Review: The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (XB)

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Developer: Starbreeze
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Platform: Xbox
Release Date: 06/01/2004

What I am about to say is not going to make any sense to you, but you are just going to have to try and believe me: Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is a video game worth playing. Yes, the video game based on the mediocre summer blockbuster movie staring beefy action-star Vin Diesel is a good game—wait, not even a good game—a damn good game. The apocalypse is upon us, my friends.

Story:

Just so you know, I have no prior knowledge of the Riddick franchise, so I am going only by what I learned from the game itself—which is very little. I do know from advertisements, that this game is the prequel to the movie Pitch Black, and the currently released Chronicles of Riddick. Luckily, all that is needed to know about the story is simple enough for anyone with ADD to understand: you are a badass prisonder that wants to escape from Butcher Bay (that title does not lie my friends). Aside from that, there really isn’t much more to say. Normally, I would be a little disappointed with such a shallow plot device, but Riddick works because it is premise that works really well for a video game. It’s simple and to the point—much like Riddick himself. The best part of the game (which I am not afraid to admit) is Vin Diesel’s likeness in the game. Riddick is the epitome of the cocky anti-hero: wise-cracking, fearless, and just an all around tough son of a bitch. Progressing through the game is entertaining just to see Riddick’s reactions to the perils he faces, but don’t expect anything too original in terms of the plot progression. The story is advanced by talking to inmates, who then in turn send you on little errands to give you clues on how to escape, all while you run around and snap necks like Slim Jims. Since the game is so short, it never feels too boring and repetitive—just right, actually. My only complaint about the story was the numerous times the developers threw out the “trick ending” card—where it appears you have beaten the game only to find out it was just a red herring. One time is okay, but when you’re throwing out the red herrings like the neighborhood fish market, the stench gets a little intolerable.

6/10

Graphics:
Let’s be frank: the graphics are ridiculous—ridiculously amazing. I’m usually not a big fan of realistic graphics, but it is impossible to ignore the beauty of Riddick. It’s games like this that make you realize how far video games have advanced in the past couple of years. Everything about Riddick is refined nearly to perfection. The character models are frighteningly realistic, especially the likeness of Vin Diesel. Whether you like the guy or not, Riddick makes you feel like you are Vin Diesel, which was pretty damn cool in my opinion. Though the game is essentially a first-person action game, there are certain elements (like shadows) that give your character that often overlooked depth. Riddick does a commendable job of putting you Diesel’s shoes—why—because you can literally see them! Shadows play a huge role in the game, and being able to see your lurking shadow projected on the wall really gives you the impression of the character you are controlling. Breakdown (also on the Xbox) is another game that utilizes the same technique, but unlike Breakdown (which used the first-perspective perspective throughout the entire game); Riddick will switch to third-person for certain instances, like climbing a box or restoring your health. In a way, I almost wish Riddick incorporated all the actions into the first-person perspective, because after playing Breakdown, it really makes sense to go that in direction. Even so, Riddick still does an amazing job of immersing you in the mind of a character—probably more so than Breakdown, simply because Riddick puts you in the shoes of a famous movie star as opposed to some generic, average Joe.

Riddick also excels because little subtle details that really enhance the gaming experience. Pounding on skulls feels realistic, not only because of the act of seeing your fists pummel poor schmucks’ faces, but actually witnessing your victim’s face physically become brutalized as the blows connect, showing the bloody after effects of a round of fisticuffs. This realism—being able to witness bloody noses and black eyes—perfectly captures the barbaric nature of the game. Developer, Starbreeze, certainly did not shy away from the violence either, for this game is intense—and very bloody. But unlike most games that spill gallons of blood for show, the blood in Riddick actually leaves a mark—literally. Whether you’re dishing out the pain, or you’re on the receiving end of a couple of uppercuts, all the blood spilled stains the environment as a memento of the carnage you have created. The same goes for the bodies. If you snap some poor sap’s neck and leave him lying in the middle of room, no imaginary cleaning service will come and dispose of your mess; that dormant body will stay there the entire game, unless you put on your apron and clean it up yourself.

