It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since we were all treated to The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Even to this date, I still reflect on how well-made that game was, from it’s exceptional graphics to the ambiance of the setting and, of course, to the extremely well implemented stealth system. Assault on Dark Athena brings you not only an updated re-make of Butcher Bay, but an entirely new campaign. How can you go wrong?
First of all, I’d like to commend Starbreeze for taking the time to include Butcher Bay on the disc. The game was amazing, but due to technical reasons, it couldn’t be made backwards compatible on the 360. One of the best regular Xbox games out there, Butcher Bay would have a new life on the 360/PS3. As far as remakes go, I can say that not much has changed in bringing the game to this generation of consoles. Not much, but for good reason; Butcher Bay was ahead of it’s time back in it’s Xbox days. The graphics are definitely much cleaner/less jagged and the presentation is a bit more smooth overall. Beyond that, the AI seems even smarter and more challenging, the levels have been altered somewhat from the Xbox version, and the two levels exclusive to the PC Director’s Cut version are here! If you missed Butcher Bay before, then this is the definitive version.
The Butcher Bay campaign is considered to be short, though I found it pretty satisfying. The intention of this game (and Dark Athena) is to stealth your way around. Sure, you can go guns blazing, which shortens the game, but then you miss out on one of the very best stealth gaming experiences ever made. As the majority of gameplay is in first-person mode, I compare it more to Thief 1 and 2 (PC) than to a third-person game like Splinter Cell. To this date, I don’t think any game has surpassed the attention to shadows and sound like those Thief games, but Riddick is extremely close to doing so. Plus you can see your feet, which seems absent in most first person games. Butcher Bay is a seriously hard-core prison, in case you were not familiar with the setting. The attention to conveying the atmosphere of a dark, dirty, violent prison is incredible, making you feel like such an environment actually exists out in space somewhere. The multi-faceted conversations with prisoners and their quirky habits all lend to building a fantastic scenario that is presented as if it were an actual film.
Assault on Dark Athena begins shortly after Butcher Bay. Instead of a huge prison, this time, the action takes place on a gigantic mercenary ship. Similar to Butcher Bay, Riddick will encounter several prisoners that help him out along the way, either by giving information on where to find tools, ventilation access, and so on. At certain points in conversations, you can choose how you respond to someone. Generally, there isn’t much of a change in the overall outcome, but it’s nice to hear different conversations and reactions based on the choices you make. Of course, there are some new enemies, several new weapons to handle those enemies with. As with Butcher Bay, the voice acting is excellent; Vin Diesel could continue on with the Riddick character for a long time through gaming, since these games have been much better than the movies! In fact, these Chronicles of Riddick games are easily among the very best movie to game translations.
The features are pretty much the same in Dark Athena, as expected. The same amazing attention to shadows and sounds are present. The dialogue is just as well written as it was in Butcher Bay. The overall ‘feel’ of the game is also very similar; you can almost relate to how life would be on a space-ship/prison colony with how detailed the presentation is, both in terms of visuals as well audio. I have read posts about how Dark Athena is totally different compared to it’s prequel, being more action-based instead of stealth-based. I suppose that is true, if you played Butcher Bay that way as well. However, I’ve been doing my best to take the stealthy approach and it’s worked just fine (as it did in BB). By gearing these games towards a slower pace may seem like a lame way to increase the length, the experience is enhanced so much more by playing with at least some stealth in mind. You will have a much harder time if you don’t stealth around, at least occasionally, since enemies tend to have more firepower and will focus in on you real quick, once detected.
I’ve really enjoyed both of these games and would certainly recommend them to anyone looking for a first person game with a different emphasis. You are getting two great games for the price of one! The Riddick character is bad-ass, so you always feel a certain level of aggression as you control his actions. He talks a lot of shit and backs it up with devastating melee attacks, violent reversal kills, and, of course, his Eyeshine ability to really focus in on staying in the shadows (plus no flashlights are ever needed). Enjoy!