The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Review
27 April 2009 | By Richard Walker
You haven't escaped…you've just traded one hell for another
Escape from Butcher Bay did the unthinkable in taking a widely derided movie and transforming it into one of the most surprising FPS titles on the PC and Xbox, turning the widely accepted convention that movie tie-ins invariably making for bad games on its head in the process. Five years down the line, Riddick’s back for the next chapter in the franchise with what at first seems like more of an expansion pack than a fully-fledged sequel. Minutes into the game causes any misgivings to instantly dissipate however, as clearly the same level of quality has been afforded to the latter half of this brilliant package as its excellent predecessor. And thankfully, gamers who missed their chance to enjoy the original game now have the opportunity to catch up and play the entire ten-hour Escape from Butcher Bay campaign, completely revamped and graphically overhauled using the same engine as Assault on Dark Athena.
Assault on Dark Athena’s story picks up immediately after the events of Butcher Bay, with Riddick in cryonic sleep aboard his escape ship when a rocket-driven harpoon tethers the craft and reels it into the tentacle-lined jaws of the ominous, prawn-shaped vessel. From here, the objective is to make good your escape once more while contending with the nefarious plans of Captain Revas and Spinner, her second in command. You’ll quickly learn that darkness is your friend if you want to evade the mindless drones that ceaselessly traverse the claustrophobic corridors scanning the environment searching for you. Luckily, life as a violent criminal means that Richard Riddick is a grade-A badass with a whole host of brutal melee moves at his disposal and once you get hold of the curved Ulak blades, you’ll be slashing throats and piercing brains with reckless abandon.
Riddick doesn’t take prisoners. If you get in his way, you’re dead meat.
The Ulaks are devastating in a melee rumble. Watching the claret fly as Riddick eviscerates his victim is truly satisfying.
Vicious fisticuffs is only part of the game however as you’ll learn later on as you steadily assemble a formidable arsenal of weaponry all accessed via a neat radial menu. The game’s gunplay is every bit as accomplished as its melee combat, with a helpful lean move for the more intense moments where just a few bullets can be fatal. Again, staying in the shadows is paramount since a head on confrontation can often be suicide. Where Riddick is concerned, a careful strategy normally wins out over gung-ho run and gun tactics any day. Riddick has an advantage in the form of his ‘eyeshine’ ability, which allows him to see in the dark and chances are you’ll have it switched on for the majority of the game as most areas are enveloped in pitch black. They don’t call it Dark Athena for nothing, y’know.
Dark Athena itself clocks in at around the same duration as the first game offering an equally compelling narrative and gameplay, although the dank environs of Butcher Bay’s prison walls are more visually appealing than the sterile, pearlescent steel of the titular mercenary vessel. On your journey through the labyrinthine corridors of the cold, inhospitable ship, you’ll encounter similar reprobate characters to those found in Butcher Bay, from the psychotic Jaylor to the noble Dacher, the Dark Athena’s prisoners are a colourful bunch possessing genuine, believable character traits. Their facial expressions and gestures are some of the most convincing you’re likely to see in a current-gen game and thanks to the excellent voice work, motion capture and rich graphical detail, every one of the NPCs is a credibly realistic digital actor.
Mostly however, you’ll be engaging faceless soldiers and zombie-like drones as you discover the ship operates as a facility for harvesting humans and transforming them into an army of brain-dead slaves. Most of these weaker early enemies are actually huge fun to dismember with your Ulaks equipped, and there are a number of fittingly gory, visceral animations to enjoy as you tear them to shreds. Later in the game however, enemy numbers grow and more lethal units are steadily introduced changing the kind of approach you should adopt. Fortunately, the game presents you with heavier weapons to take down the larger baddies like the hulking Alpha drone who can bombard you with never-ending incendiary grenades and minigun fire. Dealing with one of these requires the use of the SCAR rifle, a weapon that allows Riddick to spew infinite sticky charges in sets of five, which he can then detonate remotely. This weapon proves invaluable as the difficulty ramps up and will get you out of all manner of difficult situations.
Pull the right trigger and this unfortunate drone will get a skull full of Ulak steel. Nasty.
The camera cuts to third-person whenever Riddick climbs, giving you the optimum view of your surroundings.
Still, the game isn’t all fighting and is carefully paced to include larger open areas where you get to engage in some light platform navigation. Riddick can climb, shimmy and leap around his environment with ease, which is useful for certain sections of the game that require a more agile hero than normally found in an FPS. While these platform-jumping elements of the game might sound like irritating distractions, they’re actually a welcome break from the wanton slaughter and they’re mercifully rare anyway. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find fault with the level design at all since it constantly keeps you engaged and moving forward. The pedigree of Starbreeze Studio’s previous FPS efforts is clearly in evidence in Assault on Dark Athena, from the sheer depth of visual fidelity, to the superlative characterisations and gameplay, it’s well worth returning to Riddick once again.
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: ASSAULT ON DARK ATHENA VERDICT
Assault on Dark Athena is not only a uniformly great first-person shooter; it also represents fantastic value for money, especially if you happened to have missed the gravel-voiced one’s initial foray onto the original Xbox and PC. Even if you’re among the many who previously played the original game back in 2004, buying this is reason enough to revisit it once more. Essentially, you’re getting two full games weighing in at roughly ten-hours apiece, both of which are superb. So, really there’s no excuse for not bagging yourself a copy – Valve’s ludicrously generous Orange Box only trumps this in offering serious bang for your buck – and surely that’s reason enough to give Vin Diesel another chance after Wheelman, right?
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finding the command centre where the drones are controlled and being able to control one yourself. Trust us, it gets better than this too, but we don’t want to give anything away.