Your apron won’t be the only thing you’ll be putting on either, as the game forces you to use your special goggles to handle the new power given to you midway through the game—the power to see in the dark. Riddick was the first game I’ve played in a while that has incorporated shadows and darkness in a creative and unique way. The ability to see in the dark adds a whole new layer to stealth, as you are able to sneak into unsuspecting spots, pop out to kill a guard, and then proceed to drag them back to your killing hole. Not only can you do this, but it is even possible to shoot out the lights, allowing you to lurk—or better yet, kill—in the dark.

To complete it all, Riddick just oozes style—a gross, dingy, disgusting style that could only be found in a futuristic prison. All the atmospheres and scenery are dark and murky, capturing the uninviting experience of being placed in an infamous prison such as Butchery Bay. Blood stains the wall, graffiti predicts your death, and flies invest the rooms. It’s almost oxymoronic how a game could be so repulsive, but yet so beautiful all at once.

10/10

Sound- For what’s becoming a trend in movie licensed games, Riddick has voice talent directly from the movie, so expect to hear a lot of Vin Diesel’s cold and calculated retorts. Because the game makes you feel so damn cool, Diesel’s no nonsense dialogue makes you believe you really are as deadly as he proclaims.

As far as the music goes, nothing stood out, although there was a catchy main theme that got repeated throughout the game. There wasn’t enough musical variety to really impress me, but I wasn’t really paying that much attention to the music anyway; the dialogue was impressive enough to let this slide.

7/10

Controls:

There’s a reason why Riddick is so damn cocky—it’s so easy to raise hell controlling him. Playing as Riddick couldn’t be any easier, and those who are accustomed to any of the countless FPS’s out there will instantly be able to snap a couple of necks. The fighting system, though not as complex as Breakdown’s, is easy and fun to use. Unlike Breakdown, which used two triggers to throw punches, punching is performed solely with the right trigger (with different punches performed pushing different directions on the right analog stick) while blocking is performed with the left trigger. Unfortunately, the fighting system is no where near as complex as Breakdown, and I found myself mowing through enemies by sampling alternating between the left and right jabs. Sure, it was cheap, but it reminded me of the childhood glee of performing the same repetitive combo on Don Flamenco in the NES classic Punch-Out. But like Breakdown, throwing around fists is highly more entertaining than using guns and it’s a shame there wasn’t more opportunity to incorporate them, so enjoy the time you spend putting up those dukes.

Entering the stealth mode (which is pretty essential to the game—unless you’re impatient like me) is done rather well. Pressing down on the left analog stick allows you to crouch down and plot out your kill. While in the stealth mode, the screen turns blue letting you know you are undetected. Once a guard has spotted you, the screen returns to normal, so it’s best to snap that quickly. Speaking of snapping necks, you’ll be doing a lot of that, as it’s the easiest and most efficient way to sneak around undetected. In order to waste a guard, all you have to do is crawl up behind him, press the left trigger and decide whether you want to break that neck loud and quick or slow and methodically. If you are in no hurry (and don’t want to attract the other guards) you can repeatedly press the X button to delicately break that neck without fear of being detected. Of course, if stealth ain’t your thing, you can just press the right trigger and quickly crack that neck to continue on your killing spree.

There is also a nifty move that allows you to disarm guards with their own weapons. This cool (and very effective move) is performed when an enemy tries to butt you with their weapon. By strategically pressing the right trigger during this motion, you can catch the weapon and cause the enemy to shoot himself in the neck. Very nice.

