Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The chronic-what-cles of Riddick

My review of The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is up now at thephoenix.com. I had not had the good fortune to play Escape from Butcher Bay before now, and I think you can tell that I focused on it a little bit more in the review than the new game. Assault on Dark Athena is damn good in its own right, though. I've read a few reviews that seem to think it's weaker than Butcher Bay, which may be true, but it's a little more tightly focused with regards to the stealth element, and, I think, a little more successful on that score. Either way, you can't go wrong with the whole package. Highly recommended.

I want to expand a bit on one point in the review, which I think gets at the real reason why Starbreeze has been so successful with the Riddick games, and with The Darkness. It's simply this: Their plots make sense. You always understand what your character is doing, and why. Riddick has to accomplish fetch missions, but they're not burdened with a bunch of useless filler.

For example, in Butcher Bay, you meet a character named Pope Joe, who will do you a favor if you retrieve his "blessed voice box," which is really a radio. In most games, this would be the perfect opportunity to throw a bunch of enemies at you, toss in some gratuitous puzzles, and make you walk down one identical hallway after another. Instead, you go down a ladder, walk around a corner, blasting some mutants along the way, and there it is. The whole thing takes about two minutes. I seem to recall, when Butcher Bay came out, that the biggest strike against it was its alleged brevity. But it's so well paced, and so smartly designed, that I think the worst thing Starbreeze could have done would be to artificially inflate the playtime.

While playing both Chronicles of Riddick games, I was reminded, yet again, what a marvel The Darkness was. There was a game that clearly conveyed what the stakes were, and what motivations were driving its characters. I can think of few games that progressed so logically, and so tragically, toward a conclusion. The plot wasn't about saving the world or anything like that. It was about two guys who hated each other, and whose aggression escalated beyond all reason. I can think of few games in which I cared so much about what happened to the people in it. Maybe that's the biggest compliment I can give -- that I thought of them as people.

8 comments:

Jimhead said...

You have stolen my opinion! =P

Icyclectic said...

I'm so happy I get the reference in the title. Snack attack, motha ##@%a!

Gary A. Lucero said...

As a tourist of shooters I thought both games were superb, although Dark Athena was a little more linear, which I found more appealing. Butcher Bay was a little confusing and poor Riddick wandered around in circles trying to complete quests, which he never was able to do...

But regardless, both games had a perfect mix of melee, shooter, and puzzle, and added in enough action adventure to make it akin to something like Half Life 2 game play wise.

Good stuff.

Mr Durand Pierre said...

I found these games a bit overrated myself. The presentation is top notch, though I wish they had better source material to work with. I find Riddick and the universe he inhabits to be incredibly bland, though I can hardly blame Starbreeze for that. Still, the great pacing of the games (especially Butcher Bay) make up for it.

My bigger gripe is that there are several sequences where you have to complete arbitrary goals to move on. One of the worst sequences I've experienced lately in a game was where I got to the first riot guard on an elevator. He glitched and wouldn't get off the elevator, so I pumped all the ammo I could into him to no avail. I then figured he was invulnerable to weapons and that I was supposed to sneak past him, which also didn't work. There's an elevator button, but when you hit it, nothing happens, not even an error sound, so I'd thought the game glitched (again). Even worse, once I figured out what I was supposed to do, the guard continued to glitch roughly half the time where he wouldn't get off the elevator. This may sound nitpicky, but it happened again later in the part where you have to get onto a ship and the doors won't open until you kill every guard in the area. For a game about stealth, these sorts of obscure, arbitrary objectives feel really out of place and unclear.

That being said, I would like to play the game again, now that I understand the level layouts and goals better. I just felt like they did a poor job of letting you know what you were supposed to be doing much of the time.

Gary A. Lucero said...

Mr Pierre, that's why I think these are great tourist games. If I was an skilled player of shooters, I'm not sure how much I would like them.

Enemy AI is pretty poor and you can easily cheat past stealth elements and otherwise circumvent enemies. Sometimes the games are a total mess.

But I still really enjoyed them.

L.B. Jeffries said...

Hrm, if you think it's on par with The Darkness, then I'll have to rustle up a copy.

Mitch Krpata said...

L.B., I wouldn't say it's as good as the Darkness, if only because the Darkness had so much heart, and Riddick, by nature, is heartless. Plus Dark Athena has a little girl character in it, which is like wtf. But it's funny how much the games share in common.

chesh said...

While we're on the subject of you not being so great at reviewing PC games, you could at least mention if a game was released on the platform (which Riddick was, contrary to your review).