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Even by today's standards, the story and the characters are well constructed, lines are delivered with conviction and the pacing works brilliantly. Escape from Butcher Bay captures the feel and the tone of the Riddick universe as established in Pitch Black. It's dark, and there's no question that Vin Diesel's tough guy is an amoral antihero, yet he still has a strange nobility, if only because the people he's up against are always so much worse.
Nor should we forget the stealth elements, which are superbly integrated. Games that followed Riddick have made creeping and stalking feel like an unwelcome bolt-on. In Escape from Butcher Bay, it's simply the way you play the game. Riddick isn't a frontal assault, duck and cover gunplay kind of psycho. He belongs in the dark, stalking his victims, pouncing when the moment feels right.
The moment you truly get Escape from Butcher Bay is the moment where you stop behaving like you're just playing another FPS and start thinking like Riddick. They, whomever they may be, are not the monsters. You are. Use the darkness, surprise them with your brutality, out-manoeuvre and out-think them, and you'll be one corpse closer to escape.
All this stuff makes Escape from Butcher Bay a hugely compelling game, but what ties it all together is the visual approach. At the time, we were all very excited about the game's normal mapping - a technology which gave textures an impression of tangible relief. It's still at work in the remake, and that, when combined with the battery of surface, lighting and post-processing effects Starbreeze bought to bear on The Darkness, makes Escape from Butcher Bay look just as good now as the original did back then. We're not talking Killzone 2/Crysis/Gears of War levels of wow factor, but there's no way you could describe this game as looking dated.
However, what impresses even more is the way the game puts you right in Riddick's shoes - the way it alters the view to reflect sudden jolts, or his field of view and focus as you put him into stealth mode. The game's replication of Pitch Black's eyeshine ‘night vision' effect would be hard to better, and the use the level design puts to blinding lights, torch-beams and strobing lights is exemplary, even now. Other games - notably the Thief series - did some of this stuff before, but Escape from Butcher Bay did it well, and a surprising number of other FPS developers have still only just caught up.
True, there are some signs of age in the old warhorse. These days, you begin to notice how relatively compact and confined many of the prison environments turn out to be, and aspects like regular backtracking and poor automated checkpointing begin to grate on your nerves after a while. Nonetheless, Escape from Butcher Bay remains a fantastic and fascinating FPS hybrid. If you didn't experience it first time round, you owe it to yourself to do so now.
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