The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena does gamers one better than a next-gen port – it’s got a completely independent game in there to go with Escape from Butcher Bay.
Assault on Dark Athena is more like a follow-up to Escape from Butcher Bay than a sequel or a remake. It seamlessly continues the story from the end of Butcher Bay and builds towards the enigmatic character of Riddick that we get in the films Pitch Black and that second one I’d rather pretend didn’t exist. All of the old voiceover team reprised their roles, including Vin Diesel – because it wouldn’t be Riddick without him. Really, this franchise gets more mileage from the games than it does from its source material.
The Butcher Bay part of the game itself is still the same game in terms of plot – but completely different by virtue of a new game engine, improved AI functionality, and utterly overhauled graphics. You don’t have to play Butcher Bay to unlock Dark Athena (players choose from the start screen which chapter to play), but if you never got the chance to play the one movie-based video game that didn’t suck, this is it. Between the two chapters, the entire game clocks in at 20 hours – and it sounds like there’s a special Achievement/Trophy for completing both. (The Starbreeze producer said he wanted an Achievement for getting through both campaigns without dying and without turning the console off – this guy’s hardcore!)
Dark Athena tells the tale of a mercenary ship that picks up humans, turns them into drone fighters and generally does Bad Things. There’s a little girl involved who escapes the mercenaries by hiding in the ship’s air ducts.
At this point, I said something about Aliens. The project lead slapped a hand to his forehead and said, “Shit! We’re derivative!” and I decided to drop the subject. Besides, who cares if there are only six original ideas that the whole creative world copies? If the copies are awesome, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Riddick gets grabbed by the mercenaries at the start of the game, thus starting the player off with no equipment and no weapons. As Riddick busts out of his cell and tries to figure out where his crew has been taken, he gets super-cool weapons like razor blades and guns. The little girl,
Lynn, encounters Riddick early on and asks him to save her mom – who most likely has been made into a drone zombie already. The sympathy Riddick develops for Lynn helps explain his relationship to Jack/Jackie in Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick and gives the cast more estrogen – always a good thing.
The second shot of estrogen comes in Dark Athena’s villain – the hardcore female captain of Dark Athena who appears to have a history with Riddick. Her gruff demeanor and badassitute sort of reminds me of Metal Gear Solid’s Boss – only black-haired and in space. Starbreeze assured me that there would be no gender inequalities for me to climb on a soapbox about. Dark Athena’s captain is going to go toe-to-toe with our hero and the developer is convinced she’s a worthy opponent.
Once Riddick had encounters Lynn in the air ducts and the captain over an intercom, the game gets going in earnest. Riddick takes control of a nearby drone terminal to control – you guessed it – a bunch of drones. The drone fighters make a large part of gameplay; they’re the primary enemy you fight and a big gameplay mechanic when it comes to fighting others. By taking control of the drones, you go into “drone vision” and can pilot one of the pour, soulless bastards through the corridors of the Dark Athena, killing guards and disabling obstacles that would otherwise prevent Riddick from progressing through the game. I’m curious to see if you can get through most of the game just using the drones – they don’t die too, too easily and are decently equipped with weapons.
If you happen to run out of drones to pilot, or get bored and want to go kill some ass with your own two hands, you can abandon the drone terminal and take off through the depths of the ship killing anything you see. The DNA mapping of guns still applies, but now you can pick up corpses and use them as meat shields as well as using them for their guns. Stealth is still a major part of gameplay, so the more hardcore will probably forego the guns, use drone terminals sparingly, and become masters of those wicked sharp, pointy things.
I’m proud of Starbreeze. They’ve overcome a false-start from a year and a half ago (hardware issues with the Escape from Butcher Bay remake), withstood the ugly transition from Activision-Blizzard to Atari, and – despite the pressure to get The Darkness done – stuck to their guns to make Assault on Dark Athena a quality gaming experience instead of a convenient sequel.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena comes out for PS3, 360, and PC sometime in 2009.