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The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:  Starbreeze
Publisher:  Vivendi Universal Games
# of Players:  1
Genre:  FPS
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  No
Accessories:  Xbox Live (Aware), In-game Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p
Date Posted: 

9-1-04

The summer months tend to be the traditionally weak time in the gaming market. The games released aren’t always the best of quality, and summer tends to feel like a dead space between baseball and football games. Thanks to the increasingly stronger relationship between movie studios and gaming studios, summer now brings us blockbuster movies and their tie-in games. The definition of summer games now includes sport games, movie tie-ins, and the occasional major original game like 2002’s The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay did not even show up on my radar. I will be the first to admit that I did not rush out to see the Riddick movie earlier this summer, nor was I in a hurry to rewatch Vin Diesel’s breakout movie Pitch Black (which introduces the Riddick character). I popped this game in my Xbox and expected yet another mediocre shooter with a movie tie-in plot. Five minutes into the first stage, I realized how wrong I was.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is actually a prologue to the movies. When you start the game, Riddick does not have his “eyeshine” abilities. If you haven’t seen the movies, this is his ability to see in the dark. The game starts off with Riddick being dropped off at a prison. Since prisons tend to frown upon their inmates carrying a weapons locker on their backs, you start off with your fists. While most first person shooters have pathetic non-firearm options, Riddick seems to thrive on it. You can use your fists to beat people senseless (complete with attack combo system), or sneak up behind them and engage in a Metal Gear Solid style fatal neck-breaker. One of the first things Riddick does in prison is to get his hands on a shiv (small, sharp, knife-like object). The knife controls work similar to the fist controls, allowing for stealthy neck-breaks or knife-fights. Knifes are fun, but the game thankfully lets you acquire guns fairly quickly. Unlike most shooters, guns are not easily acquired from looting dead guards. The guns are DNA encoded, so you have to break into the computer area and put your DNA into the system. If you don’t do this, the guns will emit a shock when you attempt to pick them up. While this process sounds like it would bog the game’s pace, it actually happens fairly quickly and helps speed up the pace. After that point, I’ll let you figure out what happens from there. The game is drawn up into three parts, representing a different level of the prison (regular, mines, and cryo-storage). Some areas require a different strategy at times. Stealth is integrated, with some abilities like disguise, sneak attacks, dropping attacks, and silent death. Of course, gaining the “eyeshine” ability makes all of this much easier, and the game never really forces you to use stealth. If you want to go in with guns blazing, you can. It may be harder, and it may not be the best way, but you can.

This game is one of the top tier graphical games on the Xbox. Characters are extremely detailed, and the prison looks fantastic. Prolific shadows help the stealth gameplay, and the eyeshine view looks extremely well. While not up to Splinter Cell quality with the lighting and shadowing, Riddick does manage to set itself above the rest. One thing that really caught my attention was the close-to-life Riddick model. It looks almost exactly like Vin Diesel. This is a refreshing change to many tie-in games that create character models that look nothing like their movie counterparts. To top this off, Vin Diesel’s actual voice was used throughout the entire game. Anyone who’s ever played a tie-in game that tried to mimic a celebrity voice knows how welcome this addition is.

The addition of Vin Diesel’s voice as well as the dialog and gameplay style gives Chronicles of Riddick the same feel as an R-rated action movie. With this in mind, it comes to no surprise that Chronicles of Riddick contains extremely graphic violence with extremely coarse language. While the blood and gore is not close to Soldier of Fortune II, it still is excessive. Dialog is akin to what was heard in The Suffering, meaning gratuitous use of words starting with the letter “F.” While this game has “side-quests” in a sense, they are fairly mandatory, and the game cannot progress unless you perform these side-quests. For the most part, the pacing, dialog, and plot is just to further push the action-movie feel of the game. The final effect is that Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is one of the best shooters to come out during this generation.

The only glaring problem with Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is the distinct lack of multiplayer action. No split-screen, no Xbox Live modes, no anything. While I understand that Riddick is a loner, and it would be dumb to have a generic sidekick floating around and somehow getting “eyeshine” abilities only to disappear from the Riddick Universe, I simply do not understand how a shooter as solid as this one can neglect even a simple death-match mode online. The Xbox Live Aware feature, while nice, only provided me with this teasing sensation that seemed to tell me “You’re playing one of the best shooters made in a while, and we didn’t give you a multiplayer mode for it! HAHAHAHA!” Imagine if Half-Life 2 came out without multiplayer modes. How about Doom III? Unreal? Quake? Sure, with the exception of Half-life, most shooters aren’t focusing on one character and his development in his universe, but most shooters do include multiplayer mode to increase the replay value. In this day and age, there is NO excuse to make a first person shooter without multiplayer modes.

Highs:

  • Solid shooter with excellent controls
  • Life-like Vin Diesel with actual voice
  • Graphically excellent
  • Has the feel of an action movie

Lows:

  • No multiplayer modes

Final Verdict: 

This is tough to deliver. While I really enjoyed this game and found it to be one of the best shooters released in a long time, the blatant and glaring lack of multiplayer modes tends to kill the replay value. Sure, you can unlock artwork and other tidbits by finding cigarette packs throughout the game, but this doesn’t provide the same amount of replay value as multiplayer modes. With games like Halo 2 and Doom III on the horizon, I would have to highly recommend renting this game or buying it on sale. This doesn’t mean that Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is a bad game, but simply means that I cannot justify spending a full $50 dollars for a superior single player mode that I’ll put down forever once I finish the game.

Overall Score: 8.3

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