The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Review

Michael Finney

There are few games that make me feel horrible as a person after I sit and play them; Riddick is one of those games. It seems that with The Chronicles of Riddick, Starbreeze has brewed up a concoction that is gory, dark, and scratches at the underworld of all the nasty things that exist in this and other dimensions. The pseudo-sequel to Escape from Butcher Bay rears its ugly head on the 360 and has much to prove after the underground success of its predecessor. Can Assault on Dark Athena meet the challenge, or is it destined to fall flat on its face?

This is not going to end well for the drone.

From the very first moment you fire the game up you're faced with a choice of epic proportions; do you relive the classic 2004 game with a 2009 makeover, or pick up where you left off 5 years ago and continue the adventure with Dark Athena? The choice is entirely yours and whichever you chose, you play as the ultimate badass, Riddick. Both the tutorials are straightforward and easy to follow and provides you with all the skills necessary to get along quite well throughout both games. Each game has their own introduction and fans of Butcher Bay will happy to know that everything has been kept intact with a visual upgrade and added collectables which unlock extra content.

Riddick (voiced by Vin Diesel) has been caught by Johns (a mercenary who is always trying to capture the so called illusive man) yet again and is suddenly awakened to find himself in deep space aboard a mercenary ship called the Dark Athena. Naturally, Riddick doesn’t like this very much and decides to kill everyone who gets in his way on his mission to survive and escape the hellish merc-ship. How you kill somebody, is completely up to you; you can sneak behind your foe’s back and snap their neck; stab them to death; or decide to turn into Rambo blasting everyone in your path. This is part of the game's problem as it can’t decide what genre it really wants to fit into. Sometimes Chronicles of Riddick wants to be a shooter, other times, a survival-horror, with stealth seeming like it wanted to be shoved in at the last minute. It is really up to the particular player what role they want to play. In reality, it seems that, at its core, Chronicles of Riddick is a stealth-shooter because Riddick likes to play in the shadows and you find the most success here.

The linear gameplay is very familiar and you won’t get lost … most of the time. I found myself backtracking on a couple occasions but mainly because the objective was either too vague or simply because I didn’t know what to do. Assault on Dark Athena does however brings back the side-missions from Escape from Butcher Bay but in much less abundance. It was a nice distraction from constantly hiding/killing mercenaries, and doesn't detract too much from the story. Dark Athena also brings back horrible "collect item A and item B so you can make item C" quests. It destroys the fluidity of the story and doesn’t add much to the game aside from maybe seeing a little more of the ship.

Riddick - 1, Bad Guy - 0.

Part of the problem with the aesthetic look of Dark Athena is the definitely the setting as being stuck on the same ship, the setting soon becomes bland and uninspired. Typical places you might see in this type of game are visited, such as the engine room, the refinery and starport; and unfortunately they are as cliché as it gets. It's almost as if the developers wanted to string out the Dark Athena experience and so forced you to travel around the same environment in order to drag things out a little. While gorgeous, the shine wears off after spending a couple hours in the same dark and dingy environments.

The controls are what you would typically see from a shooter. They are responsive enough but there can arise a few problems with regard to quelling the evil doers, mainly because the bullets seem to carry with them a little lag. Simply put, you shouldn’t be able to count the seconds between firing a weapon and seeing the results of its carnage. It becomes extremely frustrating when you are trying to fire at an enemy from cover and when he finally rears his head, he is behind cover before the bullets whizzes past him. In the end, it's easier to run up to the guy and slice him in the chest a couple times which in the end limits your options. Foes also seem to be rendered invincible when a certain “injured’ animation is triggered whch seems to affect shotgun mostly that can become a huge pain in the ass.

There are some especially satisfying moments throughout the title, like controlling a mech and mowing down enemies; and battling the captain of the Athena for supremacy. Sneaking up behind somebody and digging a shiv into the back of one of your enemies is particularly fun and never gets old. However, these moments are few and far between as you are mostly wandering the ship in search of a way to get off without getting killed. Unfortunately it gets to the point where you really wonder ... "am I really having fun doing this? Do I really want to needlessly kill everyone I see?" While Riddick might do that, it begins to wear on your moral compass. Riddick’s colours do brighten up the adventure though and they really begin to shine when talking to prisoners giving you the chance to either blow them off or have something rude to say to them. Almost always you threaten to kill them if they piss you off or their usefulness has been used up. Vin Diesel definitely reprises his role to perfection as a jerk but more importantly, a survivor.

