Game: Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay – Developer’s Cut
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: Vivendi
Year: 2004
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: FPS
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Uh-oh, it’s another film license. Not only that, but it’s a license from a film that, despite having some decent action scenes, had a plot about as coherent as Ozzy Osbourne. While drunk. Surely this game is doomed to be a dreadful third person action game thrown together in a few days to cash in on the movie? Amazingly, it isn’t. It’s a first person shooter that not only manages to avoid the usual traps of awful film tie-ins, but manages to be one of the best FPS games in recent years. An amazing achievement given the circumstances.

Chronicles of Riddick Humour
Ahh, prisoners and their sophisticated humour…

At least some of the credit has to go to Vin Diesel himself, and his involvement in the games creation. However little respect he might get as an actor, he certainly went far beyond what most would do to create this game. Not only did he reprise the role of Riddick from the films, he was actually the executive producer and seemed to be involved in the whole creation process of the game.

The story of the game doesn’t suffer from the problems of the film. It’s perfectly simple. Riddick has to escape from Butcher Bay, the toughest prison around. That’s the basic premise of the whole game. Where it excels is in the details. The gritty and violent setting is perfectly created, making it one of the more immersive FPS games around. The setting looks oppressive, the sounds are harsh and the characters rough and mostly unpleasant. Especially the guards.

I’ve been calling the game an FPS, but it actually seems a bit unfair. Escape from Butcher Bay is actually much more than your standard shooter. In fact, shooting is a relatively minor part of the game. For most of the games length, you’ll actually be unarmed, or merely be carrying a melee weapon, with stealth being your main ally. And unlike the stealth in most FPS games, where it’s just stuck in for the sake of it, in Riddick it works perfectly. It’s not quite as deep as a dedicated stealth game like Splinter Cell or Thief, but it’s not far off. It also allows you to play in your own way, as you’re never forced to stay hidden, and if spotted, you still have the chance to escape. The time you do get weapons, they actually feel powerful and deadly in a way that most games don’t actually manage. The melee combat, when necessary, also works well enough, and is much more brutal than the rather pointless melee attacks included in most games of this type.

Another thing that sets this game apart from other first person shooters is the fact that it includes several sections that avoid combat of any form, and instead let you explore the prison, talking to other inmates in an attempt to find a way out. You have the opportunity to help other inmates for rewards if you like, but most of it is completely optional. These elements, resembling something from an RPG or adventure game rather than a typical action game, add further variety to the gameplay, and serve to flesh out the environment even further.

Chronicles of Riddick Stun Gun
Perhaps facing this guy armed only with a stun gun wasn’t such a good idea…

Further illustrations of how much effort has gone into making the game come with the movement. Riddick doesn’t move in the usual floaty way. Move forward and you’ll find the character taking an actual step forward, and likewise with sidestepping and walking backwards. If you look down, you can actually see your body, a feature rarely seen. I can only think of Trespasser and Call of Juarez that work in that way. The realistic movement doesn’t stop there, as Riddick can perform some fancy moves like swinging himself up into vents on the ceiling. For these, the game switches to a third person camera to show off the perfect animation, thanks to some brilliantly done motion capture by real people. The same fluidity of movement shows with all other characters as well.

There are a few nice extra features with the game too. As you explore the prison, you can find various cigarette packets lying around, and collecting these unlocks bonus features in the main menu, such as film stills, making of documentaries, etc. They’re also fun to collect, as each one has a humourous warning message where the usual cigarette packet health warning go. My personal favourite was the Flaming Lips reference of Yoshimi brand cigarettes with the warning “Do you realise that everyone you know some day will die?” The PC version of the game also includes some entirely new areas that weren’t included in the original console release, where you get to control one of the big armoured suits that some of the guards stomp around in.

So, amazingly, Chronicles of Riddick not only refuses to be a bad game, it’s actually one of the best games of its time. While most FPS games are content to stick simply with shooting things, Escape from Butcher Bay combines elements of various genres to create something that feels refreshingly different. Like the character it is named after, Riddick just does its own thing, and does it very well.

Save System Review: Although it uses a checkpoint save system, it still allows you to quicksave at any point.
Graphics: It might not be the best around now, but this was released in 2004, and it still looks pretty good today. The only place it really falls down is with that curiously plasticy look that the characters have, that seemed common to most games at the time.
Sound: Very impressive. The characters all have good voice acting, while the atmospheric background noises contribute hugely to the games brilliant atmosphere.
Bugs: I did have an annoying crash early on in the game, but I think this was more hardware related than purely the games fault. After that I didn’t have any problems at all.
Gameplay: A brilliant combination of stealth, shooting, melee combat and exploration that still feels fresh years after it’s release.
Storyline: Escaping the prison is the core concept behind the game, and the storyline revolves around Riddick discovering how to accomplish this goal. There are various side plots along the way, and the brilliant atmosphere keeps you interested the whole way through.

Arbitrary Final Score: 4 stars

As good as Pitch Black or as dreadful as the sequel? Make your choice on the forum!