The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena, in logic is a great value package and as a second hand game is incredibly cheap to pick up. The game itself contains two games developed in the same engine, Escape From Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena. I'll cut to the chase. Buy this if;
1. You were a fan of Escape from Butcher Bay when it was released in 2004.
2. Have never gotten around to playing Escape from Butcher Bay.
3. Want some more Escape from Butcher Bay'seque action for a couple of hours
I literally can't believe I missed out on such a classic way back in 2004, especially seeing how I actually owned and was a big fan of the original Xbox. EfBB is the equivalent of Christopher Lambert's early 90's film Fortress but as a game, it's also got a bit of Predator and Die Hard chucked in for good measure too. In fact, EfBB is a very cinematic game and has been quite a surprise for me of just how involving the game felt. Both games have fantastic graphics that showcase lighting and shine, that I believe, heretic as it may be, can be compared to Killzone 2.
Playing as Richard B Riddick the most wanted criminal in the universe, before his whole 'Aliens in the dark' Pitch Black stint, Riddick finds himself sent into the most security protected prison in the universe Butcher Bay, dragged down by the bounty hunter Johns and sold to the most camp prison chairman in the universe, Moxie. After a brief tutorial showing you stuff you won't get to do until after 2 hours of playing the game, as Riddick, you have to first work your way up the prison by getting involved in fights, taking down particular criminals in the block and getting items and advice on how to break out of prison. The prison is heavily guarded with security devices that shoot on sight if you're seen with a weapon so a lot of shadowy stealth is needed, which just by coincidence, Riddick has a 'stealth' mode in which hiding in shadows is great ease. However, you won't get to use a real weapon for quite a while, due to the fact all the guards guns are DNA coded, so shivs and knuckle dusters are the best weapons you'll get in the early part of the game. That is, until you find a way to illegally put your hand print into the DNA code, kick off a riot, then the real fun takes place. Without giving away any further details, this leads onto a punishment, which then puts you back to square one and then square minus zero.
The game mostly plays in a first person view and you'll be doing a lot of talking, punching, crouching, cracking necks and stabbing people at the back of the neck with a shiv. The game has a complete minimal HUD, with only some little grey blocks at the top of the screen representing your health, each block is a seperate bit of health and if partly filled, that block can recharge once stood still. I was surprised to see this mechanic, because I thought that Resistance was the first game to have it in. Back to the punching though; EfBB has the most greatest first person combat, L2 will block and R2 will punch (or stab if you've got a Shiv, screwdriver, etc), you can pull of some pretty cool combos and sometimes get this really gratifying, gruesome but awesome action of Riddick holding the back of someones head and repeatedly punching the head and into the nearest wall as the camera tilts like heck with every punch, if you think that sounds rather gruesome and cool, slashing someone directly across the chest might appeal to you or fighting over a gun and actually pushing a guards finger down on the trigger to ironically blast his own brains out might be your cup of tea.
The stealth section of the gameplay mechanics are brilliantly implemented and involve crouching by pressing Square and using the darkness and shadows in a room to be virtually unseen, then you get a chance to crack a persons neck or stab them whilst your behind them and they're unfortunately looking in front, then by pressing Triangle, slowly drag the body into the shadows, where AI daren't not look. There's also a lot of crouching and doing a 'John McClane' crawling throughout airducts and throughout the game, gaining codes, keycards and the like. Be prepared to retread areas and walk out a door to your surprise that you were last in that room about 2 hours ago. You'll get access to guns, health upgrades and Riddick's infamous 'light shine' which makes you seem like the Predator which came in useful in Pitch Black and the subsequent sequel movie, but have light shine mode on in a brightened room and it'll look like staring directly into an oil spill, spectrums and all.
Climbing is also an important factor in EfBB and the camera will switch to a more appropriate, third person cinematic view when climbing ledges, ladders and hangrails.
Health can be grabbed at stations on the wall which feels very 'Half Life', but when empty, if you picked up a cartridge from a dead guard, you can refill a station, a station has the max of 4 healing blocks which translate directly into your health, but if, like me, you do a bit of looking around, you'll find big versions of these devices which you can sit in and permanently increase the amount of health by a couple of blocks. You'll be glad to hear, there are some brilliant mech sequences, so Riddick is a victor in variety.
Dark Athena is totally average game with improved graphics in the same engine and shows that Starbreeze couldn't pull the same trick twice and is unfair to call a 'sequel', which tries putting Riddick in another unescapable situation which he successfully escapes from, expect more of the same as EfBB but with less well jointed game design and light shine from the beginning. The highlights of the game are the Ulak knives which can cause a lot of first person slicing and dicing and a gun which can fire the minimum of 5 small energy mines which you can then remotely detonate, for no apparent reason, Riddick can't break down wooden doors and uses this as a tool to do so. Replacing guards in Dark Athena are drones illegally computer modified kidnapped converted people, which once killed you get the option to use their gun or drag their bodies, when using a drones gun, you can only move backwards and is difficult in fire fights, so you have to be patient for a while until you get a real gun, but believe me, the Ulaks are fun and it's quite good fun controlling drones later on in the game.
My last words concerning Dark Athena...Beware the Spiderbots.