Nowadays, gamers seem to demand there be some sort of multiplayer attached to a game. While there are the few exceptions to this rule, there are always the games that shouldn’t have any sort of multiplayer, period. Chronicles of Riddick falls into the latter category. Every time I attempted to play a game, it was filled with so much lag that warping around the map actually became part and parcel of the whole experience. We have the usual suspects in terms of game-types; deathmatch, capture the flag, and so on. There is however one exception, the aptly named Pitch Black mode which pits one person, Mr Riddick, who is armed with nothing but melee weapons, against a team of 5 guards who are armed with a gun and a flashlight. Whilst the use-the-darkness premise is a good way to use the license, unfortunately, this too is saturated with lag stacking the odds against the guards and playing into the hands of Riddick. It would have been more beneficial as a title to have extended the exceptional single player experience than include a half-assed multiplayer lag-fest.

The underground hit from 2004, Escape from Butcher Bay, is also part of the Chronicles of Riddick package, so if you missed round on the highly praised title first time around, now is the perfect chance to experience it. In it you'll play as Riddick (go figure!) and your goal is to escape from the worst prison in the galaxy, Butcher Bay. Rapper Xzibit and actor Ron Perlman lend their voices to play a crooked guard and a legendary prisoner respectively. The controls are identical to Assault on Dark Athena and this makes things an easy transition; and vice versa if you played Butcher Bay first. I was pleasantly surprised with the pace and the graphical update to Butcher Bay which kept both my eyes and mind happy simultaneously. If you missed out playing this classic from 2004, don't miss it again when after you finish Assault on Dark Athena.

Down low for the fist pump?

The achievements, whilst having a few decent achievements, will take forever to get the full 1000 and are flawed in so many respects. Not only do you have a whopping 10,000 kills achievement a la Gears of War, but you have to WIN 1000 games as well. Tacking on a substandard, almost throwaway multiplayer mode in the first place is one thing, but then encouraging you to play it for an extended amount of time to get the full 1000 is another. Chronicles of Riddick also commits one of the long standing achievement sins; "do not stack campaign difficulty achievements" which is unforgivable. With 400 points slapped on a poor multiplayer aspect, the developers clearly haven't made the list accessible and they need to understand that when they plan for achievements, they at least need to make them reasonably attainable which these are not. Other than the horribly weighted multiplayer achievements and unstackable achievements, the list does have a few good shining lights in terms of its single player, but not nearly enough to save it.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a nice package for for fans and even for someone who has never played a Riddick game before. Both of the games play exactly the same and the only major difference is the scenery. Graphical updates would have been nice but they are decent enough not to detract from the gameplay. The multiplayer may as well have been scrapped completely and we'd have seen a better title if the developers invested that time into the to single player. It is worth every penny if you have never played Escape from Butcher's Bay because that's an experience on its own, it just so happens that Assault on Dark Athena is a bonus.

You won't find much music here but what you will find is are sounds you would typically hear from not only the worst prison imaginable, but from a ship inhabited by lifeless drones and bloodthirsty mercenaries.

Nothing impressive here and the visuals only look a slight step up from the original Xbox version. So much more was expected of Assault on Dark Athena but it failed to deliver. It is not very promising when a game released in 2004 with "updated visuals" looks the same as the game you have just released in 2009.

Easy to hot-swap weapons and the menus are easily navigated. The controls are what you would expect from a FPS and are simple enough to master but the bullet lag is a bit of a let down.

You are basically getting two games for the price of one, and one that was of a very high calibre in its day and still plays great even now. However, a tacked on multiplayer could have been completely eliminated in favour of a much longer single-player experience.

Not only are the difficulty achievements not stackable, you will be playing the pathetic multiplayer for quite some time if you want the full 1000. With 400 points catering exclusively to multiplayer, it will most definitely be a grind. The only reason this score doesn't get a zero is because of the nice mix of singleplayer achievements that are somewhat pain-free to get.

You can't go wrong picking up Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. While you might feel a little shorted on the single-player story for Dark Athena, your mood will soon improve when you realize that you can just boot up Butcher Bay and relive that experience. Getting two games for the price of one is something that you shouldn't pass up. Just steer clear of the multiplayer and it should be an enjoyable experience.

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