Richard B. Riddick, the hardened galactic criminal first played by Vin Diesel in Pitch Black, finally got some critical recognition last year--but not necessarily for his work on the silver screen. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, a stealth action game produced by Diesel's own Tigon Studios, was a surprise hit on the Xbox and PC. It took the rather quotidian noirish material from last summer's sci-fi action flick and turned it into something special. The mobile Chronicles of Riddick is a good action adventure game in its own right, but perhaps it suffers a bit from the high standards Escape From Butcher Bay has set for the license, simply because it doesn't move far from familiar territory.
The Chronicles of Riddick returns to the set of the mildly successful action film its level designs. Just as in the movie, you have to guide Riddick through the streets of New Mecca, into a spooky basilica, through a crematorium, and finally onto a spaceship, where the villainous Necromongers lie in wait. The various environments from the film have been rendered in distinctive styles that achieve a nice level of detail. It's a good thing that the movie and the mobile game match up visually, too, because otherwise you'd have no idea where you were going or why. The game noticeably lacks exposition, and this is a loss. Most comparable mobile adventure games based on movies, such as Sahara and Batman Begins, make at least limited use of the source's dialogue and plot points.
Riddick's gameplay is a prosaic mixture of keycard-collecting and maze-running, with some basic stealth elements thrown in. You maneuver Riddick from tile to tile using a time-honored overhead viewpoint. There are pits and traps to hop over, as well as enemies and turrets to defeat or avoid. The block-pushing puzzles that seem to have become a fixture in this genre are absent. There's no map, either, so the best strategy is to wander the map until you figure out where all of the necessary keys are, and then make a beeline for the exit. Your collection of offensive techniques, which include fists, blades, and guns, are more than sufficient to deal with the guards on the first two difficulty levels. The simple strategy of snipe and move seems to work like a charm, since your enemies' field of perception is limited. On the hardest difficulty level, however, you'll be forced to make better use of your stealth mode, which allows you a short period of time to slowly sneak past the enemies. Riddick's trademark "eyeshine" night vision also comes into play a few times per level. For example, if you find a light switch, you can shut off the power for a limited time and butcher your clueless enemies in the dark, or you can simply walk past them. This gameplay element is a neat way to preserve your health, but it seems to be underused. In any case, should you become damaged, there are a couple of one-off health stations on each level to replenish your vitality, and Riddick can also regenerate a limited amount of life while in stealth.
The Chronicles of Riddick lets you have unlimited continues from the beginning of a level, which helps to alleviate the deadly nature of your environment. It's a little too easy to hit a wrong direction key and step off into the abyss, killing Riddick instantly. In a bizarre departure from convention, you only get a single life after continuing, rather than the full complement of three. This is an unnecessary annoyance, and it insures that you'll have to start the later levels over from scratch several times. Fortunately, the level designs are pretty clever, and they're rarely easy enough to allow you to become bored.
The graphics are strong, although they seem a little dated in the N-Gage QD version of the game. The lighting effects and bold color palette help to produce an appropriately claustrophobic, frightening atmosphere. This is especially apparent in the basilica level, which is steeped in icy blue, metallic tones. All of this produces an overall effect that is reminiscent of the better adventure games of the 16-bit era. The sound effects aren't as good--especially when it comes to the strange purring noises produced by the guns--but they complement the action well. You can also choose to loop the swashbuckling title theme in place of the effects, but we don't recommend it.
With all of its difficulty levels taken into consideration, The Chronicles of Riddick is good for about three hours of generally enjoyable adventuring. It's an above-average experience in most respects, although Riddick fans are sure to be disappointed with the game's sterile, somewhat generic feeling. Those who are indifferent to the Riddick phenomenon won't necessarily go wrong by downloading this game, although the Fantasy Warrior series is a better play.