Let's face it, ever since E.T. arrived on the 2600, and almost took the gaming industry down in the process, expectations for crossover projects has been low. Not just in gaming, either. Movies based on comics come out every day, and for the most part, we learned to expect them to be bad. Typically, the weight of a franchise would weigh down the potential for a game before it even got off the ground. And, forced to fit into the rigid confines of the pre-existing universe, doom is spelled out before dollar one is invested.
Escape From Butcher Bay was a big F-You to that idea.
From the moment this game begins, and the bitter dialogue starts up between Johns and Riddick, this game signals something special, and two minutes later when Riddick is dropped down in Butcher Bay, it is clear...this is a prison for the worst of the worst. From the visual design, to the vulger words spoken out of the shadows of cells as you're taken in...it's clear...you're in hell. You can almost smell it. And, based on your reputation, the guards and inmates alike, all hate your guts.
From that point, the game is an elevator ride into the deepest pit that Butcher Bay has to offer.
This game clearly didn't try to glamorize Riddick, as most Hollywood games try to do with their anti-heroes. Riddick is not a bad guy, but neither is he a good guy either. Noble is not what Riddick is about. Riddick is all about doing everything you can to stay alive. He has no friends, everything around him is simply a resource or a means for Riddick to achieve his ends.
The game does a great job on selling the player into the immersion that Riddick is resouceful. Whether is breaking through a vent, shiving a guard in the back while hiding in the shadows, or kicking the crap out of an inmate who has it out for you, the game gives Riddick both the fearsome presence and physical prowess we felt he was in Pitch Black, but without ever making him seem superhuman.
The gameplay, also, does a good job of blending stealth play and FPS tactics. Neither seem tedious, and both are done as well as any other game out there.
Graphics, too, were top notch, and managed to created a world far more fearsome and intense using the Doom 3 engine, than the title that bears the game engine name. Butcher Bay is forboding, dangerous, dark, intense, and like Riddick, it makes you want to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. Only games like Half Life 2 and Bioshock come to mind as examples of games that have created an atmosphere as horrific and chilling as they are visually enthralling and believable, while feeling 'lived in.'
Voicework provided by Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser bring the familiar back to un unfamiliar setting, which I dare say, is the only comfort in this unsettling atmosphere. Storytelling, as well, lives up to the graphics and gameplay, pulling you through a world as equally well conceived as it is god-awful. It's engaging and gripping from beginning to end, and stands apart as unique from both Ptich Black and Chronicles of Riddick as it's own story, while adding as much to the franchise as either (and in the case of the latter movie, arguably alot more)
This game will not dissapoint. It's an excellent example of a crossover done right, standing on it's own two feet as a singular entity.
It's also an example of a game done right, standing proud among the competition of the year (which in 2004 for shooters, was quite tough), and in every way, was just as unforgettable an experience as the best games I have ever played.
Butcher Bay might have been the best game of 2004, it might have been the best Riddick story ever told, but those points, while merited, are debatable. What is beyond question is this...
Escape From Butcher Bay is an amazing friggin game!