The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Breaking out of prison is a scenario that's been used in countless movies such as Escape From Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption. Almost by default, it creates dramatic tension, exciting scenarios and memorable characters who have to overcome impossible odds and the threat of death to gain their freedom. Strangely, we always side with the lead character trying to flee, rather than cheering on the guards to give them one more severe beating - which is odd, because in real life, we'd be shunned by society if we drank a toast in our local to a daring jailbreak by dozens of mass murderers.
The latest anti-hero to rattle his cage is Richard B Riddick, the bald, enigmatic hard-as-nails convict from the sci-fi movies Pitch Black and The Chronicles Of Riddick. Escape From Butcher Bay is a videogame prequel, an ultra-violent action-adventure mixing elements of a first-person shooter, stealth game, RPG and brutal beat 'em up. In it, your objective is simple - escape from the galaxy's worst triple-max security prison.
Hooray For Hollywood
OK, we know what you're thinking -why should we even have a twitch of excitement about a movie tie-in that's been out on Xbox since the summer? Simple - this is a very cool game that you simply cannot ignore. I've already completed the console version, and having now extensively played the enhanced PC 'developer's cut', I can happily confirm that Escape From Butcher Bay is shaping up to be the definitive edition of the rip-roaring futuristic blaster. In my opinion, it's also set to be the best movie-to-videogame conversion since GoldenEye.
Riddick is without doubt the game's star; a wise-cracking, ice cool psychopath, whose crimes are only ever hinted at. superbly played by the gravelvoiced Vin Diesel, in what's definitely his most convincing acting role yet. After being captured and transported by bounty hunter William J Johns (voiced by actor Cole Hauser from Pitch Black), you begin your term in Butcher Bay. As befits such a place, it's a gritty, rusty, shit-stained hell-hole, populated by disturbed foul-mouthed guards, crazed inmates and other horrors which you encounter as the plot unfolds. Your first task is just to survive, as your arrival upsets the natural balance of power in the prison yard, throwing a whole gang of murderous individuals in your general direction. Riddick can talk to other characters, using a Monkey Island-style text interface to find out essential info about Butcher Bay, such as getting access to weapons. He can also undertake minimissions, which include everything from retrieving an inmate's missing spectacles to killing a rival gang member.
Escape From Butcher Bay has a very minimalist HUD -weapons are only briefly displayed when chosen, and health, indicated by small white boxes in the top left-hand comer of the screen, only appear when you're involved in combat. Your main weapons in the early part of the game are crude handheld affairs, including knuckle-dusters, clubs and shivs. The latter are sharp, improvised pieces of metal or tools that you can use to hit, stab and slice enemies in hugely entertaining first-person punch-ups.
Death On Two Legs
If you prefer, in many situations you can go into a crouching stealth mode, shown when activated by a blue-ish tint to the screen, nice eyeball vein effects and the handy ability to hear any nearby person's heartbeat. Here you can pull off stealth kills by coming out of your hidden position, carefully sneaking up behind opponents and deftly snapping their necks, slashing their throats or cutting their spinal cords - useful in later levels when the heavily-armed pnson guards become your main opponents.
What's more, you can get rid of baddies by dropping on them from above, or use a counter-move that forces guards to comically shoot themselves with their own weapon. However, in the early levels, all guns are DNA-encoded, so Riddick can't pick them up without getting an electric shock. However, you soon work out a way of solving this and get access to shotguns, assault rifles and all manner of juicy heavy weaponry. As in any decent stealth game, dragging and hiding bodies in dark comers then becomes essential if you don't want other guards to discover the nasty mess you've made and call for help.
Escape From Butcher Bay's Al is excellent, with guards that will fall back, outflank you and hunt together, shining their torches in every nook and cranny trying to flush you out of hiding while also goading you with insults and taunts. In one situation, I was sneaking above a couple of prison guards; they spotted me and proceeded to shoot out the metal grates in the floor, causing Riddick to fall down painfully onto the corridor below. This is a great example of the physics engine, which enables lights to be shot out, windows shattered, alarms destroyed and ragdoll bodies to be shot or hilariously pushed off ledges into rock-crushing machines.
Yet the most important part of the Riddick universe is Eye Shine, his ability to see in the dark - and in Butcher Bay, you'll witness how he's given his special powers those distinctive black specs. Eye Shine is a gameplay convention that works really well-just one tap on the keyboard and a completely dark corridor is suddenly fully illuminated. Of course, this can be used to give you the advantage over enemies with superior firepower, so sabotaging an electrical access panel turns off lights and enables you to creep up on unsuspecting enemies without detection. Eye Shine is always available too, with no batteries or power bar to contend with as you attempt to escape.
Butcher Bay prison itself is a beautifully-realised, self-contained world, made up of grubby cells, rusting air vents, decaying lifts, dimly-lit corridors with leaky steam pipes, nondescript storage areas and vast underground mines. Starbreeze has excelled on the graphics front, with everything from \the views of the inhospitable red-skied planet through the dusty windows, to the individual rivets on an air duct's metal plating created in minute detail. Then there's the game's fantastic real-time lighting - as good as anything in Doom 3 - which has Riddick himself projecting shadows on walls and floors, torches that light up rooms and corridors realistically even down to the particles of dust caught in their beams, and searchlights that shine through fences casting patterns onto characters. All the in-game character models are extremely detailed too, with believable muscle and skin, textured clothing that moves in the correct way, pockmarked and scarred faces and some of the best motion-captured animation I've seen. This is especially true during the third-person views of Riddick's 'action moves', such as climbing ladders and boxes, and hanging from rails.
