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Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena review




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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.


April 27, 2009, 3:11 am

I think the reason most of us avoided the first game because it was a movie tie in and only had a one in a hundred chance of being any good. As this one isn't released alongside any movie it should get much more interest.

(And I haven't bagged a copy of Gears of War yet because it always seemed overpriced or out of stock. The cheapest I can see it now is 㿀 where other 2006 games like obvilion or Medieval II: Total war can be had for half that.)

The review doesn't state it explicitly so does this new version include all of the original or is there any reason to buy that as well as this?


April 27, 2009, 2:39 pm

@ Xiphias the new version contains both the polished version of the original and the Dark Athena "expansion pack", so no need to buy the original.


April 27, 2009, 2:47 pm

I thought the review did cover this, but this is basically an HD remaster of Escape from Butcher Bay with the Assault on Dark Athena campaign on top. Structurally, it seems to be the same as the enhanced PC version of Escape from Butcher Bay with the graphics updated and the engine replaced by the engine Starbreeze used for The Darkness.


April 27, 2009, 3:19 pm

@Stuart - how long is Dark Athena? I remember EFBB being a good 20 hours or thereabouts and one of them that completely hooks you from start to finish. It had the "I'll just play this little section before bed" and 2 hours later still playing..

What are the acheivements like? Are they like orange box where they're balanced across both games equally? Not really a selling point in any way, just curious!


April 27, 2009, 4:20 pm

It's hard to put a figure on it because I was playing it in stints over about two weeks, but I'd say that I put in a good twelve hours on the game at the medium difficulty setting. I'm not sure it's as consistently brilliant as Butcher Bay - I had a few bits in the middle section where I was beginning to get fed up - but while it's great it definitely has that 'just one more section' feel.

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