Having survived the miseries of The Godfather II, it's nice to get a reminder that not all liasons between Hollywood and the games industry must end in disaster. In fact, those of us who remember The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay remember it partly because it's one of those rare games that actually does justice to the cinematic property it's based on. In fact, you could argue that it understood the appeal of Riddick better than the Pitch Black sequel it tied into.
Unfortunately, not as many of us remember it as the game deserves. When Escape from Butcher Bay was released back in 2004, critics everywhere raved on about its technical achievements and innovative gameplay, and everyone who played it, loved it.
Unfortunately, the timing and the choice of platform could have been better. Riddick arrived just when everyone was transfixed by the recent or imminent launches of Half-Life 2, Doom 3 and Halo 2, on a platform - Microsoft's Xbox - that not enough people actually owned. Sales were OK, but not amazing, and the excellent, enhanced PC port that followed couldn't fix that - partly because PC snobs refused to appreciate the qualities of what they saw as another crummy console conversion (see also Gears of War last year).
Now, with 2007's The Darkness under its belt, Starbreeze has returned to its underappreciated classic, with a new version rebuilt, remixed and remastered for the HD console era. And along the way, something strange and interesting has happened. What was originally pitched as a short extension to the original game has morphed into a separate entity; a second single-player campaign that plays out as something halfway between an expansion pack and sequel. Throw in a new set of multiplayer modes and you have the contents of Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.
The big surprise is how well the original game stands up nearly five years after launch, with the only real change being a shiny HD paintjob. It helps that, unquestionably, Escape from Butcher Bay was a game ahead of its time; like Half-Life 2 it tried to redefine what an FPS could be, taking elements from the stealth and adventure genres, and making them work within the confines of a gritty, sci-fi, prison break action game.
Perhaps the adventure elements feel a little crude in these post Fallout 3/Mass Effect/STALKER days - it's the kind of thing where you need to talk to Prisoner A to get the information that Prisoner B needs a good duffing, then get Prisoner C to fix you up with a shiv to do said doffing with - but at a time when most character interaction involved bulllets, this seemed hugely impressive.