If Vin Diesel ever decides to prematurely retire from acting and filmmaking, his seat on the video-game express is already warm. The Chronicles of Riddick is an overlapping series, focusing on the eponymous Richard B. Riddick, a man with a dark past and even darker future. Introduced to audiences with Pitch Black, an unexpected success given its mediocre budget, Riddick would eventually transition into anime and video-games, with Dark Fury and Butcher Bay.
In the summer of 2004, Riddick slinked onto the Xbox. Butcher Bay’s blend of stealth gameplay and visceral action, along with superb production values, earned it impressive reviews and solid sales. But with the following year’s film release, the series hit a bump in the road, and fan’s budding romance with Riddick began to wane.
Enter Dark Athena
Dark Athena is a direct sequel to Escape from Butcher Bay, which has been rebuilt and packaged into the game. It’s a brilliant introduction to Riddick, if you can ignore the five year-old flaws and the clumsily executed finale.
Avoiding any Butcher Bay spoilers, Dark Athena begins with the mercenary Johns and his prisoner, Riddick, aboard a vessel drifting in space, its occupants asleep. Their ship is eventually captured by the titular Dark Athena, a pirate ship resembling some medieval squid. Riddick is awake before the Dark Athena pirates, led by Captain Revas, can abduct him, although Johns is taken.
Riddick has always been a survivor, and rather partial to a daring escape, but he can’t resist exploring the Dark Athena and uncovering its hidden secrets. He eventually discovers the Drones patrolling the ship were once human, abducted by Revas and her crew and transformed into mindless, obedient slaves, with rifles grafted on to their arms. Riddick’s presence on the ship is soon detected, and he must escape or risk becoming one of Revas’ pawns.
Strike From The Shadows
Riddick is a capable fighter, as adept with his fists as he is with a shiv or shotgun. But he thrives in the shadows, where he can lurk until an opportunity arises for him to strike without mercy, executing his enemies’ with efficient aplomb. Riddick’s trademark ‘eye-shine’ allows him to see in the dark, so retreat to the shadows whenever in danger.
Like Butcher Bay, Dark Athena limits Riddick’s usage of firearms. In prison, rifles and the like were DNA-encoded, whereas aboard Dark Athena, they’re attached to the Drones. Riddick can heft a Drone into his arms to manipulate his rifle-limbs, but he cannot move and exposes himself to further scrutiny. Riddick’s gameplay relies upon caution, patience and a drop of luck.
You're So Unfair
Both Butcher Bay and Dark Athena suffer from unfair spikes in difficulty, and in both games it relates to certain mechanical foes. Forays into mechanised walkers might seem empowering, but often become a bore, and in Dark Athena, the scuttling spider-bots are a constant thorn in your enjoyment of the game.
But to argue with a game’s difficulty is somewhat hypocritical, as succeeding despite the odds is a hallmark of video-game progression. It has inconsistent check-pointing, limited resources and unfair enemy advantages, but the Riddick package is immensely enjoyable once you’ve mastered the controls and approach methods.
Riddick isn’t exactly a character, or a game, you’d peg for multiplayer, but regardless of his lone wolf nature, developers Starbreeze decided to include a competitive multiplayer portion into Dark Athena. Modes range from team-games to an Arena, where kills earn credit to purchase further weapons and ammunition.
But the true gem of Riddick’s multiplayer is the Pitch Black mode. One player is Riddick, replete with his ‘eye-shine’ and executions, whereas five others are guards, carrying rifles and torches. Set in dark, gloomy environments, Riddick must avoid being killed by the guards, but must also return the favour. It’s an inspired mode, as it distils the Riddick experience into its core parts, instead of forcing it into incongruous free-for-alls and mass brawls.
Despite whatever reservations you may have about the Riddick games, the Dark Athena package is great value for money, essentially bundling two excellent games for the price of only one. Butcher Bay is still a classic, and although the graphical upgrades clash with the archaic design, it’s an unforgettable experience. Dark Athena, whilst maintaining the core Riddick appeal, fails to properly build upon the foundation, as many of the same cracks and flaws remain.
Riddick, as a character, is hugely endearing for all the wrong reasons. Diesel’s baritone monologues are sometimes cliché, but his dark empiricism and philosophical outlook on fate and mortality can be entertaining. I would suggest anyone, fan or not, sample Dark Athena.