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Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena reminds us how good the series was. Characterisation and a genuine sense of connection make this a game that feels, at times, more like a book. Perhaps it's fitting then that this becaomes as much about stealth as shooting.
Having never been an enormous Sci-Fi lover, or a particularly big fan of Vin Diesel, playing The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena has gone a considerable way to altering my attitudes about both. The combination of Riddick's uncompromising character and the amoral world he inhabits results in a thrilling, twisted space opera. Moreover, the cross-genre mechanics of the game, incorporating stealth, shooting, melee combat and role-playing elements keep the experience fresh and entertaining, albeit with somewhat inconsistent pacing.
Until I played Assault on Dark Athena, my knowledge of Science Fiction pretty much began and ended with Star Wars. I've never had any interest in Doctor Who or Star Trek or any of the camp sixties Sci-Fi television series' where the costumes are far too tight and the aliens far too plastic. Even as a Literature student War of the Worlds is the furthest I've ever dipped my toe into the genre.
So you'll be unsurprised to hear that I'm not entirely sure what compelled me to play Dark Athena. It certainly wasn't the presence of Vin Diesel, of whom my only previous experience was his lead role the execrable XXX movie. Nevertheless, since delving into Riddick's dark world my outlook on both Mr Diesel and the science fiction genre have been significantly altered. My current favourite book is Frank Herbert's legendary Sci-Fi epic Dune, and I gleefully watched both Riddick films, although I believe developers Starbreeze to have done a better job with the franchise than director David Twohy.
I've never had any interest in Doctor Who or Star Trek or any of the camp sixties Sci-Fi television series' where the costumes are far too tight and the aliens far too plastic
Assault on Dark Athena actually consists of two games. The first of these is a revamped version of the 2004 prison-break extravaganza Escape From Butcher Bay, which I passed on due to scathing reviews of the new Riddick film, for which the game was essentially extended marketing. The other half of the package is the entirely new titular campaign. Following directly on from Butcher Bay, Assault on Dark Athena is set on the eponymous spaceship where Riddick, a.k.a the most dangerous criminal in the universe, once again finds himself a fugitive, this time hunted by sultry Dark Athena captain Revas and her unsavoury crew of mercenaries.
Dark Athena looks to be the better half of the package, but I was grabbed right from the start of Butcher Bay. Riddick's increasingly extravagant attempt to escape the notorious prison are wonderfully countered by the pompous and aloof warden Hoxie, and I found myself paradoxically repulsed and allured by Riddick's character; his acceptance of his predatory nature and his cynical and contemptuous view of humanity.
While I certainly enjoyed stalking through the underbelly of Butcher Bay, I found some of the mechanics of the game rather awkward, particularly using stealth, which is generally my preferred method of playing games when the opportunity is given to me. I love lurking in the shadows, listening to oblivious guards conversing with one another before striking suddenly and vanishing before the remaining enemies have time to react. Unfortunately, keeping to the darkness isn't very easy in Butcher Bay. Often the prison is very well lit, and once the guards were alerted to my presence, I either had to move in very quickly or switch to the rather more mundane ranged weaponry in order to survive.
I wasn't just playing Riddick; I was fully in the part of this unsympathetic predator of the darker side of human nature.
This being the case, imagine the grin on my face when I discovered Dark Athena to be far more stealth-oriented, with shadows aplenty and the inclusion of Riddick's trademark Ulaks, which I would compassionately argue to be the best melee weapon in gaming history, perfect for despatching Dark Athena's mercenaries. Additionally, I was far more captivated by Dark Athena's storyline, mainly due to the new cast of characters. My particular favourite was Jaylor, a psychotic, misogynistic merc who I wanted to kill from the moment I encountered him. In fact, this was probably when I went from simply enjoying the game to being completely engrossed by it. Normally I am pretty compassionate in games, but at this point my own attitude aligned entirely with Riddick's, not due to any redeeming factors in the anti-heroes' character, but because I found Jaylor's attitude so deplorable that I deemed him unworthy of his pathetic existence.
From then on, I wasn't just playing Riddick; I was fully in the part of this unsympathetic predator of the darker side of human nature. Unfortunately, a few hours later the game decided it didn't want me to be Riddick anymore, handing me the cumbersome and clinical SCAR gun, which fires cylinders of compressed air that attach to enemies before exploding. The final quarter of Dark Athena felt more like a generic run-and-gun shooter. I was crestfallen, and almost switched my PC off in disgust. Instead I resolved to play the game exactly as I had been before despite it being incredibly difficult to complete it in this manner, and I managed to do so right up to the final battle, where this time the game forced my hand into using the SCAR gun despite my overly loud protestations directed toward my helpless monitor.
Aside from the anticlimactic endgame of Dark Athena, I was thoroughly entertained by Starbreeze's addition to the Riddick franchise. It placed me in the mindset of the lead character in a way no other game has, and converted my from a science-fiction cynic into an appreciative fan of the genre.
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