The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay Review

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Graphics: 9.5
Sound : 9.5
Gameplay : 9.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 9.4
Review by Andreas Misund Berntsen

I don’t think I’m wrong if I say that the number of great games based on licensed movie brands can be counted on one hand. There are plenty of perfectly okay ones, but a scary number of truly horrendous ones too. It’s common to look at this kind of games as a cheap way of making extra money off a fresh brand name. It works in some cases, but in many cases the end result just shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Today I’ll talk about an exception to the trend, a game you’ll definitely want for your Xbox.

Games based on movie licenses are often released after the movie. You could wonder if this is done because a poor game could hurt the sale of tickets at cinemas. The newly released game named The Chronicles of Riddick is in fact a game that’s not just awesome; it also makes you want to see the upcoming movie.

The game and the soon to be released movie form a prequel to the movie Pitch Black from 2000 where Vin Diesel and a group of people work together to survive on a planet with very minimal light. The story in The Chronicles of Riddick is about how you, Richard B. Riddick is sentenced to a prison sentence in Butcher Bay. This prison, like most you see in movies, is heavily protected and is meant to be impossible to escape from. This fact is just a minor detail to Riddick, so it doesn’t take a minute until you begin investigating ways to escape. Butcher Bay is different from a lot of prisons, because in some ways it’s like a small city. You have recreational areas, a “feed ward”, a “work ward” where people go to dig in the mines, areas where various types of criminals reside, along with the staff areas. Each of these is occupied with very nicely crafted individuals, with their own agendas, goals, stories, and backgrounds. In Butcher Bay one of the more important rules is that you have to give something to receive something. Early in the game you must build up respect, help people in simple missions, arming yourself, and making sure you’re not frisked by the pesky guards. Violence is as you may’ve expected also a big part of the lifestyle in such a place, but fortunately you’re one mean guy who’s no stranger to killing. The story has some similarities to The Great Escape, so suffice to say you’ll be kept busy for some time.

The Chronicles of Riddick is entirely a first-person game. Even though you will be doing a lot of shooting you’ll also use your fists to solve many quarrels, sometimes equipping clubs, blades, screwdrivers, and more. Riddick can also pull off many highly efficient moves, which are often done when you’ve snuck up behind an unsuspecting victim. You can execute many of these moves, like breaking a neck, in two ways; silently, and not so silently. The silent moves are a bit more work to execute, but can save your neck when other enemies are nearby. Other moves are done when doing face-to-face combat, where you may for instance grab, redirect and fire an enemy’s rifle against his own head. To do this you need to plan your timing carefully, or just have some old-fashioned luck. The fist fights are pulled off better than in several boxing games. You block using the left trigger and using the right trigger you punch. By pressing the right trigger in combination with a direction on the left analog stick you do a directed attack, such as hooks, uppercuts, and so on. It really is very satisfying to do a successful combination of attacks, sending the opponent flying.

Shooting is incidentally also very satisfying. Your arsenal consists almost entirely of non-exotic weapons. You’ve got your assault rifle, shotgun, pistol, and some specialized versions, but the closest thing to a laser gob launcher you’ll find is a tazer gun that disables enemies temporarily. All the weapons have an excellent feel to them, and seem to be well balanced. So what will you be using these weapons on? In such a large prison you naturally have a large amount of guards, but since this is in the far future you’ll also bump into plenty of non-organic defense (robots, stationary guns, etc), as they call it, along with some nasty alien critters. The artificial intelligence is for the most part very good. The guards in particular will notice you much easier than in most other recent shooters, so even though it helps to hide in the dark they act much more realistically than for instance in the Thief, Hitman and Splinter Cell games. In this game you won’t need to do as much sneaking as in those three games, but it’s an interesting change that keeps you on your toes. The human enemies in particular act much like a real person would – they run for cover, work in groups, they search the shadows, and usually aim well. Like in most games there was some erratic movement at times, but nothing notably bad.

Saving is done at certain checkpoints, and in most cases the game saves at appropriate times. There were a few instances where you’d have to play for a little bit and then face a more difficult challenge (preferably it’d always save before something difficult), but it’s rarely an issue. I think that if the game let you save whenever you wanted to save you’d be spending too much time in menus, so I support the use of checkpoints in this game at least.

What essentially makes The Chronicles of Riddick such an excellent game is the awesome atmosphere that has been created. Many facets come into play, but it’s very easy to notice the extraordinary amount of talent behind this title. In terms of graphics the game is quite possibly the best looking Xbox game to date. It’s just amazing what the developers made it possible to render on such on hardware. The textures are great, there are plenty of very nice surface effects (bump/height mapping), and the lighting and shadowing is spectacular, especially taking the limited hardware into consideration. Lots of good looking shaders are used, along with some almost perfect special effects. The character models are superb with lots of detail on the faces. They’re all about perfectly animated, and of course the rag doll physics add to the realism. The only thing missing is a good physics engine so you could interact with the environment some more. A few objects do respond realistically, but far from as many as I’d have liked to see.

This game suddenly makes a lot of other supposedly good looking Xbox games look pathetic in comparison. How the engine performs is another important factor, and you should be pleased to know that it’s fluid during most of the game. There were a few slowdowns, but that’s to be expected. The bar has certainly been raised - at least until Doom 3, which this game actually looks similar to in certain ways.

The audio is, as with the graphics, close to perfection. Lots and lots of Hollywood talent were put to use in the voice-overs, the musical score, script, and more. Vin Diesel, who actually played an important role in forming the game’s design, also did the voices for Riddick, helped shape the script, and more. Xzibit voiced the prison staff’s second in command, and he too did a great job. But that’s just the two examples. Every single voice over in the game is perfect – hands down perfect. Especially during the first half of the game you converse with many of your fellow inmates. They not only look very well made, but their voices fit incredibly well, making them stand out as real individuals.

The musical score is dramatic, dynamic, and practically dots the i when it comes to atmosphere. There could perhaps have been a little more variety, but you’d be hard pressed to dislike it one bit. Once again you can tell a lot of effort has been made to make the game’s content great. The Chronicles of Riddick may not have as much audio content as certain other Xbox games, but in terms of quality it’s one of the very best.

The only other limitation is that the game is entirely single player. I think this game could’ve been a multiplayer classic if the developers had time (or decided) to make proper modes to accommodate the gun fighting, fist fights, and the mech fights. Imagine one-on-one boxing fights, huge brawls (last man standing), regular and team based death matches using guns and/or mechs, and I’m sure plenty more could’ve been made.

The Chronicles of Riddick took me almost entirely by surprise. Sure it looked promising, but I think few people knew that it’d turn out this great. It really is an awesome game in every way, and I can’t even imagine what total score it’d get if it fulfilled its multiplayer potential.

It shouldn’t take you more than a couple of days of playing to finish the game, but looking at the story it shouldn’t have been much longer. This game is a very enjoyable experience from start to finish, and by the time you’re done you’ll probably have unlocked enough extra content to gaze at for quite some time.

Keep in mind that this is an at times very bloody game where lots of foul language is used, so while I wouldn’t recommend it to younger players it should be a required buy for anyone old enough to appreciate good action.