The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

The Chronicles of Riddick is truly a rare breed -- games this great almost never arrive with this little fanfare.

You may not have seen Pitch Black or you may not think too warmly of Vin Diesel as an actor, but none of that matters. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay stands comfortably alongside Halo and Splinter Cell as one of the Xbox?s best games.

Hollywood?s Best
Remember back when The Matrix was cool and Enter the Matrix was the much-hoped-for synergy between games and Hollywood? While that all flopped, Chronicles of Riddick takes a much wiser course, delivering the quality that everyone prayed for with Enter the Matrix without all the hype.

Chronicles draws its strength from gameplay that changes constantly and fluidly. One minute you?re facing off against another inmate with shivs inside an illicit boxing ring. Later, you?re creeping through shadows like Sam Fisher or running around conducting conversations and handling side quests in an RPG style. After that, you might find yourself locked in ferocious gun battles or manning a captured mech. Chronicles is full of twists and surprises -- you never know what to expect around the next corner, but it usually leaves you gaping in astonishment and delight.

The A.I. is another highlight as guards and opponents continually startle you with their intelligent responses to your actions -- you rarely get away with the cheap moves you might rely on from battling guards in other games. It?s a pretty long game, too, making up for its lack of multiplayer, and along the way, you?ll think you?re near the end several times?but you aren?t.

A fine story line rich in high production value and unexpected developments provides the perfect backdrop. Fans of Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick movie will of course enjoy the plot a bit more as this game serves as a prequel to Pitch Black, explaining how Riddick got his eyes ?shined? and escaped from prison while hinting at a few of the events in this summer?s film.

There are only two minor downsides worth pointing out: The gameplay path is entirely linear, and toward the end of the game, the action degenerates into more standard "find the lever or key" stuff that gets a bit repetitive (like that series of rooms in Halo's snow level). Still, you?ll be having way too much fun to care.

Diesel Power
Enormously high production value adds to the pleasure of playing this game. It?s no exaggeration to say that these graphics are the best you've ever seen in a console game. The faces and bodies of characters are animated and detailed to a degree of lifelikeness that you won't anticipate, and the gorgeous environments shine with lustrous lighting and hi-res textures. User-interface elements like a health meter appear on the screen only when needed, adding to the cinematic feel. There?s even a slick intro scene borrowed from Half-Life as Riddick is escorted into prison.

Star power helps the audio sizzle. Vin Diesel delivers his lines with a snarling growl that can be chilling, while supporting actors ranging from Xzibit to Ron Perlman and Michael Rooker keep the quality very high. The controls respond smoothly like a well-tuned first-person shooter, incorporating some original mechanisms for stealth kills that are thrilling to execute.

An Xbox-exclusive, Chronicles is a memorably great game. And you gotta love being surprised by a masterpiece without having to endure months of hype beforehand.

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eagle_six

a game based on a movie that is great... never thought i'd see it in my life.

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