But Riddick is so much more than that, much like many other first-person games have become this generation: more than the typical shooter.
What’s so surprising though is just how much Riddick gets right. It first-person shoots very well. Hand-to-hand combat is executed very well. The story is well-written. The voiceovers are done very well. The adventure elements have been done very well. The music is appropriately grim (which means – you guessed it – very well). And the graphics are some of the very best to be seen on any system.
So, while not being the greatest game of all time, Riddick does indeed turn out to be more than a “very well”-made game; it’s one hell of a title. Check that: its one hell of a licensed title!
Gameplay – Besides not being the usual licensed drivel that seems to pour out of publisher marketing meetings, what is so surprising about Riddick’s quality is that the game is attempting to be a jack of all trades of sorts, offering numerous different gameplay types all in one package, and actually succeeds. This is something rare in the industry. While being played through the first-person perspective, you’ll do all sorts of things, from shooting and hand-to-hand fighting to hiding corpses and being all stealthy. If that’s not enough for you, there’s plenty to do on the adventuring side as well, whether it be talking to different non-player characters (NPCs) or performing some minor puzzle solving. Really, Riddick does it all pretty good. While we won’t go into any detail involving the excellent story, just know that this game takes place before the Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick films, and Riddick is being escorted to the galaxy’s most brutally notorious prison: Butcher Bay, where it will be your job to escape the deadly structure, helping to shape Riddick’s destiny to come.
The controls are intuitive no matter what you’re doing in Riddick, whether it’s blasting ass or dragging dead bodies along the floor. There are a few small idiosyncrasies to get used to, but for the most part, the game controls wonderfully, which is a feat in itself when you’re trying to do so many things in one title. Most impressive from a combat standpoint is the hand-to-hand fighting. Not only are the controls responsive, there are lots of things that can be done other than wildly throw fists. Twist the analog sticks the right way and Riddick will be able to perform different attacks. Sneak up behind foes to snap their necks like a pencil, or even more gruesomely, counter an armed opponent by turning the gun on themselves.
And that’s just melee combat. Shooting with a plethora of different firearms is also a joy, especially when you notice little details, like how there is no ammo display on your screen; just on your gun. The powerful feedback you feel when firing the guns, or the silky smooth controls as you maneuver and fire just add to an already immersive game.
You’ve got other choices to go about your business as well. You can make a kill just by dropping down on an enemy. Or you can sneak right on by. The choice is yours. But there’s more than enough gameplay variety to keep you busy even if combat were to somehow begin to bore you. The game will sometimes revert to third-person so you can climb and shimmy your way across railings and bars. There are some puzzles to work out too if you’re into that. And there’s also the interactivity with Butcher Bay’s worst, which can be as simple as talking to another NPC to actually killing someone to get that NPC to help you out later. And it’s here that the game takes a bit of a dive. While Riddick offers myriad options in which to play the game, there are several first-person style clichés that also kind of restrict it as well. For example, much of the interactivity with non-player characters in Riddick involve you doing a lot of small fetch quests, or leading you on wild goose chases, talking to this person or that, and back again. This kind of interactivity can go on for a good while too. Other small annoyances that add up quickly are things like exploding barrels and crate puzzles which, although seem like nitpicking, are things seen in too many games as it is. To see it here too, in a game that has so much to offer, makes it all the more tiresome.
Graphics – If there’s one thing that clearly shines about Riddick at first sight, it’s the graphics. Without the slightest hint of doubt, Riddick is one of the best looking games to be found on any system to date. Thanks to a relatively simple technique in Normal Mapping, Starbreeze has been able to create a game that is so detailed and filled with such depth, that’s it’s actually hard to believe at first that it’s not being done on a higher end PC. By scanning a very hi-res polygon model to record how light reflects off it, the developers then apply that scan to a lower polygon model, thereby making it appear that the character models are made up of far more polygons than they actually are. And they’re achieving this effect without overtaxing the processor.
In addition, Riddick hosts full rag-doll physics, which look good all the time, but are most especially impressive when in hand-to-hand combat. Punch an enemy in the head, and his cranium kicks back with surreal realism. Drag a corpse across the floor, and his limbs will subtly flail with the movement. This is accompanied by fully dynamic light and shadows, so all actions and effects are cast in real time for a truly stunning effect. While you might think the framerate would chug along slowly, it actually stays pretty consistent throughout the whole game.
But for all the technical wizardry, there are bound to be a few snags, and Riddick’s most notable is its low resolution. While looking incredibly good, even well-lit areas appear very dark and dank. While it definitely fits the feel and ambience the game is shooting for, it also limits the graphical goodness in that it’s more difficult to make out the fine details. Also noticeable is some aliasing, most especially in outside locales, where the graphics tend to break up in places and sometimes shimmer. This is also noticeable in some of the game’s well done cinematics.
Sound - Riddick’s audio contains a superlative punch, from the well-acted voiceovers to ambient, moody music to help set the scene. Hollywood names other than Vin Diesel contributing include Cole Hauser, Kristin Lehman, Willis Burks II, and Xzibit. All perform wonderfully, as do the rest of the game’s voice cast. The music is as immersive as it gets, contributing more of a cinematic feeling to the game, and the sound effects are more than competent. All high quality stuff to be sure.
Bottom Line - Chronicles of Riddick is a fantastic example of where licensed titles should be going. Bleeding edge technology merged with an assortment of quality gameplay ideas, and topped off with well-utilized production values makes The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay one of the best, if not the best licensed videogame on the market on any console. Even those who don’t find the premise interesting may discover enough redeeming values in the quality storytelling and excellent presentation to toss their preconceptions aside. A few small gameplay annoyances and a short playtime hold Riddick back from being among the elite of gaming thrills, but this title is still one you won’t regret trying, but you may well regret it if you don’t.