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The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena pack shot
Developer:Starbreeze Studios
Publisher:Atari
Genre:Action
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://atari.com/riddick/
Release Date:April 24th, 2009 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
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Riddick. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the goggle-wearing darkness-obsessed anti-hero has spawned quite a little empire for himself, stretching from two half-decent movies to several comic books, novels and even some animé, but when it comes to video games, that’s when the gravelly-voiced murderer really stands out.

Released back in days of yore, Riddick’s first console game, Escape from Butcher Bay was hailed by critics (including me) as a revelation in the FPS market- combining gruesome kills with a brilliantly atmospheric story and some damn fine sneaking to boot.

So it is we come to Assault on Dark Athena, Riddick’s first foray into next-gen gaming, and it is, in a word, brilliant. For not only does Dark Athena feature a campaign set on the pretty terrifying merc ship of the title- but it also comes with a re-mastered version of Butcher Bay as well- two games for the same price.

Now, while there are a few people who’ve taken this double-whammy as just a clever marketing ploy, I’m inclined to disagree - both Butcher Bay and Dark Athena are not long games, clocking in at about 10 hours each, so having the two of them in the same package rounds the whole experience out. That and everyone loves a freebie.

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So what are the games all about- first, Butcher Bay: The game is basically a port of the original Xbox game with better graphics and gameplay, more accurate controls and nice shadow effects.

As a Riddick fan, I was overjoyed to be walking the halls of the prison planet once more, admiring the artfully scrawled swear words written in blood on the wall and battling my way through to the spaceport to escape once again. Though the game seemed a lot easier this time- as I’ve already completed first time around- the plot and gameplay still hold up fine on the 360 and the graphical improvements are pretty astounding.

A few flaws are still present in Butcher Bay however, there is still an abundance of fetch-and-carry missions early on, though this is largely overshadowed by the larger-than-life personae of your fellow inmates, and the platforming bits of the game are still clunky and a little boring. The difficulty level is also pretty punishing, but once you get out of the FPS run-and-gun style of gaming and into Riddick’s more stealth-oriented feel then the game really comes to life.

With Riddick’s trademarked ‘eyeshine’ he can see in the dark, where other characters are forced to resort to flashlights and slow movement- this gives the gamer ample opportunity to dispense silent death from above, behind or below with a variety of gruesome (yet satisfying) finishing moves.

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Though Riddick eventually gets his hands on some pretty neat weapons- complimented nicely with a peaking-over-cover shooting system, I often found myself going back to the shadows whenever possible and stalking my prey. Overall, a damn good port, a massive explosion of nostalgia and a fine experience for any gamer who hasn’t had to figure out a way to escape from the prison before.

The second part of the double bill- Assault on Dark Athena- is a slightly different beast. Built from the ground up for the 360, the distinctions are immediately obvious- textures and shadows are sharper, pop up less frequent and the lighting effect even more immersing to the eye.

The story picks up shortly after the end of Butcher Bay- with Riddick and his captor in a ship drifting across space. Shortly after awaking from cryo-sleep, our dark anti-hero is caught by the merc ship Dark Athena, a massive prison transport infested with heartless souls, heavily-armed drones, a cargo of prisoners… and one lost little girl.

Riddick has to fight his way through a campaign similar in length to the Butcher Bay campaign, with its own pace and a few plot twist thrown in for good measure. Though it lacks the you-scratch-my-back missions that made Butcher bay so immersive, it makes up for this with a large amount of activities and challenges, with a few mech-driving sections thrown in for good measure.

Though a few missions seem pointless and clunky- including one ridiculous platforming bit where you have to scale a cower of crates while dodging a flashlight to get a few tool parts which could have been found in a cupboard somewhere, the campaign has enough clever dialogue and stealthy challenge to keep the gamers’ interest.

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The combat, like Butcher Bay’s, is visceral and brutal, consisting of many a takedown involving Riddick’s trademark ‘Ulak’ blades. The hand-to-hand itself is very good fun, as pressing the stick in a direction changes Riddick’s attack, so you will work out your favourite combos pretty fast (I favoured a lighting-fast repeated sideswipe followed with an uppercut- brutal.)

The AI is prone to being a bit dumb however, but is also occasionally way too smart- knowing where I am before I’ve left the shadows- though this is not too much of a problem, as I’ve usually killed them before they can track me down.

A larger selection of weapons and actions rounds out the package, which is nicely complimented with another round of brilliant voice acting- Vin Diesel can only do one voice, sure, but it’s the best ‘grizzly and faintly menacing’ voice around.

Though the two games do share one save file (for some insane reason), it is possible to play both games at the same time, though if you switch games you have to go from the last checkpoint, though that’s not usually very far behind where you made it to, and as it’s so much fun hunting the enemy, you won’t notice.

Multiplayer-wise, Starbreeze have given Assault the usual selection of deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, but the real standouts are the Butcher Bay Riot and Pitch Black, which are a welcome change.

Pitch Black pits a team of mercs against one gamer playing as Riddick- eyeshine, Ulaks and all. The mercs have to hunt and kill the convict while Riddick hunts from the shadows- it’s an intense and thrilling experience, not unlike a Splinter Cell multiplayer mode with less sneaking suits.

Butcher Bay Riot pits three groups against each other for control of the prison and basically plays out as king of the hill. Aside from Pitch Black however, the multiplayer suffers from 90’s-syndrome- the graphics are way below par and it plays like Quake 2- with worse graphics and inexplicably bad lag- a major let down when compared to the pedigree of the two single player modes- if I wanted to play Unreal Tournament, that’s what I’d buy.

Summary

Overall, Assault on Dark Athena is a very good deal- not only are you getting a fantastic remake of one of the best movie-continuity games ever made, you’re also getting another story and more of that thrilling stealthy killing action. Though the two games are very similar in substance, there is more than enough variety to keep gamers entertained for hours. Shame about the multiplayer (other than Pitch Black- awesome.)

The bottom line
8.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Two games for the price of one
  • Stealth killing is very satisfying
  • Good plots and excellent voice acting

Not so good stuff

  • AI can be a bit dumb sometimes
  • Multiplayer is a mixed bag


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