Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
It's shocking, it's rare, but it's really cool when a movie licensed game is actually good for a change, kinda like Spider-Man 2, and unlike others such as Batman Begins. This time we're lookin' at the video game 'prequel' to 2000's Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.
So here we are. First thing's first, you're Riddick, a big bad criminal who's been caught by the bounty hunter Johns, and you've been put into the worst prison in the entire galaxy, Butcher Bay. Riddick's intention however is to escape Butcher Bay, regardless of the fact no one has ever accomplished such a feat.
Now, this game requires some pretty decent hardware in your computer, but if you've got it, the first thing you'll notice about this game is the graphics. It's very realistic, textures shine and literally pop out, the player models look incredibly realistic and are very well animated, and, well the graphics are just damn good. Another thing the player will notice is that the game is a first person shooter, except it feels as if you're really Riddick. The camera moves as you move, you can see Riddick's arms and legs as you move and jump, and even if you're stuck the camera will follow where ever Riddick's head goes. The majority of the game is from Riddick's point of view, save for cutscenes and certain actions (such as climbing ladders). Eitherway it's one realistic experience, although not as realistic as one would like.
If you've seen The Chronicles of Riddick, or at the very least, Pitch Black, you'll know that Riddick is a man who is highly skilled in melee combat. Alot of FPS' have difficulty achieving a decent melee system, however The Chronicles of Riddick: Butcher Bay nails it with brutal realism. When unarmed, you simply press left click to throw a punch, however by moving the movement directions as you punch Riddick will execute left and right hooks, uppercuts as well as a powerful foward punch, which the player can chain together to form powerful combos on enemies. Holding the right mouse button will allow Riddick to block incoming melee attacks, save those coming from 'shivs' (crudely made knives) and other melee weapons, such as batons. Riddick can also use the guard's own weapons against them to go for a quick, but loud headshot kill.
In regards to weapons, Riddick is attempting to escape from a prison, so actually obtaining weapons is quite limited as many of the guards' assault rifles are DNA-specific encoded, meaning if someone other than the true owner attempts to pick up or even touch the weapon, they will be electrucuted. However, Riddick will find himself an assortment of weapons, such as shivs, batons, a pistol, a shotgun, to an assault rifle, to even a gatling gun. The true purpose of the game however, is stealth.
Stealth is a difficult element to pull off successfully in games of today, especially in the FPS genre. However in Escape from Butcher Bay, the game uses a clever, but basic stealth system which has its ups and downs. To use stealth, simply move into a pitch black area of shadow and hit the crouch/C key, once in stealth the screen will recieve a blue tint to represent that you are hidden within the shadows. While doing so, guards and other enemies cannot see you, unless they shine a source of light within your area of hiding.. or unless you stand up. It's quite silly that, despite being in pitch black darkness, guards can see you if you're standing up. Sometimes, guards will also somehow, yet instantly know you're in the area, and turn toward you while firing. Hell, sometimes they start firing before they even turn around. To make stealth work to its full potential, the enemy A.I has to be pretty damn good, and unfortunately in Butcher Bay, the enemies are not perfect.
Continuing on with stealth however, Riddick can stealthfully engage and take out enemies. Riddick can sneak up behind them for a stealth kill, to either grab them and break their neck quietly, or violently break their neck causing noise. Either way, stealth kills are rather satisfying, and dragging corpses away into the darkness is also pretty cool, in a disturbing manner of course.
At some points during the game, Riddick really stirs up a mess in the prison by gaining access to the faciliy vehicles, and can really cause some damage with the mech suit's heavy weaponry. Unfortunately, it seems when guards are shot, they do not react at all. It's funny how they may become stunned when punched in the face, but a gunshot to the chest will have them still standing and firing. I know they're wearing armor and are protected, but clearly, their armor doesn't offer enough protection as any gun can penetrate their defenses, as seen by their gunshot wounds, but the fact that enemies won't even flinch to a shotgun blast is quite annoying.
While Vin Diesel may not be commented as the best actor of all time, he is pretty damn good at the Riddick character, and while the game may be using a player model designed to be exactly like him, his voice is excellent for the role, providing a disturbing dialog to the game. The voice acting in general is pretty spiffy, although some of the guard's one liners can be irritating. While the music of the game is of a fast paced, dramatic orchestrated theme, it tends to be annoying when you're attempting to talk to another character as Riddick, and you've got the music still booming in the background (thus you can't hear what the characters are actually saying). What is cool though is the story of this game explains some of Riddick's origins, in particular how he recieves his ability to see in the dark - which in game, comes in extreme handy as a sort of night-vision.
As an exclusive to PC (due to being 'The Developer's Cut), the developer's have added a mode where you can learn about the game through a sort of in-game commentary. This sounds good on paper, but really can be a bit boring. You'll see many Riddick-related icons throughout the game, and when you press the use key upon it, you'll activate the commentary. It may be interesting to some to hear what the developer's have to say, but you may also just want to continue along with the game.
One of the major issues about The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is that it doesn't really like NVIDIA, however a patch can easily fix this up. Another issue however is that the game is way too linear, considering the game is based in a prison, Riddick will find himself going down narrow corridors that will just lead him from point A to point B, or back. The game itself is also quite short, as I was able to complete the game within seven hours (within two days) on normal difficulty. The game also tends to suddenly increase in difficulty, as one moment it's way too easy, the next it's way too hard. But nevertheless, it's still one satisfying ride in the end.
So while this isn't the perfect movie licensed game, it's still a damn good one and gives hope that in the future, other movie licensed games won't suck (I'm looking at you Revenge of the Sith). The enemy A.I could have been alot better, and the game could of been a bit less linear and give the player more freedom to move around throughout the shadows and whatnot - perhaps to not even be seen at all. The game could of also been significantly longer, and perhaps with more bonus material. While people complain there could of been a multiplayer, I disagree, it would of probably just turned out to be like any other shooter multiplayer (The Chronicles of Half-Life: Escape from Black Mesa?).
Overall though, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (the Developer's Cut) for PC is an excellent purchase and worthy to be in any FPS fan's collection. Fans of the actual Riddick-franchise will be quite pleased with this game, despite its flaws. Here in Australia the game is now only $20, while in other countries such as America it's bound to be cheaper. So come on, go get the game, go home, load it up on your computer, and play "who's the better killer".