User Rating: 9.6 | The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay XBOX
One of the most surprising titles to hit shelves this year, “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay” is the shining accomplishment of the best development house no one’s heard of. With an actor who’s starred in a number of asinine films such as “XXX” and “The Fast and the Furious,” it’s hard to take Vin Diesel seriously. Having read an interview with him in EGM a year or two ago, he professed himself a total nerd and a gamer at heart, but I didn’t buy it. That is, until now. “Riddick” tells the story of the infamous criminal of the same name who’s finally been caught and is being escorted to the universe’s highest security prison, Butcher Bay. Once locked up, you take on the role of Riddick himself, with one goal: escape. The first thing that made an impression was the graphics. Using “real mapping” (just a fancy term for bump mapping, if I’m not mistaken), everything looks smooth and realistic. The lighting puts even “Splinter Cell” to shame, and is on par with the screenshots and videos I’ve seen of both “HALO 2” and “DooM 3.” The effects are well done (explosions look awesome) and there are some neat particle effects. There are some minor clipping issues (my gun went through the wall in a couple places) and some visible seams, but there’s enough good to outweigh the bad. The physics, especially when dragging dead bodies, are great. Not only is “Riddick” eye candy, the sound will give the player an aural orgasm. The music is taught and gripping, like a big-budget action flick. The guns sound menacing, and there is tons of well-acted dialogue. Aside from Vin Diesel (in an excellent performance as the galaxy’s biggest and baddest) and Cole Hauser, who reprise their roles from “Pitch Black,” supporting voice actors Xzibit, Michael Rooker and Ron Perlman show up to give the game an even more cinematic feel. All the weapons sound deadly (especially the minigun), and the wailing sirens and computer noises ring with authenticity. A side note: this game is extremely graphic, and there is a liberal use of various four-letter words throughout the game. Not the first time I’ve heard these words in the game, but definitely the first time I’ve heard them so frequently. While the visuals and sound can only do so much, the meat and potatoes of any game is the gameplay and control. The control is for the most part very well executed. The first-person fighting works about five times better here than it did in Namco’s “Breakdown,” and the stealth aspects are almost as deep as “Splinter Cell.” The game goes through a number of phases, each morphing the gameplay just enough to keep it exciting through the 10 hours you’ll spend sitting in front of your television. Starting off with a relatively straightforward run-n-gun, it lasts only so long before Riddick finds himself caught and put in an entirely different situation, with different rules. The various sections focus on stealth, heavy-weaponry, and just plain “run away from those scary alien things.” The game is paced so perfectly, tossing you into a new situation just as you’ve gotten comfortable with your current one. Developer Starbreeze has managed to keep the game from dragging or feeling rushed at any one point. Some parts of the game are even more free form like an RPG or the “Grand Theft Auto” series. While you can’t just go anywhere (it is a prison, after all), you can wander a bit and talk to the inmates. There’s even a section where you’re presented with two different options for achieving the same goal. While the branches don’t stray too far from the tree, it’s a nice touch that also adds a minimal amount of replay. The game is just chock-full of awe-inspiring moments (such as the first time you run into a Heavy Guard), and the environments are all radically different from one another, but cohesive enough to exist in the same game, let alone the same massive structure. No matter how much I praise this game, I assure you there are plenty of things I’m forgetting to mention, because this game is just loaded with love and care. Extras can even be found in the form of packs of smokes left around. The more you collect, the more extra stuff you get. Necessary? Not at all, but it is fun, and they’re never so hidden that you feel like you’re hunting for them rather than playing the game. For the first time, I’m hyped about a Vin Diesel movie, and I hope that the motion picture can deliver after the bar has been set so impossibly high by “Riddick.” There have been decent licensed movie games, and even good ones, but “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay” is the first truly great title that isn’t just another wasted marketing ploy.