Deep in our underground secret lair we've been screening people to form a sort of GWJ review squad. We wanted to cover more games on the page and it turns out the forums are rich with talent and deep veins of opinions. We chipped away at the poor sods until they could do nothing but write for us or risk a thong visit from Elysium. Today 4tomsm4sher has sent in a review of the PC version ofÃ‚Â The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. It's a good read and it looks like the game is well worth checking out!
In the 2000 sci-fi film Pitch Black, moviegoers were introduced to bald, musclebound anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, played by bald, musclebound semi-actor Vin Diesel. Chronicles of Riddick, the second film to feature the titular protagonist, was released in June 2004 in conjunction with the Xbox game Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. While the film was panned by critics and ignored by most moviegoers, Escape from Butcher Bay was an unexpected exception to the general rule that videogames based on movies almost always suck. In fact, Escape won universal praise from the gaming community, and quickly became the latest must-have action title for Xbox owners.
Six months later, Vivendi Universal and Swedish developer Starbreeze Studios have released a "Developer's Cut" version of the game, exclusively for the PC. Unlike many console-to-PC ports, Escape manages to make a brilliant transition from the Xbox. In fact, the interface, controls, and overall feel of the game translate so well, you'd never guess it was originally a console release. Although Escape comes on 5 CD-ROMs and eats up a whopping 4.7 gigabytes of hard disk space, installation is fast and load times are minimal. And at thirty bucks, it's a bargain.
Set as a prequel to Pitch Black, Escape's storyline follows Riddick attempts to break out of Butcher Bay, a maximum-security prison home to some of the 26th century's least upstanding citizens. Along the way, he kills a bunch of guards and fellow inmates, starts a prison riot, unleashes deadly subterranean creatures, commandeers mech-like assault vehicles, and generally gets caught up in all sorts off dubious shenanigans..
With the exception of a terrific action sequence that the developers added near the middle of the game, the PC version remains true to the Xbox release in nearly every respect. The game runs almost flawlessly, and its cutting-edge graphics benefit significantly from the PC's more powerful hardware. The result is a game that looks and plays as good or better than just about anything else on the desktop.
As you might expect from a game that takes place entirely within the confines of a penal institution, most of Escape's characters are not very nice. In fact, they're typically ugly, antisocial, addicted, and disturbed, often to the extreme. The nearly photorealistic models and superb voice acting lend such an air of authenticity to Escape's characters that at times, you're scared to get too close. The same could be said of the game's environment - the grimy interiors of Butcher Bay feature suspicious stains and obscene graffiti galore, and the sight of the cell toilets in the game's early levels is enough to make you lose your lunch. If you could smell this game, you wouldn't be able to play it.
For all their realistic presentation, Escape's characters don't have a lot of depth. Most of the game's personalities serve merely as means to Riddick's ends, and none are likeable or particularly compelling. The same could be said of Riddick; while you might admire him for his aloof, badass demeanor and take-no-prisoners outlook, it's hard to connect with his character on any real emotional level. That said, it's clear that the developers weren't out to create the videogame equivalent of The Shawshank Redemption. Riddick's goal, first and foremost, is getting out of prison, and he's ruthlessly pragmatic in his approach to this task. Occasionally, the player gets to make decisions along moral or ethical lines, but they usually boil down to choices like, "In order to accomplish objective X, do I poison inmate Y's food or break inmate Z's neck?"
While Escape's unmitigated ugliness may be more than some can stomach, the game design is among the best the medium has to offer. Escape mixes stealth, combat, and even adventure gaming elements into a cohesive, varied, well-paced package. The gameplay mechanics, whether they involve dishing out death and destruction in a lumbering assault vehicle, sneaking through the darkness to silently break a guard's neck, or negotiating with inmates to obtain essential information, are all flawlessly integrated into Escape's first-person perspective and controls. Even the unusual first-person melee combat system feels fluid and natural.
Although it suffers from the many of the same hackneyed plot elements as its feature film counterparts, Escape's storyline is reasonably interesting and does an adequate job of supporting the superb gameplay. The plot occasionally delves into unexplained, obscure references to Riddick's background that will prove meaningless to all but die-hard fans of the Riddick universe, but given the game's many strengths, these moments are easily overlooked.
Once you've completed Escape, you gain access to a real treat - the previously locked commentary version of the game. It's similar to the director's commentaries that film enthusiasts have been enjoying on DVDs for the past several years, and like everything else in Escape, it's implemented with extraordinary style and attention to detail. Basically, you play through the commentary version the same way you would the original game, but along the way you encounter in-game objects that, once activated, provide detailed audio commentary and the occasional screenshot from the development team.
The commentary - which is extensive - includes all kinds of fascinating information, and provides remarkable insight into the art and craft of game creation. My only gripe is that once it's unlocked, there's no option to browse the commentary at the level of your choosing - you still have to play through the game beginning-to-end. Even so, it's a welcome addition, and one that will hopefully be adopted by other developers.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - Developer's Cut is an exceptional release that offers something for just about everyone. While it may leave you feeling like you need a shower, whether you're an average-joe gamer, die-hard Riddick fan, or nostalgic ex-con, you're unlikely to be disappointed.