Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena

++ Satisfying mixture of melee and ranged combat
++ Moderately difficult
+ Decent boss fights
+ Fantastic sparse dialogue
+ Some interesting first person puzzles
-- Too much shooting
- Melee is a bit too twitchy against the only two difficult opponents
- First half of the game looks like Doom 3

Ah here we are, only several months late. Vin did okay in my absence, however, have no fear. The original Escape from Butcher Bay (included and remastered on the disc) is regarded as a sort of classic for the X Box. If you recall that system had only a handful of competent games so being a classic isn’t much of a challenge. When your competition is a couple of alien shooters and Morrowind you too will be escalated into the pantheon of legends.

So, how does this game stack up to Butcher Bay? Eh, it’s not horrible by comparison. Dark Athena is sort of a mix of a modern shooter and Butcher Bay’s melee/ranged mix. You don’t have a ton of regenerating health so there’s a greater tendency to think about situations. Unfortunately only a few encounters in the game can be solved by multiple methods, for the most part you’ll just be shooting or punching your way to victory. While the few situations that can be solved creatively are quite satisfying I only wish there were a lot more good moments like that.

Without wishing to be too spoiler tastic I’ll say you fight an enemy about halfway through the game who has a long death scene immediately thereafter. Then, without any justification that same enemy returns to life magically. It sort of feels like they had two boss fights and didn’t know what order to put them in and thus randomly stuck one before the other (both having long death scenes, the latter being far more escapable than the aforementioned one). It’s just bizarre and very strange especially in retrospect.

The massive genre of first person melee/ranged hybrid adds another to its list, and so I’ll try to compare it to the closest game I can think of: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Yes, Skyrim sort of has the same vibe but it is extremely non-linear and the action is still the most wanting part of that game; both Dark Messiah and Dark Athena outdo it for simple combat. In Dark Messiah almost every situation can be solved dozens of different ways. Kick an enemy into spikes, collapse a wall on top of him, stealth kill him with a knife, stealth kill him with a bow, charm one enemy and make them fight each other, let your flimsy companion take care of it, there’s just a ton of ways to kill stuff and almost all of them are satisfying. Dark Athena needs this if its going to challenge that throne.

As it is Riddick’s (likely) last installment isn’t quite as good as the first but is still reasonably unique in the modern military shooter era. I wish the color palette wasn’t so grey/brown, but at least there’s some incentive for playing well in having non full regenerating health. For how cheap it is I think it’s worth the purchase on X Box or PS3, though I’m told the PC version has some more troublesome issues.

Final Score: 8/10

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