Vin Diesel has a place in my gaming heart. Not because I was that enthralled with his fictional street racing exploits or hijinks as a souped-up super agent — but because he was part of the first movie-related game I played that wasn’t a flaming ball of rehashed “play the movie” garbage.
A few years ago, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for the original Xbox seemed to get a better reception than the film to which it was tied.
With the full backing of its bankable star and executive producer, “Butcher Bay” rode its formula of movie-free story, visual personality and melee combat to critical acclaim.
Now comes the follow-up for the 360 and PS3, Assault on Dark Athena, which comes out with no movie behind it, but the same support system of star and developer. It’s also got the same formula, which works beautifully for the most part, but doesn’t have quite the same impact as its predecessor.
This time, intergalactic hardass Riddick finds himself taken captive on the Dark Athena, a massive starship loaded with mercenaries and led by yet another one of Riddick’s old adversaries.
Riddick’s journey takes him all over the exquisitely detailed ship, while he avoids (or kills) the armed, zombie-like drones roaming its halls, eventually getting to face off against the captain herself. You also get something of a changeup in the action with a detour to a wiped-out colony near the end.
If you played the first game, then there’s no learning curve.
Stealth is still a large part of the experience, with Riddick using his ability to see in the dark to take out enemies in unpleasant ways. A new addition are the pair of ulaks, curved knives that turn Riddick into a unbeatable slicing machine.
However, the bullets fly more liberally in Dark Athena, with Riddick eventually taking control of an armored drone to wipe out gobs of mercs, along with a few more assault weapons, like the explosive SCAR gun.
Some of the game’s flaws can be tied to its first-person perspective, which can be disorienting when climbing up and down ladders and other obstacles. It’s also a little on the short side, with an abrupt and unsatisfying ending.
There’s also multiplayer as well, with some cool elements (especially as Riddick), but it’s still the kind of bouncy gunfest you’d expect in Haloor Shadowrun. It’s clearly not the focus of the experience.
A final element of goodness is the remastered version of “Butcher Bay,” with visuals befitting the power of today’s systems.
To me, Butcher Bay remains the more charming and difficult of the two games, deftly walking the balance between stealth and bullet-laden bravado, while Dark Athena felt a little more like payback for all the silent waiting Butcher Bay made you endure. Together, they make a pretty solid package of work.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Rated M for Mature