Expanding on The Chronicles of Riddick and Pitch Black films, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena from Atari and Starbreeze Studios for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC continues the story of Riddick after his escape from Butcher Bay (as seen in the previous Riddick game, aptly titled Escape from Butcher Bay). When Riddick is brought aboard the mercenary ship called Dark Athena, he will have to escape from his captors and dispense a little dark justice, if you know what I mean. If none of this makes sense, then don't worry: Assault includes the original 2004 Butcher Bay game dressed up with current generation elements and an added sequence to bridge the plot of the two games. Two complete games on a single disc makes for an incredible deal in these uncertain economic times, but is the game worth your time as well as money? Will you take a shine to Riddick's first-person stealth exploits?
Both games on the Riddick disc follow the same basic format: our hero must navigate dangerous tight spaces and dark corners in order to incapacitate or otherwise kill those that are trying to kill him. While gunplay is certainly part of the action, Riddick tends to rely on knives and other sharp stabbing weapons to eliminate his enemies (Butcher Bay teases players with guns especially, as finding a gun is relatively easy, but they're all initially locked to prison guard DNA, meaning that if Riddick tries to pick one up, he gets a nasty zap of electricity in return). This means that the best way to kill an enemy is to sneak up behind them in the dark and deliver a quick slash or stab. Running head-on into the light with your knife blazing, as it were, is a fantastic way to become very dead very fast. Sometimes it's better to just sneak by enemies rather than engage them, a maneuver made somewhat easier thanks to Riddick's ability to become invisible in the darkness. Expect to equip your patience as well as your knife when creeping through both the Butcher Bay prison and the Dark Athena spaceship.
I'm generally not much of a first-person stealth/shooter gamer, but I know high production values when I see them, and Riddick is one of the most cinematic games I've encountered this year. Vin Diesel returns to provide his voice and appearance to the main character, and although Riddick's dialog sounds as if the developers woke Diesel up and dragged him from his bed to come record his lines, that's the Riddick character for you. Each game begins with a brief tutorial level that acts as a film-like teaser before the opening title credits appear over a cutscene that sets the stage for each game's respective first act. There's some additional star power on display besides Vin Diesel, however. During the course of Riddick's adventures you'll hear from Lance Henrikson, Michelle Forbes, Wade Williams, and Morgan Sheppard among others.
The one glaring issue I have with both Butcher Bay and Dark Athena is that I found them to be downright sadistically difficult at times. Now, I admit that I'm not the best first-person player, but something is not right when I am repeatedly gunned down during the tutorial level on the Normal mode of difficulty. It wasn't until I switched over to the Easy mode that I was able to proceed into the actual game itself, and even then I can't say that I was able to blaze right through the objectives. I found Riddick to be a difficult game, often more frustrating than fun, but I freely admit that if my FPS skills were sharper, I believe I would have enjoyed myself more rather than eagerly moving on to something else after my thirtieth attempt to destroy a certain Butcher Bay boss ended with yet another instant massacre.
This latest installment in the world of Riddick is rated M-for-Mature for a very good reason. Aside from the brutal violence, the profanity is off the charts here. I don't mind the occasional heavy language when it fits the situation, but when I hear "I'm gonna skull-fuck you!" as enemy filler dialog for the umpteenth time, it becomes unnecessarily gratuitous. I should also note that there is online multiplayer available, although whenever I tried to connect for a game, I was kicked off of the PlayStation Network. I have been having issues with connecting to PSN lately in other games as well for some reason, so I'm not prepared to blame Riddickfor this problem. Either way, I wasn't able to play the multiplayer while preparing this mini-review.
So, in the end, I have mixed feelings about The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. It's a high quality game with admirable production values and plenty to see and do, but its frustratingly difficult gameplay held me back from really enjoying it. The best games make me believe that my failings are my own, whereas Riddick left me angry over what I felt to be cheap shots and unbeatable odds. It's just not a game for me, but if you enjoy first-person stealth action games with brutal challenges, then it may be the game for you. Either way, kudos to the development team for continuing the story established in the two Riddick films and maintaining a cinematic scope when creating a quick movie-based cash-in game would have been much easier.