Chronicles of Riddick
Games based on movies must be bad… It’s just one of the prejudices I sometimes struggle with. But as with many of them, it’s one that has its groundings in facts. You’ll understand then that I started up my Xbox with some hesitations. However, as you will find out by reading the review, it soon showed that I was wrong questioning the quality of this Vin Diesel game.
Everyone knows of course that Chronicles of Riddick is part of the greater story told by the movies Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. These 2 sci-fi flicks center around the adventures of Richard B. Riddick, a rock-hard criminal. This Xbox-exclusive game adds a prequel to this storyline by letting the player take part in what happened with Riddick before the events of Pitch Black (for the fans: you’ll learn how Riddick got his night-vision ability!). Your objective in the game is simple: escape from the prison of Butcher Bay. You’ll have to do this three times by the way and every time the security (and difficulty of the game) will be higher.
In order to start with a statement: this game is great! The overall quality is very high and the story, the gameplay and the graphics can all be considered as amongst the top of what is available on the Xbox. Thanks to this, and to the degree of variety and lack of repetitiveness, you’ll not get bored for one second. The resulting fun you’ll get out of your hard-earned cash is well worth the money. Do take into account that this game has an adult feel to it (without exaggerating) that could disturb some of our youngest gamers.
Chronicles of Riddick offers an excellent mix of different gameplay elements. The best description is probably to look at it as a combination of an FPS with an action-adventure game that beautifully blends hand-to-hand combat with classic shoot-outs. You’ll start the game without weapons and only armed with your fists. The resulting close combat fist fights are worked out very well and with enough depth (different attacks, defenses, some combos) while not getting too complex.
One of the coolest moves is when you can make Riddick (by executing timely a combo) take over the control of a weapon of one of the guards. Without actually taking the weapon in his hands he’ll make the guard blast a bullet through his head, resulting in a bloody mess. Together with other deadly attacks, you’ll need those moves to stand fast in the cold and unpleasant prisons, amongst cellmates of which many would rather see you dead than alive. It’s in that setting that you’ll have to perform a lot of smaller tasks in order to escape from Butcher Bay. Those missions will vary from getting a pack of smokes for someone, killing the local prison-tiran or winning a number of arena fights to penetrating deeply into the well secured guards’ district.
Those subquests are very well kept in some sort of diary, together with some explanations. In that way you’ll never get lost and you perfectly know what the next steps should be. Of course the game is rather linear but you have sufficient freedom in reaching your objectives, in their order or in choosing not to do some of them.
A fun addition, but not more, is the fact that one can collect packs of ‘smokes’ by performing small quests or by discovering hidden places. Every pack unlocks extra content accessible through the menu. The design-pics, game art and parts of the original movie-script are great for the die-hard fans but they can’t really hide that the game lacks some replayability. After finishing the single-player campaign, there’s no incentive to play again. A multi-player option is absent and that’s a shame since one could easily imagine a mini-game in the form of the fist fights for example. However, thanks to the excellent SP (lasting about 15 hours), nobody will complain that the game is not worth buying.
The SP-campaign is very varied with for example quite some stealth gameplay elements. The feel of that part of the game is somewhere in between Manhunt and Splinter Cell. One can sneak up enemies, break their neck and hide them in a dark corner. You go in sneak-mode by crouching and during that time a blue glow (very cool visual effect) will warn you when you’re invisible for the enemy. However, after a while you’ll need to engage the adversaries head-on in good old FPS-style with the classic arsenal of weapons.
The shooter part of the game is as good as the stealth part. Noteworthy is that at no time I missed my mouse-keyboard combination to aim and blast the heads of the guards, robots and other monsters in the game. Next to this, the AI of the opponents is good and they will give you quite a challenge by their intelligent use of cover, search lights and teamwork. The controls for all parts of the game are excellent by the way, as is the minimal HUD which contributes to the atmosphere by its simplicity. Also the HALO-like health system encourages tactical gameplay. All of this makes navigating a breeze and that’s great since you’ll have to do some of the classic ‘open the door’, ‘climb some chests’ and ‘search for the exit’ tasks. These are however very well balanced and never get in the way of the fun, partly due to the surroundings that are (however never very big) very varied and attractive.
This brings us to the graphics that show what the Xbox is capable of. Shiny body suits, excellent light effects, freshly splattered blood dripping of the wall, detailed and bump-mapped textures and beautifully animated models will be drawn on your screen. Visually this game is stunning and at some time it made me think (just for a second) of Doom 3 on the PC.
What I should also mention is that all the NPCs are unique and you will never see the same face twice! This really adds to the atmosphere and succeeds in creating a believable and grim setting. Also the fact that Riddick is a real look-a-like of Vin Diesel strengthens this, especially during the cutscenes which drive the storyline.
It should be no surprise that the voice of Riddick was done by Vin himself. And how! When hearing his dark voice growling cool one-liners like: ‘It’s not the fall that’s get ya, it’s the landing’ you’ll immediately agree that this feature enhances the dark and adult side of the game. An aspect that is seldomly present in computer games. It can sound a bit strong but I really think that the excellent voice-acting throughout the entire game is one of the best aspects of Chronicles and it sucks you into the dark world more than anything else and it gives the package a very movie-like edge. In addition, the music and sound-effects are of similar quality.
As a last remark: the automatic save-game system is done quite well and never frustrates while the loading screens are a bit too frequent but they never pull you out of the well balanced flow of the game.
The conclusion is simple: this is a classic! The varied and refreshing gameplay, the storyline supported by the presence of Vin Diesel, the fact that everything takes place in the sci-fi setting of the movies and the excellent graphics and sound make this shooter-adventure combination a must-have game for all Xbox-owners. The few negative points include the lack of a multiplayer option and the low replayability but this is immediatly cast aside by the atmosphere and the pure fun of the singleplayer campaign. This game is clearly made by talented people with love and dedication and it really turned the link with Hollywood into a strong plus. Vin Diesel rules, Chronicles of Riddick rules!