The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Review
Take one muscle bound actor, apply dark areas, brain dead drones, suspense and subtle deep sounding one liners and the formula should equate to a hugh success for The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. After all the game features one of Vin Diesel's best and most loved action hero characters 'Richard B. Riddick' and the developers have even added in the re-mastered Butcher Bay classic into the mix for good measure.
Butcher Bay was the surprise hit of 2004 changing peoples opinions about movie tie-ins forever by making a game that was actually fun to play.
Set in a period of time before Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick films, Butcher Bay provides the background storyline of how Riddick received his shine in the dark eyes and show boats his skills at trying to escape a jail that no one has every managed to break out of before.
The game mixed in stealth, FPS shooting, basic mission based structure, melee combat, RPG conversation elements and buckets of atmosphere to such a level that you almost believed that you were Riddick and nobody could mess with you!
5 years on the re-mastered game looses none of its early game play traits, which is a credit in its own right and it even felt to us that the PC's extended bits have made their way to the 360 version as well (though don't quote us on this), good times, and with improved graphics thrown in for good measure this makes Athena a worth while purchase just for Butcher Bay alone.
Though to be honest having played the original Butcher Bay title on the PC first time round we felt that only 360 owners will likely benefit from the added graphical touches, as the newer improvements are more to do with clever uses of lightning effects, which smooth out the cobwebs of the original title, rather than any major improvements.
The Voice of an Angel - a very deep sounding Angel
Vin Diesel's deep baritone voice, which must have occurred naturally by either smoking to many cigarettes or is inherited from early cross breeding with the Honey Monster, certainly adds immense atmosphere to both titles, though you will have to have a pretty good sound setup in place as some of his words were simply inaudible to the human ear (especially on our wimpy stereo TV speakers).
Having enjoyed around 11-12 hours of entertaining game play via Butcher Bays Normal difficulty level we headed into Dark Athena with great expectations and a slight feeling of déjà vu after the first hour or so, as the story starts off pretty much after the ending of latter’s game and introduces almost identical game play/plot structure elements to match, so instead of escaping a physical prison set on dry land, this time you are trying to do the escape act on a ship floating in space, though why change a good thing right?
Unfortunately Athena doesn’t quite live up to its early title with parts of the game seeming a little flat in places, with Butcher Bays mission structure thrown in almost because the developers thought they had to, rather than because they needed to and the AI is certainly suspect in places (more on this later).
But Athena still has an addictive quality that like Butcher Bay makes you want to play just that little bit more before going to bed and by a little bit more we mean several hours, so you find yourself boggle eyed at 1 in the morning!
Also playing though the early parts of Athena was really enjoyable as you are forced to utilise all of your characters stealth traits once more, crawling though ventilation shafts, creeping around boxes, sneaking up on unexpected foes before hitting them with a lethal neck break. It’s only when you get to the later levels which rely on lighted outdoor sections that you are forced to return to full on FPS shooting mode and the stealth element gets put on the back burner.
However the early parts of the game do introduce you to one of the games more memorable characters and these are called drones.
The drones - as you will discover - are simply brain dead human/cyborgs controlled remotely by un-seen operators or left to wander aimlessly around the Athena in auto pilot mode.
Creepy clicks, clumping noises and hissing from the breath apparatus of the drones certainly gets the heart racing and adds to the dark atmosphere that only the Riddick universe can provide. The drones do present a few new tactical elements within the game though, killing them will allow you to grab their gun and use it from a stationary position to either take out more enemies or gain access to parts of the level that may have been inaccessible before.
Combat fun or AI madness
Drones were certainly one of our favourite ways to utilise some of Riddick’s new melee combat weapons (which fans of the Chronicles of Riddick film will soon recognise and lap up with great pleasure).
Slowly creeping up on a drone and then slicing it into shish kebab was both entertaining and also the fastest way of taking them out.
Sadly we felt that when playing on Normal setting, certainly for the first half of the game, it did seem a bit too easy to wipe out enemies, to the point that we eventually got sick of creeping arround and carved our way through them with ease (could explain why we only got 8-9 hours of game play). It doesn’t help by the fact that the drones (especially) were simply far to brain dead to be of any real challenge.
We can understand that the drones are supposed to be slow and thick, as there are parts of the game that require you to traverse hugh cargo areas of the ship bypassing tons of the buggers, but at times the AI could be bit more intelligent when coping with our stealth mode in semi-darkness, for example getting ourselves within millimetres from them, almost to the point of touching their legs, with little reaction and even if they did see us we could simply duck back behind a crate and it’s almost like we were never there.
Other examples of the hit and miss AI could be seen when we shot at two soldiers facing each other with a stun gun. The first solider simply stood there and watched as his comrade lay twitching on the deck, not even responding until we came past him waving and jumping about with our sharp pointy knife.
Similar mid-level baddies are thrown at you to make life difficult, but they can be despatched swiftly if you place yourself conveniently at the corner of a box, avoiding their bullets whilst you pound away at them with your arsenal of weapons.
Later on in the game you get to face off against some rather annoying crab like robots which stick themselves to walls, the only time you know about them is where you have gone past one and get yourself killed instantly.
Eventually they have red targeting systems that help you identify there presense a little easier, but in the early parts of the game it’s almost like the developers forgot about this, leaving you to wander into sections aimlessly, dying and then going back after a re-load in order to learn there positions by simple trial and error.
This is made slightly more frustrating as - with Butcher Bay - you can't manually save your position, it only saves after you have completed key moments in the game or healed at med stations, so part of the games longevity is caused by you having to repeat sections that you have already goten through before.
Despite all this the AI does improve in places and we still found the combat a highly enjoyable experience. Without giving too much away you do get to utilise a couple of new guns which certainly builds upon the previous games shotgun and assault riffle to great effect.
Plus it was really cool that you have several moments in Athena that allow you to unleash havoc on the enemies with their own advanced creations - but these sections left us wanting more.