Saturday, April 25, 2009

Xbox 360 - Chronicles of Riddick - Dark Athena

Chronicles of Riddick:
Assault on Dark Athena
from Atari

Game Style: First Person Shooter
Rated for Violence, Language

Dark Athena appears to pick up right after Chronicles of Riddick - Escape from Butcher Bay. There are references in Dark Athena to Riddick's time in Butcher Bay. However, if you haven't played Escape from Butcher Bay, you're in luck. Atari has included both games on this Xbox 360 disc. Even though Butcher Bay was released in 2004 for the older Xbox, Butcher Bay has updated graphics and sound for the 360 (including achievements).

The controls are inherited from the Butcher Bay engine, so both games play identically (with the the exception of a few additions to Dark Athena).


Dark Athena opens with you laying on a beach. You wake to find that you're on a planet and you must wander around trying to find a way out. But wait.... this is a tutorial. Riddick wakes up in a completely different place (on a ship). It's about to be towed in by Revas on the Dark Athena (a big mercenary ship). Once on the ship, you are tasked with finding a way off of the ship, Dark Athena. In that process, you run into a number of people who will give you assignments to help you. Some of the assignments are side quests, some are part of the main story. After you complete all of the required on-ship assignments, Riddick uses an escape capsule to get off the ship and ends up on a planet (much like the tutorial dream sequence), where you have to find your way back to the ship to get off the planet. For whatever reason, Revas has decided to land on the planet. So, this gives Riddick the opportunity to get back onto the ship and finish what was started.

I was disappointed, though, that the 'voice' that guides Riddick and who appears in Butcher Bay (and the films) wasn't present at all in Dark Athena.  I felt that this presence is what guides Riddick in some ultimate outcome.  But, for whatever reason, the game developers felt no need to add her into this game.  To me, this left the story overall feeling a little hollow.


The tutorial on this one is smartly designed. It gets you into the game fast and, at the same time, gets you used to the controls, the guns, running, jumping, etc. You do it without any consequences because it's a dream sequence. It's long enough to get you into the game fast and lets you understand the controls. So, in this way, that's smart. The games that take you through a tutorial on an actual first level don't always work well to achieve the intended goal. In many cases, the pausing of the screen to give you information is enough to get in the way of a gun sequence and actually gets your character killed. In Dark Athena (and Butcher Bay) this didn't happen.


There is not much to say about this game that's overly outstanding for the way the game play system works. It's a fairly standard first person shooter. There are a few exceptions, though, like Riddick's shined eyes (see in the dark) and the mech suits you get to occasionally use. So, you pick up weapons and you can switch between them with a wheel selector. However, I found that the best weapon for this game is the tranqualizer gun. The tranqualizer gun never runs out of ammo and is effectively silent. So, you can shoot it without anyone hearing it or seeing you. It's great for putting out lights and helping you create cover in the areas. It stuns any non-armored people. So, it can help you get close and finish the job... especially when there are three or more people ganged up together.

There were also times where you end up on a level with large mechs. Because the game gives no direction, you don't know if you need to try to kill the mechs or do something else. So, you first run in guns-a-blazin' trying to kill the mechs and waste a lot of time. Instead, you find that you need to do something entirely different. If the game would at least give you some form of direction on what it wants you to do, the gamer can avoid these time wasters.


As with any game, controls can be difficult and tedious at times. But, for the most part, the controls work well. And really, most of the problems stem from the enemy AI than the controls. The main issue with the controls is that you can't change your weapons fast enough. So, when you want to get to a weapon and use it against a specific enemy, the AI for that enemy is so fast and accurate that Riddick ends up dead. So, the controls could be better to help you get to your weapons faster (or at least pause while you do). For most of the game, they are fine. When you're in a tight spot, they fail badly.

As far as the AI goes, the enemies are like most enemies in first person shooters... accurate and fast at any distance.  So, they can see you no matter where you are (including through walls). They can even shoot you through walls at times (bad collision detection).  At one point there are some spider robots that crawl on walls.  These things are 100% accurate no matter the distance and their bullets can kill you with only a few shots (even with a full health bar).  I find this totally ludicrous for these stupid little robots.  Even the heavy armored mechs aren't this accurate or powerful.  To set these annoying little robots up with this level of firepower and accuracy is just stupid.


Dark Athena's music is, for the most part, cineamatic. So, whenever you're encountering an enemy, the music swells to let you know you're close and they are aware of you. The music swells louder and more intense the more the enemy becomes aware of you. So, you can gauge just how aware they are based on the soundtrack. This is actually a very nice feature. In most games, the soundtrack is just a soundtrack. It makes it quite easy to remain hidden (of course, darkness helps... so shoot the lights out often).


The graphics of the environments are very well done (texture maps). The graphics could have been better in places (up close), Riddick's Hands, but even still the game's graphics definitely help the atmosphere. The one thing I would say, though, is that every light should be shootable. Unfortunately, you can only shoot specific lights out. I would have prefer much more realism in this area.

Riddick's character is reasonably well done, but there have been better characters done for older games (Mass Effect and Star Wars: Force Unleashed).


For most of the game, you are stuck inside Dark Athena. So, you're limited to the ship's environment. For the last third of the game, you are on a planet. The planet's environment (ocean and grounds) are done well.


I liked Dark Athena as a whole game. The puzzles were better on the planet than on Dark Athena. I did like that the game does make you think to finish the level. But, in some cases, I felt that it left you hanging on exactly what to do. Every once in a while it would pop up a hint, but I really didn't need that hint. I needed a hint on where to go... not what to do. I can figure out how to manage the physical environment. What I can't always figure out is where the game wants me to go (the actual location). So, I end up wandering around the entire level. In some cases, the game makes you backtrack all the way back. In some cases, you're going forward.

Because of the backtracking (which isn't really a good idea), it can make it difficult to determine where you need to be. So, you're not sure if you need to go forward or backward. If the game had a real map of the level with places you've been that's been uncovered, you'd at least know where you haven't been. That would have helped with moving the game forward.

  • Sound: 8/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (textures are well done, Riddick could be better)
  • Gameplay: 8/10 (straight forward gameplay)
  • Story: 7/10 (good, but not outstanding)
  • Bugginess: 2/10 (crashed once, couldn't get out of game loop)
  • Controls: 8/10 (works well in most places, doesn't work in tight spots)
  • Bang-to-buck: 8/10 (2 games on one disc)
  • Play Value: $25 (worth it, but the game is a bit short)
  • Overall: 7.5/10 (not an RPG, but definitely an 8 for a shooter)

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