A few years back, the movie The Chronicles of Ridd!ck came out, and because it starred Vin Diesel, I just considered in vapid. You can imagine my surprise when the game, based on the Vin Diesel character, received overwhelming critical acclaim. Usually, games based on movies tend to be mediocre at best, but Escape from Butcher Bay was exceptionally well received, though at the time I just ignored it. After Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame glowed about how great Escape from Butcher Bay was, my interest about the game piqued drastically, and I recently purchased the sequel/remake of Escape from Butcher Bay, which is titled Assault on Dark Athena. Assault on Dark Athena contains a remastered Escape from Butcher Bay with improved graphics, so if you're wondering which one to buy, buy Dark Athena.
In the game, you play the character of Vin Diesel-I mean, Ridd!ck, who's the most dangerous criminal alive because he manages to escape from ever prison/predicament he's in, usually with the help of awkward one-liners and because he's Vin Diesel. The games are a mixture of melee fist combat, regular ol' fps combat, basic platforming and stealth, so it's a mix of Condemned/Splinter Cell/Resident Evil platforming...or just Deus Ex.
As mentioned in the premise, the game's a mixture of gameplay elements that integrate together. However, each element of the gameplay mechanics is a bit too basic, and the gameplay lack a lot of the freedom typically featured in mixed genre games like Deux Ex.
Stealth combat in Ridd!ck has a lot of potential to be good, but there are several problems that keep it from shining. The good part is that it works simply enough. When Diesel crouches inside a shadow or in darkness, he's more or less invisible regardless of how deep the shadow is. From there, Diesel can sneak behind enemies and execute brutal stealth kills. Diesel can also create more shadows by destroying lights. This works to Ridd!ck's advantage because later he gets an ability called Eyeshine, which gives him a sort of night vision. The problem with the stealth gameplay is that the enemy AI is too intelligent. If they hear you destroy a light, then they'll follow your gunfire and spot you. If you destroy too many lights when they're not around, then they'll activate their flashlights. This wouldn't be a problem but the enemies memorized where all the boxes/corners are, so there's really no way to hide, as they'll eventually turn their flashlights on you. In addition, the level designs in the first game tend to be very cramped, and you'll be in the way of a lot of halls, so you'll find that taking out an enemy by stealth can end up being difficult if not impossible. Dark Athena improves on both aspects because the enemies in Dark Athena sometimes don't have flashlights, and rooms tend to be more open and larger to allow you to maneuver. Even more so, the game doesn't enable quick save by default, which is a very essential system feature you need if you're going to be playing stealth games and taking stealth kill risks. Luckily, you can enable quicksave through the console.
Melee combat in Butcher Bay is visceral and satisfying like Condemned, but surprisingly has the same faults as Condemned. In both games, pressing the attack button empty handed will result in pretty wicked counters. When fighting armed enemies up close, I always switch to melee as often Diesel can force an enemy to shoot himself in the throat. When Diesel is equipped with his ulak, he can counter a melee opponent by slicing the guy's arteries apart. This makes melee combat a very viable combat option, as even button-mashing will usually end up with the right counters and kill triggers. However, like Condemned, counters against melee opponents tend to be difficult to predict, and while the game offers you four different punch options, so you'll find that button-mashing the left mouse button will usually end in victory. Dark Athena, like Condemned 2, makes counters easier to perform, but you can really still button-mash your way through the game. Unleash Vin Diesel on a tight group of enemies with his ulaks and he's a button-mashing Slayer.
Range combat in both games however is a lot less satisfying and entertaining. In both games, your ranged weapon options are very limited, usually only about 4-5 guns allowed per mission level. All the guns are not-surprisingly snorzeville. You have your completely innovative choice between pistol/smg/shotgun/assault rifle, with the only unique combat option to shoot behind cover. There's nothing really to comment about it other than it's average. Later in the games, you'll pick up a tranquilizer gun which stuns enemies for a few seconds, but has infinite ammo. As you can imagine, this makes the stealth section of the game a lot easier, though it could be unbalacing. The most obnoxious part of ranged combat takes place in Dark Athena, in which you're forced to use an air compression gun to get through the game. The gun fires up to five timed air capsules that you can detonate at will, but the rate of fire is slow. To defeat an Alpha Drone, you need to fire five bolts at a drone at once and then detonate them. To defeat the last level boss, you need to somehow use the gun to shove her through a hole. That's god damn annoying, and the game doesn't even tell you you need to do that to defeat the enemies. It just assumed you'd discover the obscure solutions on your own, tch.
