The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay Review
It's easily one of the most-impressive games on the Xbox and seems destined to be remembered as the most inspiring collaboration between Hollywood and the gaming industry yet.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is one of those exceedingly rare types of games that delivers exceptionally high quality through and through and single-handedly ups the ante for all similar games. It's so unbelievably good that it almost feels like it was brought back in time, because most all of today's action games (on the Xbox or otherwise) just aren't in the same league. The fact that The Chronicles of Riddick also happens to be based on a movie franchise--something that's usually a bad sign for a game--makes it all the more incredible. You could call it a first-person shooter, but that would be selling it short. This ambitious game is played mostly from a first-person perspective and effectively and innovatively combines excellent shooting, hand-to-hand combat, stealth, and adventure elements with a solid story and truly outstanding, highly atmospheric graphics and sound. It's easily one of the most-impressive games on the Xbox and seems destined to be remembered as the most inspiring collaboration between Hollywood and the gaming industry yet.
If you're fortunate enough to have seen the 1999 sci-fi horror movie Pitch Black, then you're familiar with the violent, resourceful Richard B. Riddick (played by Vin Diesel, who seems like one of the only actors around who can pull off a part like that). He's also the main character of this game, as well as the soon-to-be-released movie that shares the same title (minus the game's subtitle). Riddick, a hardened criminal, is as threatening and intimidating as they come--yet there's something genuinely admirable about his no-nonsense, no-holds-barred approach to survival. At any rate, you don't need to be a fan of Pitch Black, its sequel, or Vin Diesel to appreciate Escape From Butcher Bay. Leave it to the game to make you one if you aren't already. The game's plot is spelled out in the title. At the beginning, Riddick is delivered by a bounty hunter to Butcher Bay, the hardest and most dreaded prison in the galaxy. And Riddick doesn't waste a minute in his attempts to find a way out, even though they say that no one's busted out of Butcher Bay before. The game is actually a prequel to Pitch Black, which takes place before the upcoming movie. As such, no previous experience is expected or required, though Pitch Black fans will appreciate the fact that the game features a few sequences that are referred to in the movie but have never been shown until now.
There are too many great, little touches in The Chronicles of Riddick to mention, but they all add up to make it the superb game that it is. Here are just a few specific points: Each of the dozens of inmates you'll come across in the game is a unique character with his own name, voice, and likeness, which lends the game a sense of depth and personality that few other games of any genre can touch. Vin Diesel delivers all of Riddick's lines in a menacingly low growl that's perfect for the part. But it's not just Diesel, though, because literally all of the voice-acting performances in the game are outstanding. The game boldly defies the conventions of the first-person action genre's form by putting you in a variety of situations that are uniquely dangerous in their own rights, rather than just letting you use stronger and stronger firearms against tougher and tougher foes. That is to say, The Chronicles of Riddick continually keeps you guessing and never gets tedious by forcing you through repetitive sequences. And the game wears its mature themes with aplomb. What other game is so dark, so gritty, and yet so ironic that it tasks you with searching for dozens of different intergalactic cigarette packs to unlock extra features?
If the actual game itself has any shortcomings, they're minor and worth acknowledging just to temper all of the well-deserved praise. The Chronicles of Riddick, despite its overall spectacular appearance, lacks a bit of visual polish. So, for instance, there are some barely noticeable seams in some of the character models during some of the dialogue sequences, and once in a while, when you're taking cover from enemy fire, you can see bullet tracers seem to jut through the wall. Also, the richly detailed environments of the game are relatively small, which may not come as a surprise since the setting is a claustrophobic prison. However, brief loading times will interrupt your progress through these areas fairly often, but (luckily) they are the only things that take you out of the experience of the game.
Any other shortcomings are things that aren't actually in the game, so it seems almost unfair to even bring them up. The Chronicles of Riddick is paced extremely well for an action game and will leave you riveted for the 10-or-so hours it takes you to finish the first time through. That's about standard for the single-player portion of an action game, but then again, you can never have too much of a good thing. Fortunately, the game has multiple difficulty settings (the toughest of which is great to play after you've finished the game on the default setting) and is open-ended enough and simply good enough to warrant playing through at least one more time. There's no multiplayer mode to give the game long-term replay value, but the memory is going to stick, and that ought to count for something. In all seriousness, the absence of a multiplayer mode in The Chronicles of Riddick only bears mentioning because of the assumption that first-person-perspective games all ought to have both single-player and multiplayer features in them. Judged purely on its own merits, though, The Chronicles of Riddick offers a wholly satisfying single-player experience that concludes as memorably and as impressively as it begins. Furthermore, it leaves you wanting more not because it's short but because it's just so good.