The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (Xbox 360) Review

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Summary [7.5 out of 10]

Assault on Dark Athena is a great followup to the award-winning Escape from Butcher Bay title landing just-shy of perfect due to what I can only describe as a lack of “balls”. The well paced levels, interesting NPCs and fun melee combat are all back, but instead of bumping the Riddick franchise up a notch with some more of this and more of that it just sort of re-delivers the same Riddick experience we already had.

Story

Good Enough. The story is straight forward and very in-line with the existing Riddick lore out there and picks up right after Butcher Bay’s escape. Riddick is this super-badass that tends to find himself accidentally included in some sort of crazy situation that he is forced to participate in, in order to get himself out of said situation.

The mechanic worked in Pitch Black, it worked again in Chronicles of Riddick, it worked in Butcher Bay and it works again here in Assault on Dark Athena.

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The story was a bit sparse… when I would get to cutscenes that would remind me of what was going on, they were sometimes so far apart from each other that I had forgotten what I was doing. But it wasn’t really a huge issue.

Graphics

Pretty Good. I remember when I played Butcher Bay, I was blown away by the graphics from this completely unknown developer. The melee/hand-to-hand combat was phenomenal, the use of bump mapping was everywhere and the texturing and modeling of character faces was so fantastic I couldn’t believe how good the main characters like Riddick and Johns looked.

In Assault on Dark Athena, everything looked good enough that you didn’t think about it. I was never struck by anything looking fantastic and only in a few instances did I think “oh that texture is muddy”. I did notice that facial animation was excellent though, I don’t know if Starbreeze hopped on the GTA IV facial animation bandwagon with Image Metrics or not, but it was great.

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The levels are pretty sparse when it comes to detail, but I didn’t ding the game’s score for this because (for some reason) I didn’t notice it until I really thought about it. Just the way Starbreeze makes these Riddick games, you never think “Where’s the bustling ship I should be walking through” like Assasin’s Creed or something, you just accept that there only seems to be like 20 people on this entire ship and it never dawns on you otherwise.

There are little environment touches that get you into the world though that I liked — like punching the wall and making it bloody in addition to busting your hands up pretty bad:

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Music & Sound

The voice acting is excellent in this game. I didn’t hear a single NPC that made my ears bleed and if anything the purposefully enigmatic and confusing lines from Riddick himself were the most annoying.

Most of the NPCs are perfectly cast with voices that match their characters perfectly. One of my favorites was Dacher:

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The facial animation adjoining the voices were also excellent.

The sound effects in the game were “great”, no complaints. The guns sounded good, melee combat sounded good and meaty. Environmental sounds were high quality and fit the scenes well. I think it says a lot about the quality of something when you don’t notice it as a detractor in a game — bad sound could ruin any game and good sound that stands out to the point of you noticing it above and beyond everything else is rare, so some credit is due to the Starbreeze developers for doing such a solid job with the sound.

As for music, besides the “combat” music, I didn’t actually notice any other music in the game. It’s a fairly quiet game.

Combat & Gameplay

Great. The melee combat was by far my favorite part of Butcher Bay, even though it seemed like you could always have a gun with you, I still chose to use melee almost exclusively the entire game. Fortunately the melee in Assault on Dark Athena still feels excellent:

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In Assault on Dark Athena you can rarely find guns that you can keep on you as the game encourages you to stick to melee combat, especially around meat-targets (on the few levels that have many enemies or robotic ones, you get more weapon drops to use). It’s not quite as bad as Condemned where guns can only be picked up with 2 shots left in them, but it’s also not Quake.

The mechanics of shooting in Assault on Dark Athena are similar to most modern shooters, LT zooms you in and RT fires. In this case the only thing I had to “learn” was that B reloads instead of X:

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It all felt pretty natural.

Climbing and stealth mechanics are again just as they were in Butcher Bay, thankfully (again) they were excellent in the first game and there was really no reason to mess with them.

Sneaking up behind enemies will ready your weapons as soon as you are within “striking” distance to initiate a context-sensitive kill (just click Attack and let the scene play out):

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Conclusion [7.5 out of 10]

Assault on Dark Athena by itself is a good game, there are no qualms about that. By completely remastering and re-including Escape from Butcher Bay in the same box that makes this bundle an excellent value and “awesome” if you like the Riddick movies and the Riddick character.

What you’ll notice about Assault on Dark Athena is that it feels identical to Butcher Bay — that’s not bad, but that is what kept the game from being “amazing”. Instead of amping up the Riddick character and his exploits for us in this sequel we pick up right where we left off and keep moving forward.

This would have been a lot like if Gears of War 2 hadn’t had the improved cover system, more epic battles, awesome co-op or any of the other enhancements in the sequel and they had literally just done some new levels with no attempt at making it “bigger and badder”. Assault on Dark Athena feels a lot like that.

Overall, if you loved the first game, you’ll like Athena. If you liked the first game, you probably want to rent this.

Areas of Improvement

As with our video game reviews, we don’t feel it’s fair to criticize a game unless we can provide feedback on how it could have been better, so here is our feedback for the Assault on Dark Athena team:

  • Gore… more damn gore. You have an M-rated Riddick game, I know Riddick has never really been about insane gore, but when you Ulak someone in the face or in the chest, it would have been awesome to get some dismemberment from time to time… it would have made melee combat feel much more intense.
  • More badass Riddick moments — I didn’t feel like a super-calm/smart indestructable badass in this game like I did in Butcher Bay… I think part of that is the lack of NPC interactions where I can be revered. This is a really hard intangible to describe, but in the movies Riddick tends to get to be a badass when doing something super-strong or really smart to double-cross someone or kill someone else… I just didn’t get that “omg I rock!” moment. An example of what I thought sucked, is when Revas dropped down from the cieling on Riddick after he found Dacher dead… that is the type of stuff that dupes chumps, not Riddick!
  • Gore… did I mention gore? Serious… punching someone’s face in just to get the screen splattered with blood and cave in their nasal cavity would have been so awesome. More specifically, either matched Condemned 2′s gore or exceeded it slightly.
  • More action-oriented cutscenes.
  • More context-sensitive super-kills, like with the Alpha Drone, but more often and with more characters.
  • More ways to kill people — I kept the Ulaks armed almost the entire game because other weapons were boring. Guns were the most boring and for melee the hair-pin and knife were really boring to use… you just “poked” the person straight on until you got lucky with a “disarm” or context-sensitive sequence… atleast the Ulaks slashed all over the screen like crazy.
  • No magical boss fight requirements. We ripped Turok a new asshole for this one and up until the 1st Alpha Drone fight there were no special requirements for killing anything… then suddenly I spend a half-hour and 30 rounds of explosive ammo only to go online and find out I have to plant 4 or 5 rounds on the thing before detonating them… god lame.

Gameplay Video Gallery

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About Riyad Kalla

Software development, video games, writing, reading and anything shiny. I ultimately just want to provide a resource that helps people and if I can't do that, then at least make them laugh.

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