Be my eye-shining hero.
Most games based on movies are total garbage (this must be the hundredth time I’ve expressed this revelation). So when a game crops up that’s actually substantially better than the movie, people stand up and take notice. Such was the case with The Chronicles of Riddick. Both of them.
[image1]That awful movie of the same name had what is possibly the stupidest plot in all of science fiction, wherein Riddick saves the galaxy from the evil Necromongers thanks to his magical powers. So very strange then, that The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay was such a great game. This is clearly due to the fact that developers completely ignored the terrible film, and took their inspiration from a different movie: Pitch Black.
Now Pitch Black is the movie that served as the origin of the character Richard B. Riddick (didn’t know his name was Richard, didja?), and that film is actually good. Instead of some mystical violent Jesus magic savior of the universe, Riddick is a violent prisoner being held by a bounty hunter named Johns. It is briefly mentioned that before he was captured by Johns, he was the only person to ever escape from the notorious prison planet Butcher Bay.
From that one line, the developers decided to tell the story of the actual escape. And now, Dark Athena picks up the story right from where Butcher Bay ends, but before the events of the movie Pitch Black. Having escaped from prison, Riddick (and Johns, oddly enough, but I’m not going to retell the whole plot) are in cryogenic sleep for their long space journey. Unfortunately, their ship is nabbed by the giant slaver ship, Dark Athena. Riddick stealthily manages to evade capture and proceeds to wreak havoc onboard with his own trademarked dance of extreme violence.
This first person “shooter”, like Butcher Bay, focuses on hand-to-hand combat for much of the game. A variety of knives (and a club) are available early on, although they all seem to work about equally well. The limited arsenal, at least at the beginning of Dark Athena, is mostly due to the fact that the only people with projectile weapons are slaves converted into biomechanical “drones” with no free will and guns that cannot be separated from their arms. You can drag the drones around and use them as turrets, but like Charlton Heston, you are unable to pry their guns from their cold dead… um… arm-guns.
[image2]And you want to avoid those arm-guns as much as possible, preferably by hiding in the shadows. Riddick is exceedingly non-bulletproof and, like the rest of us flesh and blood creatures, goes down quickly under a hail of bullets. Stealth, then, is also an important component of gameplay and just plain staying alive.
I should mention at this point that Dark Athena comes bundled with the other game I mentioned, Butcher Bay. Yes, the whole thing, with some spruced up graphics for its transition from last-gen to this-gen. This is a 100% pure awesome bonus. Unfortunately, this also helps highlight how last-gen Dark Athena looks. Lighting and shadows are done particularly well, which helps the stealth aspects, but textures are bland, monotonous, and colorless.
Fortunately, much of the audio makes up for that because once again, Riddick has some of the finest voice talent around. Characters are engaging, interesting, and will occasionally, totally creep you out. You actually want to talk to all the auxiliary characters because, well, you want to. How often do you see that in a video game?
Which is where Dark Athena becomes a slightly inferior game to Butcher Bay, oddly enough. It looks only marginally better, has absolutely identical controls and gameplay, but the characters and the story aren’t quite as engaging. However, since you also get the entirety of the other game, I cannot decide if this is a compliment or an insult.
[image3]The multiplayer works well enough, with the ubiquitous Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes. However, the standout is Pitch Black mode where only one player is our pal Riddick (who can see in the dark thanks to either surgery or magic depending on which movie you watch) and everyone else hunting him has a flashlight and a gun.
Honestly, it would have been harder to recommend Dark Athena by its lonesome, but this purchase really is a twofer. With two full games, some great characters, and the tense Pitch Black mode, it all comes together. And if you simply must have a game with Vin Diesel, this is far better than The Wheelman, and it was inspired by the only good movie he was ever in. Please don’t kill me, Mr. Diesel.