You might want to kiss your loved ones goodbye, because the underworld is close to freezing over. How else do you explain a movie-based videogame that not only doesn’t stink, but is infinitely better than the movie upon which it’s based? It’s got to be a sign of Armageddon, right?
Movie-based games are known for being subpar, little more than cheap tie-ins to another medium with the sheer purpose of making a quick buck for the studio. But Starbreeze Studios and Vivendi Universal have shattered that stereotype with The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a first-person Xbox game that’s one of the best console games to release in 2004. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Riddick is loosely based on the recently released “The Chronicles of Riddick” movie, starring Vin Diesel. In the film, Riddick, played by Diesel, is on a mission to save himself, a long-lost friend and, in the process, human life as we know it. The game, however, tells a very different story, one that amounts to a flashback of the ex-convict’s escape from Butcher Bay, a “triple-max” prison where the baddest of the bad go to serve their time.
After a brief training level, players begin their journey from one part of Butcher Bay to the next, cutting deals with some inmates and just plain cutting others. As the game progresses, players learn more about the malevolent justice system on Butcher Bay, as well as the inner demons, both figurative and literal, that haunt the prison itself.
Since the story takes place in and around a prison, the weapons are initially little more than shivs (makeshift blades), clubs and an occasional gun, although the challenge is eventually increased as Riddick’s repeated capturing forces players to start later levels with little more than money, wit and a little thought.
And that, perhaps, is where the gameplay in Riddick shines its brightest, making it the best first-person Xbox game since Halo, and probably among the console’s top 25 games of all time. The best way to describe Riddick’s gameplay is to call it the love child of Halo and Splinter Cell, a game that somehow has an equal emphasis on action and stealth, with a few role-playing elements thrown in for good measure.
To call Riddick a first-person shooter is only partially true. Yes, the game has some serious gunfights, be it with assault rifles, shotguns, pistols or tranquilizer guns. And yes, it’s played predominantly from a first-person perspective. But remember: the game’s premise is a prison escape, and as such, there’s a shadow-creating and -creeping element that rivals Splinter Cell for its ingenuity and usefulness.
Have you downed a guard? You might want to drag his body into an air duct or a dark corner to avoid alerting others. Have you found yourself sans-weapon and in the middle of the barracks? You might want to wait patiently until the guards leave the room before you head for the exit. Or, better yet, do you need to go into another room but are unsure what lies beyond (e.g. an armed guard)? It’d be best to shoot out the light on your side of the door, giving you a shadowy advantage when the door opens. Basically, the gameplay in Riddick is everything action fans wanted Deus Ex: Invisible War to be, and it’s everything game critics thought they’d never see from a movie-based game.
But the gameplay doesn’t stop with the stealth-shooter elements. It also incorporates a few casual role-playing elements. As players repeatedly try to escape from the famed prison, they are faced with a linear plot that contains various optional sub-missions. Initially, the game’s linearity drives the story, with the role-playing elements taking the back seat to bullets and shadow-hopping. But as the story goes along, players have the opportunity to do “errands” for other inmates, generally in exchange for either money or weapons. The players can use that money to buy additional weapons, packs of cigarettes (the game’s idea of unlockable items) or, in some cases, even use it to bribe guards. All of these are optional, of course, but they add a layer of depth that most first-person shooters don’t have, and they help to better immerse you in the nasty underworld of Butcher Bay.
If the gameplay doesn’t immerse you, though, the graphics will grab you at the first scene and throw you square into the space-prison’s digital world. You might remember Starbreeze Studios as the developers of Enclave, one of the Xbox’s most underrated games and, in the eyes of many, one of its best-looking. Well take the quality of Enclave, increase its appeal by using a third generation of that graphics engine, and it’s no surprise that Riddick is the best-looking console game we’ve ever seen.
From the real-time lighting and normal-mapped surfaces to the high-resolution textures and buttery-smooth animations, Riddick is a technical masterpiece. The main character has a zoom feature built-in to his eyes, and although it sounds somewhat cheesy, it’s probably a poetic license Starbreeze took simply so players can look into the distance (heck, even at a nearby wall) and watch the imagery have no graphical degradation. Particle effects, bloom effects, high-resolution characters and textures … if there’s still a debate about whether videogames are art, look no further than Riddick for the answer.
Riddick’s sound is also impressive, although it’s probably the one aspect that will make parents wince. The overall quality is there, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in top form, and the soundtrack having a certain medieval/spy-action movie feel to it. The voice acting is even solid, with Vin Diesel lending his vocals to the game and the non-playable characters having occasionally interesting scripts. It’s just that those scripts, as intriguing as they can be, are laced with more F-bombs than an old Richard Pryor routine. Sure, the dialogue mimics prison life, and in the slam, nobody says “excuse me, kind sir…,” but if you’re not ready to introduce a few choice phrases into your kids’ vocabulary, you shouldn’t pony up for this game. Either that, or be prepared to pony up for the game as well as some earplugs.
Barring your willingness to overlook the cussing, the only downside to Riddick is the game’s lack of any multiplayer support. It’s Xbox Live Aware, but there’s no online multiplayer, no offline multiplayer and no chance of more than one person playing this game at a time. The story is, surprisingly, strong enough for most people to overlook this fact, but inevitably there will be one or two people calling the game a failure because it doesn’t support multiple players. You won’t find us among that crew, although we must admit some eagerness to see what multiplayer game Starbreeze can create using this engine.
What’s most interesting about even this game, though, is that in spite of its being single-player only, we’re just as eager to go back and keep playing. With the exception of a few linear and otherworldly levels (which, by the way, out-Doom Doom), there are enough ways to try to escape from Butcher Bay that it’s hard not to think about playing again. Riddick is an incredibly pleasant surprise, both in its mix of stealth and shooting gameplay and because it’s tied to a movie license. If Riddick is the future of movie-based games, then buy me a one-way ticket, because I’m never coming back.
- Gameplay: 9.0
- A pefect blend of stealth, action and FPS gameplay.
- Graphics: 9.7
- Out-Dooms Doom III.
- Sound: 8.9
- A solid soundtrack, great voice acting, though a bit heavy on the potty-mouth.
- Replay: 8.8
- A solid story and great gameplay make it impossible t stop playing.
- Overall: 9.2
- Easily the best FPS since Halo
Author – Jonas Allen