Level design ranges from claustrophobic air-conditioning ducts (where would we be without them?), to huge, wide-open mining shafts, each containing multiple pathways that can get a little confusing if you don't pay attention to your mission briefings and rather crude map screen. However, there's so much variety, with cleverly-scripted sequences, stylish cut-scenes, great dialogue, dark humour, atmospheric soundtrack and numerous side-quests, you're always entertained, with your trigger finger tensed.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay manages to expand the universe created by David Twohy, but setting it before the events in Pitch Black means that Starbreeze and Vin Diesel's own Tigon Studios have had the freedom to produce a solid videogame and quality characters, without having to slavishly follow a movie plot. In addition, this new PC version has proper mouse control, quick-saves, developer's commentary - similar to director commentaries on DVDs - and a smattering of new weapons and levels.
The game's major criticisms at this stage are the lack of multiplayer (see 'Why Don't You?', opposite), along with its minimal length - approximately ten hours. In addition, although there aren't any vehicles as such, you do get to ride in something much later in Butcher Bay, but we won't spoil the surprise for you -it's one of the best bits in the game.
Escape From Butcher Bay isn't going to be as ground-breaking as Half-Life 2, but if you're looking for a title with a great melting pot of genres, mixing stealth, horror, RPG, sci-fi, fighting and action, you could do a lot worse than enjoy a stretch with Richard B Riddick and his merry inmates. We'll have the definitive verdict next issue, along with an exclusive playable demo just don't drop the soap in the showers...
Download The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Every Now And then, a gem of a game comes along that's largely overlooked by the gaming community. Dwarfed upon release by such behemoths as Half-Life 2 and Rome: Total War, Escape From Butcher Bay manages the rare task of being one of the only film-to-ganie conversions that far surpasses its celluloid brethren.
Featuring gravelly-voiced Vin Diesel as Riddick, this FPS is centred around his capture, stay and eventual escape from the brutal prison of Butcher Bay. As such, it's full to the brim with all manner of unsavoury characters, legally dubious activities and more violence than you'll find outside a Wetherspoons at kicking-out time. Not exactly a suitable present for your eight-year-old cousin then.
When you're not wielding guns, the game takes a decidedly more sneaky turn, allowing you to explore the excellent and well-realised melee combat system. Said system uses a nifty combination of WASD keys and mouse buttons which means you can unleash a swift-fisted combination on your unwitting opponents. Combine these levels of violence with the oppressive but gorgeously rendered scenery, some superb voice-acting, plenty of neat touches and great pacing throughout the game and at this price, Riddick is one title it'd be criminal to miss.
On the Silver Screen:
Sometimes you've got to break the rules to free your heart. You might also have to break a few faces. Antihero Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) goes up against the despotic Lord Marshal and his army of necromongers in the sequel to Pitch Black.
On Your TV:
This movie-prequel action game has you brawling, bribing, sneaking, and shooting your way out of prison. The first-person fisticuffs look like they could be uniquely satisfying, and the whole thing looks freaking amazing. You may never have seen corpses look so thoroughly dead.
I didn't believe it at first. I'd only played a few levels, but I could feel its hooks digging into me. Gorgeous graphics, using normal mapping to give each texture a life, a feel all its own. It used actors that knew exactly what they were doing, like Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser, who reprise their roles as Riddick and Johns, respectively. Finally, like the little mint on your hotel pillow, a story that was completely unique, didn't borrow, beg, or steal from either Pitch Black or the new Riddick film. Each of these elements was strong in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, but combined, they make for a truly wonderful game experience.
You'll hear no shoddy voice acting in this title. None, not a peep. Sound effects could've been done better, but not having to listen to a voice that would've been more appropriate in the original release of Resident Evil is what concerned me. Visually, the normal mapping technology more than lives up to its hype, and it shows. The characters appear to have a depth I've never seen before. Riddick's shirt has texture, and the walls themselves finally stand out as something other than basic texturing. It isn't quite what we've seen from E3 previews of upcoming titles, but it certainly performs.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay gameplay is an interesting mix of traditional and stealth that, aside from featuring the best tutorial level ever, also manages to present Riddick the character every bit as well as the story can support him. There's a reason he's a deadly, vicious character, who can usually get the upper hand on whomever he likes. Blending into the shadows is not only easy, but a strong visual cue (in the form of a blue hue that covers the screen) helps make the transition from gameplay element to intuitive response. The level design was good and prison like, but didn't stand out to me. Rather, you'll probably enjoy fist fighting, as well as the ways the developers actually created to get you away from your weapons, and not feel like you'd just been gimped, as in other titles.
Unfortunately, for all of this game's strengths, it still possesses flaws. For one thing, it's length, which I'd wager offers nothing more than about 10 hours of gameplay, even replaying the game on other difficulties. There are unlockables, but they aren't much more than concept art and a few trailers. Still, those things aside, I literally have never played a better franchise title, and much like the Boston Tea Party, this may be the herald of a great change.