The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay Hands-On - Exclusive PC Impressions

This acclaimed movie-based game is headed to the PC. We have exclusive hands-on impressions.

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The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is an Xbox game that surprised a lot of people when it was released earlier this year, partly because games based on movies tend to not be so good. The Chronicles of Riddick, on the other hand, proved to be a superb first-person action adventure game, combining impressive gameplay with excellent graphics and a strong story. Now Vivendi Universal Games is readying a PC version of the game, and we got our hands on an early version of it to see how it translates from the Xbox.

The game switches to a third-person perspective whenever you climb or perform an acrobatic feat.
The game switches to a third-person perspective whenever you climb or perform an acrobatic feat.

Billed essentially as a prequel to the motion pictures Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, the game is centered on actor Vin Diesel's eponymous character. If you haven't seen the movies, Riddick is a classic antihero, an unscrupulous villain and tough guy who ends up doing good in the end and killing a lot of people who deserve it along the way. The Chronicles of Riddick tells the tale of how Riddick was thrown into the infamous galactic prison Butcher Bay, and of his subsequent escape. It also explains how Riddick gained some of the powers he displays in the motion pictures, such as his ability to see in the dark. Diesel, a self-proclaimed hardcore gamer, apparently took an active role in the development of the game, not only providing his voice, but also adding input on the game's story and design.

It's clear that The Chronicles of Riddick is a step above most movie-based games. Though it's set in a prison, it provides a rich backdrop for the gameplay, with dozens of characters to interact with. In fact, each character in the game is unique, and there are no generic prisoners. Your primary goal is to escape from the prison, but to do that, you must undertake a series of missions to gain access to new areas of the prison, or to gain the assistance of another character. These missions may range from defeating a fellow inmate in the arena to recovering a lost object for another character. The gameplay itself is open-ended enough that it can accommodate those who like stealth and those who prefer more-aggressive styles of play.

The PC version translates the gamepad controls to the traditional keyboard-mouse interface used for PC first-person shooters. The combat mechanics are rather unique, as there's a heavy emphasis on melee combat, which is unusual for a first-person shooter. Indeed, throughout most of the game Riddick is unarmed and must rely on his fists to survive. When you get into a slugging match with an opponent, you can use the left mouse button to swing and the right mouse button to block. Meanwhile, you can throw different kinds of punches by holding down one of the WASD directional keys. If you want to avoid combat altogether, you can try to sneak up behind someone and snap his neck. Or, if you're battling armed guards, one of Riddick's neat tricks is to literally turn a guard's rifle around, causing the guard to shoot himself in the head. Later on, Riddick can gain access to a variety of firearms, including pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles.

The PC version looks incredibly sharp, and improves on the visuals from the already-impressive Xbox version.
The PC version looks incredibly sharp, and improves on the visuals from the already-impressive Xbox version.

The Xbox version of the game takes advantage of the strengths of the platform to deliver a gorgeous-looking adventure. The good news is that the already-impressive graphics from the Xbox version look even better in the PC version, thanks to the latter's support for higher-resolution graphics, as well as features like hardware antialiasing. As a result, many of the jagged lines found in the Xbox version disappear entirely in the PC version, making the visual experience that much crisper. Meanwhile, the intricate bump mapping and detailed textures from the Xbox version look even sharper in the PC version, so it's safe to say that the PC version is a huge graphical step up for the game.

While the PC version won't add much in the way of new content to the game, it still looks like a promising port of an excellent Xbox game. The rich atmosphere and gameplay of The Chronicles of Riddick promise a change of pace from the traditional run-and-gun first-person shooter, and the game's brutal subject matter--it's rated M due to violence and language--offers a much grittier gameplay experience than normal. The PC version of The Chronicles of Riddick will ship next month.

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