The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay Review

OK, you’ve got a game based on a movie license, and a movie that is of questionable quality at that. Recipe for disaster, right? Not in this case. You also have a first person shooter that first appeared on a console system – a fact that may cause PC FPS fans to turn up their noses at the game and walk away. Hopefully you don’t make this mistake because you’d be cheating yourself out of a unique and enjoyable game. Even though it has these factors going against it, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (CoR) delivers an exciting and innovative game wrapped in a compelling and original storyline. That’s right; this console-ported, movie-licensed game is good.

For those of you keeping track of events in the Riddick universe, Escape from Butcher Bay takes place before the events depicted in the movie Pitch Black. In CoR, you play Riddick himself as he attempts to escape from his incarceration in the galaxy’s roughest and most secure prison colony. It’s bad enough that the prison is a veritable fortress filled with brutal guards and even more brutal prisoners, but making matters worse is the fact that the prison is the only settlement on a harsh and barren desert planet. It won’t be of much use escaping from the prison without a way to get off the world as well.

CoR is a first person shooter that differs from most games in the genre in several ways. The first is that the original storyline is very well developed – to the point were it rivals story development in RPG games. There’s far more here than a few cutscenes used to glue together action sequences. You’ll need to interact and converse with your fellow inmates and the prison guards if you’re to survive, let alone escape, Butcher Bay. Each of these characters is voiced, has their own personality, and goes about their day when you are not interacting with them - in fact, you can eavesdrop on their conversations as you walk by. They even each have their own unique look, so you’re not interacting with legions of clones or helmeted characters. In another RPG touch, these characters also sometimes offer up side quests that are entirely optional but will reward you should you accept and complete them. Also worth special mention is the character animations and models are top-notch – smooth, realistic, and well-synchronized with the characters’ speech. Vin Diesel did all of the voicework for Riddick in the game, and it is obvious that he put the same effort into the role that he would for a movie role. It all serves to create a degree of atmosphere rarely found in first-person shooters, and makes you feel like you’re actually a part of the story.

This immersion is furthered enhanced by the game’s excellent graphics. Unlike most shooters, CoR does not clutter the screen with health meters and ammo levels - all you see is what Riddick sees. If you’re hit in the head, the view will swing with Riddick’s head. Walk past a light and you’ll see your shadow cast on the wall. Some actions cause a short switch to a third-person view, such as when you climb a ladder or use a health station, but these sequences really work well. Watching Riddick pull himself up a ladder is actually a more natural view than to see the camera unnaturally glide along the ladder as if you were at the front of a train moving down the tracks.

CoR also varies from the first-person shooter standard in that you start out without any weapons. You’re a prisoner, after all. You don’t even have the option of taking out a guard and helping yourself to his weapon as the guns in Butcher Bay have DNA readers. If the gun doesn’t recognize you, then you’re in for a rude electrical shock. At first you’ll need to rely on your bare hands and any makeshift weapons such as shivs that you can find around the prison. CoR features a first person fighting mode that gives you a Riddick-eye view of the fighting. At its basic level, you use the left trigger to block and the right to land a blow or swing your shiv. However, you can also use the left stick to select different swings and if you time your attacks you’ll be able to pull off counter-moves. The fighting system may not be as deep as you find in fighting games, but it is leaps and bounds beyond anything that has appeared in first-person shooters to date. And don’t worry action fans; Riddick will of course get his hands on some firepower as the game progresses.