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The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (Xbox) artwork

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (Xbox) review

"The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is a chapter in the life of everyone’s favorite B-list sci-fi badass, Richard B. Riddick. He is a bruiser, plain and simple, and the antics continue in this videogame prequel to the films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. "

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is a chapter in the life of everyone’s favorite B-list sci-fi badass, Richard B. Riddick. He is a bruiser, plain and simple, and the antics continue in this videogame prequel to the films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick.

The title is self-explanatory: Riddick, hardass that he is, manages a daring escape from a maxxximum security prison buried deep beneath a desert planet. Compared to most games spawned from film properties, it’s excellent, clearly several cuts above. There’s no comparison between Butcher Bay and the miserable titles that emerged as afterthoughts to blockbusters like The Mummy or Blade; it even has Vin Diesel on board for voice work.

But while Butcher Bay easily avoids the typical pits and pratfalls of licensed movie games, it is a fascinatingly uneven experience, painstakingly engineered in some respects and a thoroughly bargain bin in others. Despite fun action and glimmers of awesome atmosphere, you can’t help but feel a strong underachieving vibe.

The end result is a game set in a deadly prison with mood to spare that goes light on violent prison chicanery but heavy on tedious shooting, a game with impressive voice talent (Diesel along with action stalwart Ron Perlman and Pimp My Ride superstar Xzibit) but thoroughly insipid storytelling, a game with complex stealth maneuvers without the quality AI that makes that sort of sneaking engaging. All in one eight-hour (if that) experience with no multiplayer and little replay value.

The game begins with a stroll through the corridors of Butcher Bay, the legendary penitentiary of which Riddick is the newest resident. You are free to look around during this introduction, Half Life-style, and soak in the surroundings while the warden’s right hand man barks obscenity-laced orders. The walls are decorated with raunchy graffiti and riddled with pockmarks, prisoners take long drags on their cigarettes or pump iron in their cells, and guards respond to the slightest threat swiftly and mercilessly. Within the first few minutes, you’ll learn which inmates want to help you and which ones want your ass dead. The ambushes and murder attempts are constant, and since they didn’t exactly let Riddick walk into the toughest lockup in the galaxy with a rifle under each arm and a flamethrower strapped to his back, he fights with the only weapons he has: his fists.

Hand to hand combat in a first-person action game is rare, but Riddick pulls it off with style. The arsenal of punches, combos, and counterattacks is small but streamlined, with a no-nonsense, beat ‘em into submission feel that fits like a glove.

Jabs leave hideous bruises smeared on faces and uppercuts send necks snapping backwards with a satisfying crack. Riddick can even grab an enemy’s punch, crush the captive fist, and deliver a fatal sucker punch to the neck. The first half hour of Butcher Bay—chatting with inmates, whoring yourself out as a hitman, scrambling for that first shiv—is a fun and sadistic adventure.

After that first tantalizing bit, Butcher Bay degenerates into an annoyingly run-of-the-mill first-person shooter. There are other hand-to-hand, prisoner-interaction segments , but they invariably get cut short.

Still, the game design is undeniably superior. Considering the setting is an ugly prison, the amount of detail and atmosphere squeezed out of every concrete wall and large iron gate is no mean feat. In some circles, Riddick has earned the title of best looking game on the Box, bar none. I wouldn't go that far, but the visuals combine bajillions of polygons with a brutal aesthetic. Even health refills are long, sharp medicating spikes to the jugularl. The audio maintains a similarly high standard; I daresay the juicy bone breaks and beefy explosions would get Riddick’s manly stamp of approval.

Butcher Bay has the rock solid play mechanics to go with the artistic bells and whistles. Riddick can hide in the shadows, shoot out light fixtures, hang from ceilings, disarm enemies, crawl through ventilation ducts, snap necks from behind, and see in the dark (via a sort of night vision that should be familiar to fans of the movies). Everything, from weapon management to sneaking about, is well handled. This is a system that can hold its head high next to big names like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell.

It’s all there, and Butcher Bay often squanders it with reckless abandon.

You have all these nifty abilities, see, and nowhere to use them. The combat inexplicably degrades significantly beyond the knifings and fisticuffs of the prison yard. Foes that bobbed, weaved, and reeled under the weight of your punches just flinch and collapse awkwardly when shot. The weapon selection—tranquilizer gun, pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, grenade, the end—is as vanilla as it gets. The enemies, almost all stock foot soldiers, carry the same arsenal. And they’re dumb to boot. Most of the “stealth” sections consist of shooting all the lights out in a given room and then loudly killing everyone in it—don’t worry, the guys next door won’t notice.The accomplished stealth elements are wasted on goonish oafs and linear, insipid levels.

Give me something besides a few nondescript crates to hide behind once in a while, and maybe a few enemies besides guys in nondescript sci-fi armor!

There are many swaggering technical masterpieces with zero substance that generally aren’t worth mentioning, but Butcher Bay is something different, and something more. Some of it was made with utmost skill, a keen eye for quality, and major TLC. Some of it was made on auto-pilot.

This is a first person action game with highly entertaining hand-to-hand combat—who pulls that off?!—that couldn’t be bothered to include even one remotely interesting projectile weapon. This is a game that purports to tell an entirely original chapter in the Chronicles of Riddick (a tale that seems to take itself quite seriously) and bothers to get Vin Diesel on board only to spin a yarn that is paper-thin and uninspiring by any standard. This is a game with a virtual Riddick that looks so real it’s scary that has him fighting an excruciatingly generic cast of villains. And I finished the game in one sitting; not a lot for your buck.

Riddick gets plenty right, and its certainly worth checking out for the incredible accomplishments on offer, but ultimately its unevenness and what might be simple laziness or lack of creativity is frustrating.

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Community review by careless_whisper (May 05, 2005)

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