature and operates best in total darkness. Anyone who has seen the movies will already be aware of his nocturnal nature but developer Starbreeze are keen to get an early reminder before the action heats up.

Starbreeze have included the original Butcher Bay with the new game but have updated the visuals during the five year hiatus. This will prove to be a welcome addition for many people as it will be a trip down memory lane with one of the most loved movie licensed games ever made.

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Escape from Butcher Bay has been lovingly recreated with high definition graphics, new cutting edge audio and the bonus mech sequence which was only available originally in the PC version of the game. Even though this game is now 5 years old it still looks surprisingly fresh and it plays very well.

As an inmate of Butcher Bay, Riddick has to stay alive by dealing with the corrupt and aggressive guards, the devious prisoners and the deformed mutants that live in the tunnels under the prison. This first person shooter was a huge success for Starbreeze because it combined good FPS action sequences with a high tension stealth element. As strong as Riddick may look he is still only a man and a few gunshots can end his life … so the element of stealth and surprise is always the wise first option.

One of the best facets of this franchise is the manner in which Riddick can recover from injuries. The game combines a regenerative health mechanic as well as the more traditional health pack system. Riddick has an array of health boxes that make up his life bar and as he takes damage a box begins to dissolve. If a box is fully removed it stays gone until you can find a medical station. That said, If you take damage and can get to cover before the box fully vanishes then it will reappear slowly over time. Taking fire in the open however is the sure way to a quick death as Riddick’s black muscle top is not the best way to stop a hail of bullets.

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An interesting element in Butcher Bay is the interaction with the prisoners because there is a large portion of the game which involves Riddick chatting to the other prisoners for various escape options. The dialogue is sharp, witty and quite often will have you chuckling in your seat. For those who are interested there are also some sidequests which will have you interacting in various ways with the prison population.

Even though the game has been overhauled since it was originally released 5 years ago it is not all positive. Starbreeze are using the new Athena engine for Butcher Bay but some of the graphical qualities are strangely out of place. The mouths in particular don’t seem to be synced correctly even though they are fine in Dark Athena. The landscapes are another aspect which are sadly lacking, especially by today’s standards … they are flat and barren and the animations are very run of the mill.

One of the criticisms of Butcher Bay was the system of leading the player to the next mission objective. There are very few tips and directional pushes so you are mainly left to wander on your own which frequently means you will be running around in circles until you learn the locations by heart. Obviously many people liked this free roaming open ended mechanic but I would have preferred a camera pan system which offered a few guidances from time to time.

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All in all however Butcher Bay has held up to the sands of time very well and still makes for a fine replay if you want to devote the time before picking up Athena.

Assault On Dark Athena takes place shortly after the events of Butcher Bay with Riddick and his buddy John flying through the realms of space to an unknown location. The Dark Athena is a huge ship full of mercenaries who end up capturing  Riddick and a familiar ‘battle the odds’ setting begins to unfold.

Once again the objective is to escape the mercenaries by using all the same ideas used before in Butcher Bay however instead of eventually piloting a mech you get to command a drone warrior and instead of a sadistic prison warden you are fighting a sadistic ship commander. uh-oh.

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My biggest gripe is the artificial intelligence which is very poor indeed the enemy drones are mindless and will only follow simple patrol patterns and deal with whatever is directly in their line of sight. This doesn’t really excuse the AI for the mercenaries however as they have two patterns: fall back and take cover and rush forward and assault. While this sounds fine in theory I found that if you leaned out to fire they would run back to cover and if you popped back into cover yourself they would decide to charge you. You could almost trigger their movements by leaning in and out of cover which was an almost comical thing to watch.

Basically with Assault on Dark Athena we have a game which is a carbon copy of the first and there is no pushing of the envelope in any direction. Dark Athena does nothing new at all and the developers have clearly decided that more of the same thing, is simply a good thing. The game this time around however is more action oriented which may prove to be a popular move for many gamers – I however preferred the stealth elements of Butcher Bay. Die hard fans of the original title may well find this aping a positive aspect of Dark Athena but as a reviewer and gamer myself I find it a little lazy.

There are aspects of Assault on Dark Athena which I really enjoyed and they reminded me of the pleasure I had with the original but I will be honest, after a few hours I was bored of the game to the point I wanted to just turn it off rather than beat it for the review. It took me about 7 hours to beat the game which means it lasts around the same time as the first.

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One of the other criticisms leveled at Butcher Bay was the lack of multiplayer and Starbreeze were keen to address this and now offer Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch as well as a few unique modes across around 15 different maps.

Butcher Bay Riot is a fun mode with three groups: guards, prisoners and mercs vying for a power module and then trying to connect it to the home base for victory. There is no respawning in this mode and there is also a Counter Strike style purchasing system at the start of each round. Arena is a straightforward player V player mode in an enclosed space. Winner stays in the arena for the next challenger and the loser heads to the back of the line.

Pitch Black is a great mode, it puts a single player into the role of Riddick and the remainder as mercenaries out to hunt him down. The catch is that Riddick has the Eye Shine ability which he can use in the dark and the mercenaries only have their torches for visibility. Another twist is that the weakest weapons have the brightest lights so players have to sacrifice sight for firepower. The person who kills Riddick then assumes his role and the game continues. Unfortunately I did experience some lag during my online sessions and I hope that either the servers are improved or the game gets some patches to optimise the net code.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena had a tough act to follow in the shape of Butcher Bay. The original title was a classic in its day and the sequel seems to want to tread the same ground all over again albeit 5 years later. Unfortunately the similarities between the two really damage the new title on a variety of levels and I can only recommend Dark Athena to fans of the original.

The game is still solid, but a bitter disappointment in many ways. Realistically however many people will find this enjoyable.
The overhauled engine and graphics are very pretty. Nothing outstanding in todays climate however.
Good score and capable voice acting.
Decent multiplayer and solid single player experiences.
(Not an Average)
A solid game, worth a look.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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