The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay Xbox Review
Publisher: Vivendi Games Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Genre: FPS, Action-Adventure, Stealth Players: 1 Age Rating: 16+
Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Often rushed out to coincide with the release of the film, the film license is synonymous with shoddiness. The graphics are invariably terrible and the game itself isn’t normally much better either, Atari’s Terminator is a prime example here, looking like a pigs foot and playing averagely at best. There are exceptions of course; proof here is The Chronicles of Riddick, which has obviously been crafted with much love and attention: not things that are generally associated with the movie tie-in.
The money men know that smooth visuals often seal the deal between consumer and title, resulting in deceitful screens that often look touched-up to better appeal, not here though, quite simply because they can’t improve on something that is impossible to improve on. In fact this technological leap is giving us more then a sneak peek at the visuals we should expect to beautify our TV screens when the imminent batch of next generation consoles are released. That future is already here thanks to the revolution that is the normal mapping technique. Yes not a single screen lies about this games visual splendour, those textures are rock solid and that lighting is stunningly lovely, all resulting in a visual feast for the eyes. Definitely much more in common with Doom 3 than the hideous Terminator 3, whoever said that the movie tie-in rulebook suggested ugly and rushed visuals?
Visuals aside Riddick’s world is nasty and this nasty and bloody atmosphere, coupled with those marble-like textures, truly drew us into the violent universe of Butcher Bay, a maximum Security Prison that is apparently rather tricky to escape from. There is always a first though and Richard B. Riddick (played by a gravely voiced Vin Diesel) may not be the first guy to attempt such an escape, but if he succeeds he’ll most probably be the first to ever reach that most elusive of exits, naturally that’s where you step in and fill Riddick’s boots.
The pleasing plot is complemented by some solid enough voice work and the whole game has a satisfying cinematic quality. Upon starting the game you are led by on-screen instructions, which introduce you to the basic controls and actions, a dream section later turns into a movie-like sequence where Riddick makes his first steps into the dangerous prison environment of Butcher Bay, accompanied by dramatic music and opening credits.
It soon becomes apparent that you can become the hired hands of various NPC’s, and Riddick’s powerful reputation can also earn you a fair few side missions, which if completed rewards you with cigarette packets (unlocks various artwork and movie stills) or currency, which can be made use of in various ways. Sure it may not have the consequential character interaction of the Deus Ex series but it does slightly remove the game from a well trodden path.
In the earlier moments of the game, you’ll not have a single gun to call your own, minimising combat options to only your fists and conventional tools and knifes, with which you can do unmentionable things with. Dominantly the game is played from a first person view (although cleverly it also flips to third person in certain situations), this said don’t go expecting to find fistfights that seem horribly tacked on, as they’re as concrete as the rest of the game. Firstly the left trigger can be used to block incoming attacks, whilst using the right trigger to strike out a good walloping pair of fists, and the left analogue stick to direct these brutal strikes. Fistfights result in violent combos and bruised and bloodied enemy faces, which even puts some boxing titles to shame.
That’s the thing about this game, it doesn’t shy away from showing off its contrasting styles of play and Starbreeze certainly seem proud to flaunt it all. The stealth component works well enough and is also pretty routine, making way for the usual stealthy staples such as cowardly attacks from behind (cracking necks and a knife in the back etc), stalking in shadows, removing bodies from sight and going all Sam Fisher and blanketing the environments in darkness by taking the lights out with your guns. Later in the game Riddick receives his trademark eyeshine ability, which allows you to see in the darkness without the need of an often giveaway torchlight, it’s a great ability to use in the gloom against oblivious enemies but the downside is that any contact with light is completely blinding. If you so wish the game can also be easily turned into a FPS, there are even some periods where you’re forced into Doom like action portions.
The length is one of the pitfalls of the game; things are over far too soon for our liking. Those who play through for nothing but perfection may head through again if they haven’t uncovered all the cigarette packs, so in this aspect that grumble is combated to a certain degree, although others may argue that the secrets aren’t rewarding enough for that all important replay value. Furthermore the lack of any multi-player options is certainly a bit of a downer, although the focal point has always been the main game itself, and it shows.
The Chronicles of Riddick should make other developers take note, and we hope the game has paved the way for other movie tie-ins to follow. The visuals are stunning and the gameplay isn’t too shabby either, if only the game had been that little bit longer and had provided us with some multi-player options, we would have had very few complaints.