Now, at this point those of you who have read other reviews of the Assault on Dark Athena package might expect a big ‘however’. The common line on the second campaign, Assault on Dark Athena itself, is that it’s a damp squib, a retrograde step, even a crushing disappointment. I’d disagree. It’s not as fresh as Escape from Butcher Bay, and it has its share of issues, but minute by minute, hour by hour, it’s still a very fine FPS.
Again, I think this partly comes down to tone. The premise – Riddick’s journey towards the planet featured in Pitch Black is interrupted by an encounter with a slave ship – could have led to an uninteresting, clichéd set of missions, but Starbreeze has made it as gritty, tense and brooding as the original Butcher Bay campaign.
The look is closer to the gothic future fantasy of the cinematic Chronicles of Riddick and the storyline doesn’t go far beyond ‘escape the ship’, yet the campaign still packs in some interesting characters, some hugely dislikable villains, a handful of genuinely shocking sequences, and some brilliantly written and delivered dialogue. Even though the gameplay is really just more of the same sneak and slaughter stuff, you don’t feel like you’re just working through another mission pack. In fact, a handful of new game mechanics, mostly to do with exploiting the hideous, half-human drones that patrol the Dark Athena, give Assault a surprisingly fresh feel.
I think the campaign’s major issue is its structure. The first two thirds have a few hiccups and a little too much backtracking, but these are easily compensated for by a range of tense encounters, generous helpings of suspense and some masterfully engineered set-piece sections. Then, however, the campaign puts a foot wrong, dumping you on a dusty, alien planet without enough places to play hide and sneak, and asking you to, essentially, play an old-fashioned corridor shooter.
As corridor shooters go, it’s not bad, and it’s almost rescued by one wonderful weapon and a clutch of really challenging adversaries. However, you can’t help feeling that Riddick is out of his element, and not in a good way. Where he should be the predator, he’s suddenly just another grunt with a gun. At this point, Assault on Dark Athena also throws in some dubious, cheap-ass ways to kill you, which don’t do much to earn back your goodwill.