Everything else is your standard FPS fare, so don’t expect too much more than what I have just listed. The only other new addition (and a rather cool one to boot) is the ability to switch in out of Riddick’s trademark “eyeshine,” which essentially lets you see in the dark. This is performed by pressing down on the right trigger, perfect for crawling around the obligatory air ducts riddled throughout the game.
9/10

Balance:

Like any stealth game, your frustration is only based on how much patience you have. If you are capable of holding back the urge to shoot everything in sight, Riddick shouldn’t prove to be that difficult, but if you’re like the bride in Kill Bill and experience mad fury upon spotting enemies, than Riddick could be prove to be a little bit tougher—but not by much. Luckily for those are incapable of staying quiet and cleaning up after themselves, there are numerous health stations scattered through the levels (usually conveniently placed after tough sections) to refill any life you may have lost causing a ruckus. I rarely felt like the game was too difficult, and when I did get myself into a tight predicament, I only had my clumsy self to blame. That being said, most stealth vets may find Riddick to be a little on the easy side, but higher difficulties and the option to skip adding extra life to your health bar should satisfy adept players.

8/10

Replayability:

This is probably Riddick’s weakest area. Not only is the game disappointingly short (about 10-13 hours), but there really isn’t much to get you to play again. There are numerous packs of smokes that you can collect throughout the game, which aside from their creative covers and humorous “surgeon’s general warnings,” unlock various goodies—like concept art, and movie trailers. Sure, it’s interesting to see how this game came to fruition, but only the hardcore will actively search for each pack. There are also numerous Knights of the Old Republic type side-quests that are completely optional, but interesting nonetheless. I myself found out after completing the game that I missed a couple of side-quests and was a little disappointed to know that I missed out on the full experience, but even so, I had little inclination to pick up the game again just get another pack of smokes; but for some, it’s enough to play again. Luckily, Riddick allows you to restart at any checkpoint, so going back and completing side-quests (or collecting a missed pack of smokes) isn’t as painful as it sounds. Even so, it’s a short and sweet experience.

5/10

Originality:

If Breakdown had not come out a few months prior, Riddick’s emphasis on hand-to-hand combat would have broke the originality charts, but now it’s just another gameplay element to add to the list. Riddick is an original game though, mainly on its blending of genres—primarily stealth and action. Riddick successfully captures the excitement of stealth games in a first-person perspective which is quite a feat, considering how action-heavy most FPS’s are. Because Riddick is designed so well, it is possible to progress through most of the game using your stealth skills, or running amok firing your rifle. It’s really up to you and how much you want to die.

Let’s not also forget that is a movie licensed game that doesn’t suck. That in itself is original, because let’s face it, it’s so rare to actually say that a game based on a movie isn’t utter crap.

8/10

Appeal:

The appeal of Riddick is dependant on whether or not you can get past your preconceived idea of the game. When I first read about Riddick, I automatically assumed it was going to be as fun as poking my crap with a stick, but ignorance certainly would not have blissful, because I would have missed out on a great game—a game far more entertaining than my crap. Those of who are able to overlook this fact this will find a lot to like about Riddick, especially those who like good first person shooters, because you won’t fine one quite as polished as this. The appeal of Riddick is strong because it cleverly mixes stealth, action, and even a little RPGish action (in the side-quests at least) to a beautiful looking game.

9/10

Addictiveness:

Riddick is such an enjoyable gaming experience that you may find yourself surprised when you beat the game in a couple of sittings. Yes, the game is short, but you can’t deny that you enjoyed every second of it. Because you can become so immersed in Riddick, it is likely that you will play through the better half of the game on the first sitting, as it is definitely possibly. This isn’t necessarily bad; it just shows how easy it is to lose yourself in the game.
9/10

Misc:

I just want to take a moment here to pray that developers of future movie licensed games will take a look at Riddick and realize that games based on movies don’t have to suck. Yes, developers, it is possible to make a good game based on a movie. The best part about Riddick is the fact that it wasn’t heavily advertised or shoved down our throats. It seemingly came out of no where and caught the surprise of everyone, proving that developers should spend more time doing their job—developing games—and spend less time relying on the license to sell the game. Sure, having Vin Diesel as the main character makes Riddick special, but even with a generic hero, Riddick still would have been one of the best games currently on the Xbox.

10/10

Final Scores:
Story: 6/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 7/10
Controls: 9/10
Balance: 9/10
Replayability: 5/10
Originality: 9/10
Appeal: 9/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Misc: 10/10

Overall Score: 83/100