Let’s face it, folks. Games based on movies usually turn out to be crap 99% percent of the time. There have been exceptions but, for the most part, a game coming out alongside an anticipated motion picture generally turns out to be just what everyone expected: a rushed out product created to make some serious dough from a popular film license. Enter The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.
While there has been much hype for this game, stating that it would help break the mold, I was still quite skeptical until I actually played it. And what I found was a game with a legitimate shot of being the sleeper hit of the year.
One of the first things people will notice when playing this game is that it’s very easy to get a grasp of. After learning the initial control scheme, things will eventually become second nature as you start to pull off hand-to-hand fighting combos and manage all the goodies you can shoot or blow stuff up with. While some may be quick to label Chronicles of Riddick as a first-person shooter, there are other types of play in this game, such as mini role playing elements like doing favors for people and running errands to advance to a particular area. If you reach a part of the game that requires it, the camera will switch to an alternate third-person perspective so you can see where you’re going. Enemy AI is also better than other first-person games, too, as you’ll be able to overhear enemies plotting attacks before you walk into certain rooms, which is a very cool touch. There are times when it isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t seriously hinder the gameplay. The game is also Xbox Live Aware, meaning there aren’t any online multiplayer modes but it does know if you have a Live account. Weird but, nonetheless, it’s there.
Without question, the title’s most defining feature. The moment you turn this game on, your jaw will drop at how good some things look. Using some of the same techniques (for example, a new process called Normal Mapping) that Id Software and Valve are incorporating with Doom 3 and Half Life 2 respectively, The Chronicles of Riddick is definitely the best looking game currently available for the Xbox. It also doesn’t appear to have any slowdown issues; moving at a fast 60 frames per second, so the action never slows for anything. In tunnels and passageways, with an equipped weapon, you’ll notice that the lighting effects are stunning and very realistic. If you enter a dark tunnel and happen to run into a wall, it would be helpful if you can remember your way around, because the flashlight’s covering area will shrink realistically according to how close you are to the walls. It’s something small, but hey, it caught my eye. And, in addition to all of that, the game has a very cinematic feel, which lets you know that this isn’t another rushed out movie game.
For the majority of movie-based games, characters will, for numerous reasons, have secondary actors doing their voices rather than the original actors. Some want money, others will realize the game isn’t going to represent the movie well and not want to be linked with it. I could rattle off some names to illustrate my point, but what I’m trying to get across here is that this is just as big a category as other things in a game, even more so for one based on a movie. Thankfully, just about every person associated with the making of the The Chronicles of Riddick movie is present for voice work in this game. So that means Vin Diesel, Ron Pearlman, Kirsten Lahman, Willus Burks II, and Cole Hauser provide voice work, and it’s very believable and impressive. They even managed to add rapper Xzibit to play the voice of Abbott, the main prison guard.
The music of the game is rather well done, too. From the fast, up-tempo beats to the slow, dramatic songs, you can tell that some serious work was put into the music because it has an orchestrated feel to it, just like a movie does. If you have a surround sound setup, get ready for some impressive listening because the game’s Dolby Digital will fill your room with quality sound.
Everything you’ve heard from me about this game has been good so far, but The Chronicles of Riddick isn’t perfect in some areas, and this is one of them. While the game has an interesting story and the experience is great, once it’s over, it’s over. Sure, there are things to unlock and, for some gamers, that might be a good enough reason to play it over again, but it won’t be for most people. Another thing that hurts this game is the lack of any kind of multiplayer mode. Developers, Starbreeze Studios, already has a great looking game with a good engine, so why not put it to use for other modes to compete against other people? I’m sure they could have done something extra here, but to my dismay, there is nothing. And speaking of multiplayer modes, there’s no real Xbox Live support. Earlier on in the review, I mentioned that this game is Xbox Live Aware, and all that basically means is the game knows you have the online service and you can see what other people on your Friends List are doing. In my opinion, if that’s all they were going to do with this they might as well have left it out entirely. It practically serves no purpose at all. But, even with that minor detail, this is definitely still one of the more pleasant surprises of the year that no one should miss out on. It has great presentation, wonderful graphics, dramatic sound and, to top it all off, solid gameplay. I would definitely recommend picking this one up.