Starbreeze Studios released what was to be one of the greatest Xbox games I have ever had the pleasure of playing way back in 2004. This was a title based on the world of the Pitch Black films starring Vin Diesel, named The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. I know, a game based off Pitch Black doesn’t sound all too riveting, but back in 2004 myself and many other people were blown away by how fantastic it was. It had some of the best voice acting, character animation, stealth/shooting gameplay and all-up-in-your-grill melee combat I have ever seen in a video game. The one game that has managed to combine all of these into a perfect blend since 2004 was the recent release of none other than it’s sequel/episodic continuation Assault on Dark Athena.
What’s fantastic for those who may have missed Escape From Butcher Bay is that it is bundled in with Assault on Dark Athena along with a graphical re-haul. That alone is worth your money, but the fact that Starbreeze thought to include an entirely new story alongside it makes my heart weep with joy. There is multiplayer bundled too, but it’s a bit too crappy to be worth your time. More on that later, though.
The thing I loved about Escape from Butcher Bay was how visceral it was. You pretty much were in the shoes of Richard B. Riddick trying to escape from this claustrophobic, dark, dirty version of hell. You were not only sneaking about the place, you were interacting with the inmates and the guards, beating the living daylights out of anyone who got in your way and forming unlikely friendships. What makes this experience that much more real is the fantastic quality of the characters in the game. Their voices, facial features, movements and dialogue make them engaging to talk to and it makes the conversations far more interesting, something that even games such as Mass Effect have yet to capture (although it did come fairly close). Even the character of Riddick is an engaging character. Even though he fits into the ‘Marmite’ category of people (you either love him or hate him), you can’t help but think that he’s a total badass, coupled with Vin Diesel’s voice over makes him a great character that you really would not want to get on the bad side of.
Most, if not all of these features of Escape from Butcher Bay are carried over to Assault on Dark Athena and, in some aspects, have been greatly improved. The game continues shortly after you escape from Butcher Bay (if you didn’t realise that was how the first game ends) as Riddick and the bounty hunter, Johns, are floating through space when a mercenary ship, the Dark Athena, captures them with the intent of turning them into mindless drones, which can be controlled by the mercs at a higher level.
The game is chock full of fantastic characters, just as with Escape from Butcher Bay, which had one of the strangest voice casting choices ever in the form of Xzibit. Yeah, I know. Anyway, alongside Riddick and Johns there are other characters including the merciless Revas, the ever helpful Dacher and, who could be classed as Riddick’s guardian angel, Lynn. Each one of these characters makes Assault on Dark Athena a joy to play. They all seem like real people, even down to the way they react through facial expressions to Riddick’s presence. The voice acting is especially a stand out feature of the game. I’m not a fan of Vin Diesel as an actor, but as a voice actor he is superb. His throaty vocals make for the perfect accompaniment to Riddick’s dark, deadpan demeanour. Revas, voiced by Michelle Forbes who made her name in Star Trek: Next Generation as well as being the voice behind Dr. Julie Mossman in the Half-Life series, has a sort of contemptuous feel about her, which is all down to her spiteful speech.
Assault on Dark Athena is by no means a game for younger people. It is an adult experience, and a very visceral one at that. Proof of this is seen with a certain inmate “playing the skin flute” in his cell in full view of the other inmates. Another instance is another inmate talking about how he wants to rape another inmate, kill her and then have sex with her dead corpse. What’s great about this character is that you actually grow to hate his guts, although you do need his assistance. So when it comes to beating the crap out of him, it is truly a great experience right down to seeing the blood splatter and bruises multiply on his sicko face.
However, whereas Escape from Butcher Bay was a lot more stealth focused, Assault on Dark Athena features a lot more gunplay; be it controlling a drone or with a rifle in your own hands. The first half of the game does feature stealth quite frequently, but not to the extent that Escape from Butcher Bay did. Once you reach New Venice the stealth is nearly entirely thrown out of the window in replacement of a good old fashioned shoot-out. This is where Asasult on Dark Athena loses some points with me. The stealth aspects were what drew me into Escape from Butcher Bay. Sneaking up behind a guard and stabbing him in the neck or slitting his throat was an exciting experience. Hoping you wouldn’t be seen or heard you dragged the body into the shadows, just in case. Here, it’s more about getting from A to B to A (there’s a lot of backtracking compared to Butcher Bay). The problem is, the Riddick series was never designed for gunplay all the way through. The shooting sections of Butcher Bay felt like a reward for all my hard work. “Here, you’ve been creeping through the shadows and vents for an hour. Have a gun and let rip in this cell block because you’re awesome!” In Assault on Dark Athena it just feels like an ordinary FPS.
Multiplayer also seems a bit pointless to me. There’s never more than 5 people playing in a match at one time, and even then it isn’t much fun as the joy of the single player game has been entirely ripped out of the multiplayer. This has been done through generic game modes that are just uninteresting to play.
By no means is Dark Athena a bad game; in fact it’s the exact opposite. It’s everything I expected from a sequel to Butcher Bay and more. It’s just that Butcher Bay just had that little something to make it an fantastic game. Luckily, it’s included with Dark Athena as I mentioned earlier and for that alone this game is worth the full price tag.