With his pair of sharply curved knives in hand, Riddick stalks the halls of the pirate ship Dark Athena, looking to deal some pain. Creeping through the shadows in a room full of cargo crates, Riddick is hidden yet surrounded by a number of drone soldiers--mindless automatons that patrol the ship and that can be remote-controlled by members of the Dark Athena's crew. Skulking in the shadows, Riddick sneaks up behind an unwitting drone, takes him out, and tries to take his weapon from him. But wait--the gun is attached to the drone's hand. No problem for Riddick; he simply picks up the drone and begins blasting the other enemies to bits with the attached weapon. It's just one of the grimly enjoyable approaches to combat in the upcoming The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, which we had a chance to check out at a recent Atari press event.
Though the game was initially conceived as a fairly straightforward remake of the classic original Xbox game, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, the developers at Tigon Studios and Starbreeze have pushed the project beyond a mere port to include both a remake of the original game and an entirely new chapter in the Riddick storyline, Assault on Dark Athena. Picking up more or less directly after the events in Escape From Butcher Bay, Assault on Dark Athena finds Riddick and his captor, the bounty hunter Johns, onboard the Dark Athena, a pirate craft that's led by a mysterious captain that Riddick might have a history with. After being locked in cryostasis for a good long stretch, Riddick--being the badass that he is--manages to wake himself up and begins stalking the corridors of the Athena, looking to escape.
During the demo, the developers at Starbreeze showed off the trademark multiple gameplay elements that began with the original game and certainly continue here. Stealth is obviously a big part of the fun here, with Riddick sticking to the shadows (complete with the familiar blue tint to the screen when Riddick is concealed), and either sneaking around, or sneaking up on, his enemies. Then there's the wet work with the aforementioned ulaks that Riddick acquires early on in the Dark Athena storyline. They're perfect for making short work of an opponent you've snuck up on, and they seem to be pretty effective even in a face-to-face fight.
But where Dark Athena really shines is with the drones. As mentioned previously, drone soldiers are mostly mindless, zombie-like humanoids that patrol the halls of the ship. In their unoccupied state, they seem to be easy enough to avoid; however, if a drone is being "piloted" remotely, it's a different story. They'll be more alert, and they appear to have quicker reaction times, too. You can capture a drone that you've taken down, but you'll only be able to walk backward while holding up a drone. As a result, if you want to use its attached arm gun and still stay mobile, you'll need to move quickly from one downed drone to the next.
Regardless, the best use of a drone is actually piloting one yourself, which we got to check out in the demo when Riddick made his way into the drone control room. After quickly dispatching of a crew member who was in the process of controlling a drone, Riddick saddled up and took a few for a ride. Although most of Riddick's gameplay is stealthy by nature, controlling a drone feels most closely akin to a run-and-gun first-person shooter. The kicker is that drones are expendable and, as a result, you can charge right in with drone gun blazing. That said, during the mission we watched, there was only a finite amount of drones available to Riddick and, once one went down in a hail of gunfire, Riddick simply fired up the next drone and continued on his way.
Given that the demo focused entirely on the new content in the game, we didn't get a chance to re-experience Butcher Bay for the first time on the Xbox 360. What we do know is that, even though the original game is being remade in Dark Athena, game upgrades will touch on all content in the game, both old and new. One example is that AI enemies will use improved team tactics to take you down. That's in addition to the stunning graphical upgrade that the original game is getting, completely remastered audio, and user-interface improvements such as a radial weapon-selection menu. Naturally, Vin Diesel will reprise his role as Riddick, with actress Michelle Forbes (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica: Razor, Al Roach: Private Insectigator) taking up the role as the captain of the Dark Athena.
When you add the fact that the content for Escape From Butcher Bay and the Assault on Dark Athena seems to be about the same length, as well as multiplayer features that the company has yet to reveal, it looks like the game will be jam-packed with features. We look forward to peeling back the new pages of Riddick's chronicles in the coming months and will keep you up to date on all of the latest developments until the game's release, due for spring 2009.