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June 8, 2004 > The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

Developer: Tigon Studios

by Jeremy Inman

In an uncertain future, you are the most notorious criminal in the entire galaxy, wanted on dozens of planets for unspeakable crimes. Until recently, you've been a difficult prey to catch, but the bounty hunters were persistent and you got lazy. That slip-up landed you in Butcher Bay, the galaxy's harshest, most unforgiving prison and your new home. Now, you must use your wits, your fists, and your trigger finger to navigate the rusted bowels of this hell on earth and fight your way to freedom.

In Chronicles, players will assume control of Richard B. Riddick, ruthless murderer and the antihero of 2000's Pitch Black. Escape from Butcher Bay serves as a prequel to Pitch Black, providing a fleshed-out back story to the origin of Riddick that was touched upon briefly in the film to explain why he was able to see in the dark. The film itself was mediocre, but the main character, played with a spooky mixture of cold-bloodedness and grit by Vin Diesel, immediately struck a chord with audience members. In Escape from Butcher Bay, players step behind the surgically-enhanced eyes of Riddick to experience his origin firsthand.

The opening title sequence is an interactive segment in which Riddick is escorted through the massive front gates of Butcher Bay and down a series of corridors to his cell. The player will experience this segment, and most of the rest of the game, through Riddick's eyes. The level of emersion in this title becomes immediately apparent as the opening credits flash across the screen while you are escorted through the halls. You will instantaneously feel like you are stepping right into the film. The level of detail in Chronicles is one of the most impressive achievements in any Xbox game to date. For starters, Riddick is voiced by Diesel himself, so players won't be disappointed by a cheap likeness of Diesel's irreplaceable growl. The 3-dimensional game version of Diesel is uncanny in its accuracy, so when the camera switches to a third person view (to facilitate such actions as climbing a ladder or hanging from a ledge) it would appear to be a very realistic likeness of Riddick himself climbing and sneaking around. The game's impressive dynamic lighting system highlights every detail, and casts eerily realistic shadows and reflections through the dark and claustrophobic prison halls. Instead of saving time and processing power by repeating the likenesses of the various other inmates, Tigon took the time to individually craft hundreds of different characters, each of which has his own unique appearance, voice, and personality, and every one of which that Riddick can interact with freely. The result is a visually impressive, wholly immersive prison environment, complete with all the gloom, grime, and profane graffiti of any maximum security facility. While often times a little rough around the edges, the graphical accomplishments, especially considering the games smooth frame rate, are more than impressive.

In terms of gameplay, the main emphasis in Chronicles is stealth. However, Chronicles is not solely a stealth title. Tigon has crafted into the game a brutal brawling system that allows Riddick to block, punch, and to string attacks together into devastating combos- all in first person. Riddick will also have periodic access to various shivs (make-shift knives), clubs, and projectile weapons throughout the game. To further highlight the level of realism in Chronicles, each character will accurately bruise and bleed according to the punches that Riddick lands. The result is a truly brutal prison fight that makes well-use of the game's Mature rating by implanting all the blood spray, cussing, bruising, and bone-shattering realities of life in the slammer. The gunplay, while not nearly as unique or satisfying as the brawling, is sufficient to carry the game through the heavy action sequences. The game keeps the types of situations varied, so players won't necessarily be just running through corridors blasting guards away. Various new factors will be introduced as the game progresses, so each situation will have a unique feel that keeps the game fresh all the way through.

The game offers several new insights into Riddick's motivations, but continues the trend of its predecessor and its soon-to-be successor: sometimes evil must be fought with a greater evil. This time around, that evil is you. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay can be a little intense at times, and more than warrants its Mature branding, but fans of Pitch Black and especially Riddick will feel right at home playing through this gritty prequel, and newcomers will likely want to go out and rent the flick, especially to gear up for the upcoming film, The Chronicles of Riddick, the next chapter in the saga of Richard B. Riddick's life. Butcher Bay is well-worth a glance, as it stands not only as the prequel to Pitch Black, but one of the most impressive Xbox games to be produced all year.

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