• Developer/Publisher: Starbreeze Studios/Tigon Studios/Atari
  • Release Date: April 7, 2009
  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
  • Genre: Stealth shooter
  • Number of Players: 1-12
  • Strong Points: Excellent value for the money; Butcher Bay presents a challenging experience with few flaws; voice acting is top notch; Butcher Bay conversion looks and feels like an Xbox 360 game, rather than a port of a five-year-old game; story through both games is captivating and compelling
  • Weak Points: Dark Athena strays too far from franchise strengths; shooter segments are average and unsatisfying
  • Moral Warnings: Violent and blood run rampant throughout; profanity is featured heavily in the game; brutal one-on-one combat a major part of game play; sexual references to rape and masturbation in both games

In 2004, right around the same time that everyone in the gaming industry had seemingly lost hope for movie tie-in games, “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay” hit the original Xbox. Unlike many games related to movies, where the player is asked to play through the events of the film itself, “Riddick” asked players to play a prologue of sorts to the films that had starred the character, Richard B. Riddick. The game did this by throwing the player into a “slam,” a prison, and throwing away the key, and then taunted: escape.

Riddick’s subsequent escape is chronicled in “Escape from Butcher Bay,” the first and strongest part of “The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena,” and its sequel, the eponymous “Dark Athena.” Much like “Thief” before it, “Riddick” is a first-person stealth game, with an initial focus on brutally disabling both guards and fellow inmates. This is “Riddick” at its finest; the shooting elements, while solid, tend to be frustrating and more twitch based than anything else, detracting from the real strengths of the game.

Sadly, this also means that the latter half of “Dark Athena” isn’t what it could be. Once the player gains the SCAR, a remote detonating mine launcher, the game turns into something resembling a weak run-and-gun shooter. This disrupts an otherwise methodical game, replacing the basic risk and reward mechanic with trial and error, something that may work well with the likes of “Doom,” “Quake” and “Painkiller,” but most definitely does not play to the strengths of the developers here. That’s not to say that developer Starbreeze doesn’t know how to make a game with shooting as its focus, however. For example, their previous effort, “The Darkness,” featured shooting game play more prominently than it is here, but then that game also gave you an adequate health system, along with enemies that weren’t overpowered. In this case, the elements of what makes for a good stealth action title don’t equate a quality first person shooter, and herein lays “Riddick’s” main problem.

Beyond that, “Riddick” is a stunning success. Adding to the already well-implemented stealth game mechanics are adventure elements, requiring conversation but little finesse. Characters give side quests and scant background information, and that’s about it, but where that would be a shortcoming in other games, it works to the benefit of the game here, adding some depth without breaking up the flow of the game itself. “Riddick” is also hard, recalling “Butcher Bay’s” original release, and in itself indicative of the way that difficulty has been toned down in the five years since the game first came out. In “Butcher Bay,” the challenge is rewarding; in “Dark Athena,” it becomes something like prohibitive.

First person combat is one of the most intriguing and well-implemented aspects of “Riddick.” Not gunplay; I’ve already established that that leaves something to be desired. Instead, I’m referring to fist fights, which are far more common in “Butcher Bay,” but still integral to “Dark Athena.” From stealth take downs to simple one-on-one brawls, impacts and attacks sound real and carry weight when they connect. This alone places “Riddick” in far more brutal territory than many M-rated games, its only comparison in brutality—but not depravity, since the “Riddick” universe does have a moral center, and a defined one at that—are the “Manhunt” series of games.

“Riddick” is also one of the more visually inconsistent games released to date on either the Xbox 360 or PS3. This is mostly due to “Butcher Bay’s” status as a polished port. Both games are good looking, and unless you knew it already, you wouldn’t know that “Butcher Bay” was a port, but “Dark Athena” holds the edge here nonetheless, simply because it looks smoother and the animation—and consequently, the characters—feels more realized and lifelike.

Enemy AI is a problem, proving to be both stupid and hypersensitive. Relying partially on line-of-sight and partially on extrasensory perception, the enemies in both “Riddick” games automatically discover the player when out of cover or in light, and otherwise haphazardly rely on line-of-sight, which enables the player to brutally kill the enemy. However, unlike in other stealth games, such as “Splinter Cell,” where the player must hide the bodies of the dead or unconscious, here that never really comes into play, although it’s suggested. There’s just no real reason to hide the bodies. The guards aren’t smart enough to do anything about it if they find a body, and unlike other games, there’s no varying levels of alert or awareness to hinder the player’s progress and make their job harder. This does not, however, make the game play any less exciting or visceral during the stealth segments; it simply surprises me that such a basic element of stealth gaming could be left out of the equation, though with how solid the majority of the game is, it’s more a disappointment than anything else.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a big-budget action game without excellent voice acting, and here “Riddick” does not disappoint. In the first game, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Xzibit and Ron Perlman all turn in top notch performances, only to be handily outclassed by the voice cast of “Dark Athena,” which includes Lance Henriksen and Michelle Forbes.

Much of the problem with the content with Riddick lies in the language that’s used by the various characters on display. Enemies use the full-range of profanities normally featured in an R-rated film, from variations of the f-word to lesser profanities, including blasphemies. One character drops the c-word twice and then mentions raping a female character that Riddick is helping out. Every word in the book is used during the course of both games, possibly—improbably—more in “Dark Athena,” a game not even set in a prison. In “Butcher Bay,” occasional references to prison rape are made. “Dark Athena” also has an inmate masturbating with his back to the player. Blood and gore splatter the walls, and enemies display wounds from attacks that they’ve received. Both games encourage players to hunt down and disable enemies, which can include brutal weapon disarms, unarmed kills and armed kills, all of which showcase Riddick’s particular brand of bloodlust.

Despite all of the moral problems with the game, "Riddick" is a stunning game that achieves the atmosphere and tone of the films and then some. This alone would be praise-worthy, but the developers didn\'t stop there; instead, Starbreeze crafted one of the most finely-tuned stealth games yet created in "Escape from Butcher Bay," and a lengthy--albeit disappointing--follow-up in "Assault on Dark Athena." The result is a package that contains the best value seen in games since “The Orange Box,” and also one of the best Xbox games ever made. It is a testament to the fact that good movie games can and do exist, if the developers care about the project enough to implement quality game play. However, with that recommendation comes a warning: both “Riddick” games are astoundingly brutal, profane and dark, unrelenting in the atmosphere of oppression and captivity that they convey. This is a game based on an R-rated film franchise and is not for children (I cannot stress that enough); those mature enough and willing to venture into a prison and slave ship will find a rewarding, disturbing experience very much unlike any found on any system to date.

Appropriateness Score: 36/50

Violence 1.5/10
Language 1.5/10
Sexual Content/Nudity 7/10
Occult/Supernatural 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8/10

Game Score: 42/50

Game play 15/20
Graphics 9/10
Sound/Music 10/10
Stability/Polish 4/5
Controls/Interface 4/5

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