Review: They call me Mr. Riddick!... Not really.
Oh, Riddick, how I have missed your universe, one-liners and attempts at "deep" dialogue. After the debacle that was The Chronicles of Riddick in movie theaters, the burly character was in peril. While the movie failed at capturing a wider audience - or even maintaining the niche market it possessed - Starbreeze Studios shocked gamers with a solid licensed property by the name of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
for the original Xbox. As the possibility of a third movie began to become more likely, Starbreeze once again took the reins for a second original adaptation of the Riddick universe, Assault on Dark Athena.
Starbreeze has flipflopped since the game was announced on whether or not it was a sequel. Early on, it was not a sequel. The game was originally touted as a high-definition remake to Escape from Butcher Bay due to Microsoft's inability to support the original disc on the Xbox 360. After Atari came on board as the publisher, as far as PR purposes were concerned, it became a sequel and the Dark Athena campaign became the focal point. But the question remains, is this remake and/or sequel, with its new campaign and multiplayer mode, worthy of your hard-earned money?
Remaking A Critical Success
Gaming Target's Adam Woolcott wasn't the only critic to enjoy the original Chronicles of Riddick and with good reason. The title was a surprisingly magnificent adventure to your freedom full of stealth-and-shadow, but it was only released last generation. This begs the question, how do you remake a title still fresh in the collective mind of the gamers while trying to grasp a wider audience? Starbreeze's solution seems to be to make it bigger, badder, more brutal and more captivating than previously done. For all intents and purposes, Adam's review still applies to the remade Escape from Butcher Bay campaign. The game remains largely the same aside from its updated visuals and a batch of small tweaks. For this reason, the discussion will focus on the new additions.
Assault on Dark Athena takes place directly after Riddick's escape from Butcher Bay - hope we didn't spoil that for you! Riddick narrowly escapes immediate death as his and Johns' ship is captured by Dark Athena, a mercenary vessel lead by Gale Revas. Learning of his brush with death and his captivity, Riddick does what one would expect an experienced escape artist and killer to do, he plots his revenge. During his pursuit of freedom Richard B. Riddick mixes it up with a diverse cast of colorful characters. Some are raving lunatics, some are broken and babbling heaps of flesh and others are stable-minded and useful allies. It's the mix of characters, their engaging/revoltingpersonalities, the ties between them and the excellent voiceover work that puts Dark Athena on the map.
Starbreeze's main purpose for Dark Athena was to reintroduce the gaming public to a character and universe that can be uniquely explored via our favorite hobby. Thanks to the advancements in lighting, shadows and shaders you may expect some awesome effects and new AI technology to be employed in the remake. If that's what you are hoping to find, then you will be sorely let down. Dark Athena, the title as a whole and its remake of Butcher Bay, fails to innovate in these seemingly obvious ways. Riddick plays in exactly the same way he did back in 2004, hiding in clearcast shadows - including his own ridiculous one - rather than lifelike creations seen in modern engines. In the same way that they failed to update the main gameplay mechanic, Starbreeze opted to leave the AI in its 2004 state, leading to drones or mercs to discover exactly where you are by sound, even though they can't see you. No one's hearing is that good.
Starbreeze has packed quite a bit into the multiplayer mode. The developer designed a collection of exclusive levels, numerous generic multiplayer modes and some other Riddick-centric creations like the stellar Pitch Black setting. But we don't give kudos for effort. Unfortunately there is a chicken or the egg scenario when it comes to multiplayer. There are hardly any games available, at any time, for any platform. Is this the fault of the largely generic and uninspired gameplay or lack of sales? The unfortunate reality of the situation means Dark Athena's multiplayer should be ignored when deciding on whether to buy it or not.