Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

This Diesel powered shooter is surprisingly good.

Later in the game you get to steal a mech like this and shoot through the prison.

Later in the game you get to steal a mech like this and shoot through the prison facility.

Riddick is an unlikely fellow to have his own chronicles. You might have caught something about a prophecy and the last survivor of a dead race called the Fury Annes or something. But otherwise, he’s just a jailbird who happened to be present during Pitch Black, a movie which didn’t do poorly as the studio expected. So, it comes as a bit of surprise that this computer game episode of the chronicles is actually very good. In this prequel to the prequel, our hero is having a flashback to a series of prison breaks. Over the course of the game, Riddick goes in and out of prison, mingles with other prisoners, and generally brings chaos wherever he turns up.

But part of why Riddick works so well is that it’s built on a mercifully simple formula: throw a tough guy in prison sans backstory and have him kick the asses of sadistic guards, brutal inmates, the occasional alien, and finally the effeminate warden. The developers at Starbreeze know enough to break up the action, parceling out bits of adventuring, stealth, and balls-to-the-wall shooting and punching along the way. And just as the action varies, the tone jerks from funny one moment to brutal the next.

The voice acting features a cast of actors like Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Ron Perlman, and Cole Hauser, and it makes a difference. Clever dialogue is rare enough in gaming, and well-acted clever dialogue is even rarer. It just goes to show how much added value a big publisher like Vivendi Universal brings to the table. Vin Diesel himself plays the part perfectly, and the acting in general is above the regular quality you see in action games.

Licensing Done The Right Way

Riddick also has every bit as much technical savvy as id Software’s Doom 3. This is a slick engine drenched in light and shadow that not only rivals Doom 3, but predates it. The game was originally released for the Xbox and has been spruced up beautifully for the PC. The settings are oppressive steel and concrete compartments where the pedestrian level design is elevated by creative touches and consistent artwork. The interface is all about staying out of the way when it isn’t impressing you with a cube of shuffling metal rods in the shell screen.


An engine-renderd cinematic.

There’s a new level in this PC version that unfortunately steals some thunder from Riddick’s conclusion. But the more important addition is the commentary mode, which allows you to play through the game a second time, stopping to select big fat floating icons that play comments from the various Swedes who developed the game. These guys are clever, enthusiastic, and entertaining, whether they’re talking about how they implemented the night vision (they had to scrap the first iteration, which was faithful to the movie but made players sick), There’s even a sheepish apology for all the crates.

Riddick is riddled with shifts in tone and action that keep the pace snappy and engaging. It’s even got a completely over-the-top distinct finale that makes it worth playing to the end. It’s only unfortunate the end comes much too quickly, offering little replay value outside of the aforementioned commentary mode. But as a video game it’s certainly better than anything you’d expect from a washed up B-movie license. One can only wish most movie-to-game adaptations could be this good.

System Requirements: P IV 1.8 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Windows 2000 / XP

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