The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay -- Developer's Cut Review
By Chad Montague |
When Pitch Black was released in 2000, I loved the vicious alien sci-fi adventure despite its strict adherence to a well-traversed formula of action horror flicks. Who knew the quiet debut of Vin Diesel as the next super bad-ass would kick off an entire universe around its indifferent murderous anti-hero? What's more, certainly nobody expected a knockout first-person shooter starring the now notorious anti-hero to sneak its way into stores and stab the delighted hearts of gamers. Which is exactly why The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay was so well received on the Xbox and has now been transferred over to the PC in good style and with new content.
Put simply, Riddick is a first-person shooter that blends equal parts blasting, hand-to-hand combat, stealth attacks, and even some platforming into the mix. Riddick takes noticeable risks in a crowded genre and succeeds. From its movie-inspired presentation to its minimalist HUD and the deadpan delivery of Diesel's likeable killer, Riddick is saturated with a sleek kill-or-be-killed atmosphere that pervades all. The combat is sharp, the AI can be smart and relentless, and the level design deft.
Obviously, the transition from Xbox to PC can be a complicated one, but the transition here is very good. Not only are all of the mechanics of shooting better (as we all know the mouse and keyboard is simply better than any game controller) but the stealth and hand-to-hand combat that was so brutally satisfying on the consoles remains easy to learn and use with success.
On top of that, the graphics have been given the royal treatment adding in all of the goodness of the latest and greatest additions to visual shading delights. Riddick already looked good on the Xbox, but the clarity of higher resolution brings a much more detailed and crisp experience to gamers. Character models are good, though stiffly animated at times, and textures are wonderful. The main problem comes with characters generating strange shadows, as was the case in the Xbox version of the game. You can see triangles of shadow missing or drawing incorrectly. Unfortunately, Riddick's character model also has some visible seams between different sections of his body, most notably his shirt area and head. These blips are small, but noticeable in cutscenes. Otherwise the game is grand in design and detail and wonderfully for visual enthusiasts.
Almost everything about the game works well, but after completing the 10-hour adventure on the Xbox, it was hard not to want more. Well, they added more. Along with new cigarettes to find, new levels of fun and frolic also come from the dark to attack the PC version of Riddick. These additions include a romp in a suit of riot gear, which is certainly fun for the thrills of straight up slaughtering guards and other, less able riot gear soldiers. This portion of the game is simply an excuse for Riddick to go on a shooting spree. There isn't really any thinking involved, but it sure is fun for the duration. The new levels won't add a ton of time to your game, but at least there's something.
But then again, the amount of time wasn't exactly the issue. There were plenty of paths to explore and things to do. It's really still the fact is there is no multiplayer option. Yes, it would be tricky to pull off successfully. But creating an experience like that in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is likely possible. With such a smart design, it's just kind of a shame. While the lack of a multiplayer option is sorely missed, the meaty single-player missions really are wildly varied and create a surprising, exhilarating, and entertaining experience.
Adding even more replay value for those hardcore fans that want to find out a lot about the game's development and how the project came about is a new unlockable commentary option. I'm not going to say this will appeal to all fans, it won't. But those that are really into this game will enjoy the plethora of info about the development process that sit all over the game world of Butcher Bay. It's easy to equate to the commentary track of a DVD, but this hasn't really ever been done before in a game and is surprisingly extensive. It's a great feature and may be one that we see in the future in more AAA title collector's editions. I can imagine that it wasn't a small task however, so it might be a while before this becomes extremely popular.
The DVD-like commentary option is just one of the elements of the game that will remind you of a movie. One of the brightest points in Riddick's delivery is its superb movie-style presentation. Starbreeze's captured a film-like essence consistently throughout the entire game.
The game is simply steeped in atmosphere from the moment Riddick walks into the dank, dingy maximum security prison. It's dark, not only metaphorically, but actually physically dark, which aside from being moody, plays heavily into gameplay. You can almost smell the thick stink of Butcher Bay and its inhabitants from the grime on the walls, dirty clothes of the inmates, and environmental textures. This places oozes with style and creates sense of reality in which it's easy to become immersed.