Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
N Amer - 12/07/2004
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The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - Director's Cut Review
This little gem of a game is brought to us by the kind folks at Starbreeze Studios, a team that ought to be commended for taking a big movie license and making a more-than-respectable game out of it. The Chronicles of Riddick debuted in theatres this year as a sequel to 1999’s Pitch Black – both films giving major screentime to action star Vin Diesel - and Starbreeze’s game, Escape from Butcher Bay, is a prequel to the events in Pitch Black. One doesn’t necessarily need to have seen either movie to appreciate the game, but there are of course allusions to the films that fans will undoubtedly notice.
The game plays out in a first-person point of view, but it’s hardly a traditional, run-n’-gun, blast everything that moves, action game. In fact, you don’t even get to use guns all that often in Riddick; when you do, ammo is sparse and must be used wisely. You’ll use your fists quite often here, which is fitting, considering the game is set in the prison at Butcher Bay. Riddick – voiced by Vin Diesel here as well – can equip himself with a number of handy tools to give him an upper hand, though. You’ll come across cheaply made steel knuckles early on that give your punches a little bit of extra spunk, until you eventually find some very nice pairs to outfit your fingers or some melee tools like shivs and screwdrivers.
Other games have incorporated hand-to-hand fighting in their first-person titles, but none have done it as admirably as Riddick. While it’s by no means revolutionary here, it is a welcome and unique feature. Riddick punches normally by clicking the left mouse button, and can guard against attacks with the right mouse button. There’s also something of a lock-on feature that keeps you pointed in the proper direction while blocking, since it’s hard to see your enemy with your arms in front of your face. You can perform different types of attacks by moving in different directions while punching – uppercuts and left and right hooks, for example. These can be strung into combos with proper timing, allowing for a little creativity in your brawls.
All fighting aside, though, there are hefty doses of exploration or places to get to know your fellow inmates. You’ll have to do tasks to satisfy them and get them to help you by lending you a hand in a fight, giving you a tool, password, or a special piece of information. Everyone in the game has a personality that extends beyond the way their lines were written. Some are more scared than others, some are loners and some follow their leader, some act like checkpoint men in the underground railroad. In the beginning of the game, you have to fight one of the more brutish bullies in the prison, but only after taking out a dozen of his loyal thugs and procuring a weapon from an allie. After you finally beat down the big guy, other people will begin holding you in a higher regard. The game is full of cool little touches like that.
Riddick isn’t always about using violence, though. There’s a focus on stealth in the game, apparent when making Riddick crouch. Well, he doesn’t so much crouch as he totally goes into a stealth mode. Unlike other FPS PC games, you only toggle on the crouch, instead of holding it down while moving – unsettling at first, but it makes sense when you find you’ll be doing more than just walking. When Riddick is in stealth mode, he can drag dead bodies out of sight, sneak up and kill enemies from behind, or most importantly, slink right past them. The game notifies you of your current level of stealthiness by changing the hue of the game to blue. This was an appreciated little facet of the game.
This game was originally available on the Xbox earlier this year, but the PC version only came out recently. It’s a mostly successful conversion. There are a few peculiarities; most notably, you can’t really scroll through your weapons with the mouse wheel, you must use keys. Some other functions aren’t in the expected places on the keyboard, but they may easily be changed in the options panel.
Seeing as this is the director’s cut of the game, there are actually a lot of notable additions. Most importantly, there’s a totally new scene in the middle of the game where you take control of a mech-type machine and take on some other tough baddies. It’s seamlessly integrated and is a cool little extension of the game, even if it isn’t terribly long. There are a lot of little videos you can watch when not playing the game – documentaries about making the game, behind the scenes sort of stuff. By far the most innovative non-gameplay extra is the developer’s commentary. This is something I haven’t seen done in any other game, but would really love to see in other games that take care in attention to detail. You play through the game, basically, but as you pass certain points or see certain objects, the developers’ voices come up explaining this and that, sharing a token of interest, or retelling a funny story. This is a really, really cool idea and I hope it catches on with other developers around the world. While there’s no multiplayer mode to lengthen out the game’s replay value, the commentary alone is worth a second play through.
The graphics in the game are impressive, if not perfect. Character models exhibit distinct details, despite a wee bit of polygon tearing with close inspection. Animation is good and textures are crisp. Environments look good, for the most part – they have sort of a claustrophobic feel as they are all rather small, but this is a prison, after all. Bump mapping is used extensively here, as shown off by your flashlight ability – a flashlight that may be too bright, in all honesty. Shine it at a metal wall and be prepared to blind yourself. Overall, though, the graphics certainly aren’t bad, and though they aren’t flawless they’re nice to view.
Sound is well done. Vin Diesel pulls off the tough, action guy more convincingly than anyone else could, probably, and it works. Inmate voices are all unique and finely voiced. Sound effects are pulled off amiably – the bang of a shotgun is satisfying, and the sound of a fist smacking against your face almost sounds like the real thing. Music is sparse, but when it kicks in it really works. I have no real complaints.
All in all, Escape from Butcher Bay is a fine example of a game. It’s fun, unique, and intriguing enough to play through at least once, if not twice with the commentary. Production values are good, and the storyline is enjoyable. One can only hope this is a sign of things to come from movie licenses – if all other games based on films were as great as this, we’d have an exponential jump in great titles on the shelves!
|Review Scoring Details|
Executed finely, the gameplay here is varied and fun.
Not bad at all – despite some minor flaws, this is a mighty fine looking morsel of a game.
No real complaints. From the voice acting to the sound effects to the music, this is all very good.
It’s not so much that Riddick offers much new as that all its features work well together, and better than in most other games that focused on single elements. Plus, it’s actually a great game based on a movie.
Challenging, but not overtly difficult.
Riddick may not be the be-all, end-all FPS game, but it doesn’t attempt to be. It’s a game of prison life; with fist-fights, gruesome foes, loyal friends, and supreme power when you get your hands on an assault rifle. It’s a very well done game, and shouldn’t be missed by any fan of the genre.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - Director's Cut Comments
GameZone Review Detail
Riddick is a surprisingly great little adventure that offers an experience unlike any other game out there.
Reviewer: Justin Raymond
Review Date: 12/28/2004