The general platforming aspect of gameplay is similar to Resident Evil 4's; basically, you just climb rails and make the occasional jump across a ledge. It's not a true platforming in the traditional sense, but there aren't any problems to really speak of. In Dark Athena, I sometimes had trouble grabbing onto a ledge, but usually after a few tries I got through.
The game successfully integrates all these elements together, but there's a distinct lack of choice in which gameplay aspect to choose from. The game is more or less very linear, so you're forced to go one path through the game. Often you'll be forced into an action situation because a room will have too many guards and/or too many sources of light, or the game will run a script in which the guards will alerted to you whatever you do. I would have much preferred that the game give you the option to choose how to approach the levels by making the levels more open ended. Specifically, I wanted to see the stealth aspect completely expanded throughout the game like a true stealth game, rather than to be forced to come out of the stealth gameplay. In both games, you'll have the option to pilot vehicles in the same way as in FEAR 2; you go through a level in a mech and basically kill everything on the screen, which is good cheap fun.
The final gameplay aspect I'll talk about regards the gameplay universe of both the games. The Ridd!ck universe is interesting, but in my opinion it's very underdeveloped even if you include the movies with the games, especially when compared to the Star Wars universe or even Mass Effect's universe. This means that it's more difficult to become absorbed into the game or really care about the game universe in general. Secondly, the voice acting in both games is pretty much fantastic, though there's lip-syncing issues in Butcher Bay. Character interactions and relationships between Diesel and the other characters are interesting, but they're too short to allow you to really let the characters grow into you. Ridd!ck himself is unfortunately pretty one-dimensional, and the games don't allow him to really develop him as a character. He just goes around killing everything and sprouting awkward one-liners like: "It's not the fall that kills you, it's the landing", "In the end, everyone bleeds the same", "I don't rattle people, I kill them". They're less threatening and more head-scratching.
Although they're both based on the same engine, Dark Athena is more graphically appealing, and thus more system intensive. I experienced no real lag on Butcher Bay on max settings, but in Dark Athena the game slowed down to 20 fps in outside levels with heavy HDR, though the game was still playable. I played with my Core i5-430m, 2 GB ram, 5650 1 GB DDR3 notebook. Graphically, the game reminds me of Condemned/Jericho in terms of detail and environment. I took a bunch of screenshots, but I accidentally deleted them when I uninstalled the game. Doh.
Here are the requirements for the game:
Ridd!ck: Assault on Dark Athena - System requirements
Operating system: Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista
CPU: Intel Pentium D 805 or AMD Athlon X2 3800+
RAM: 1 GiByte (2 GiByte for Vista)
Graphics card: Ati Radeon HD 2600 XT or Nvidia Geforce 6800 Ultra
Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible soundcard
Hard Drive: 11 GByte free space
DVD: 6x speed or better
Multiplayer: Broadband connection
Input: Keyboard, mouse or dual analog controller
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 5200+
RAM 2 GiByte
Graphics card: Ati Radeon HD 3850 or Nvidia Geforce 8800 GT or better
There's no demo for Dark Athena, but there is a demo for Butcher Bay: http://www.filefront.com/listing/pub2/The-.../Official-Demos
Keep in mind that Dark Athena and the remake of Butcher Bay is MORE graphically intensive, so if you lag on Butcher Bay, you may want to reconsider getting Dark Athena.
I don't know if there are any mods for the game, though I didn't really check. There's a multiplayer mode, but for some reason it said my CD key was invalid. The only bug I noticed was that Diesel would sometimes not grab onto a ledge until after several tries. The game's only $6 on Amazon, which is a great deal: http://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Ridd!...8606&sr=8-2
After hearing such rave reviews, I was a bit disappointed in Butcher Bay. I felt that Dark Athena was much better improved over Butcher Bay, both in terms of combat and level design, and probably would have given that 9/10 and Butcher Bay 8/10. The game's foundation is good and there's plenty of potential for improvement, as Dark Athena was a clear improvement over Butcher Bay by improving on combat and stealth, but it could be developed and polished further. The faults listed in the review are much less pronounced in Dark Athena, but the developers really need to stop forcing characters to stick to a specific gun to beat the game. I would still recommend the game however, and look forward to a sequel.
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