Dissenting Opinion: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
Unlike Tom Chick, I'm more than happy to forgive The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena for its faults -- and he's right, it is faulty -- thanks almost entirely to the inclusion of Escape From Butcher Bay.
Call it the greatest olive branch in the history of the medium.
Without Butcher Bay, the package would feel miserly and small. With Butcher Bay, the disc winds up feeling like it's practically bursting at the seams with content. No matter how much ill will Dark Athena generated for me -- Tom's right; the train does leave the tracks in the game's very uneven second half -- the chance to visit Butcher Bay again after all these years made the whole package very palatable.
To put it plainly, I would gladly pay $60 for this.
The fact that Riddick reveals himself to be a big coward in the end didn't really bother me. The monosyllabic dingus has never been a favorite, so I never expected much from him. His gravelly over-enunciation makes it sound as if he's got several Rhode Island license plates stuck in his throat. When he dons his sci-fi mining goggles, he looks less like an intergalactic sociopath and more like an "xtreme" dude auditioning for a Mountain Dew commercial. ("Do the Dew!") I want to punch him in the face repeatedly after every NanoMed station visit. And why is that whenever he takes control of the drones in Dark Athena he has to climb aboard what appears to be a futuristic arcade motorcycle game? Questions, questions.
But the prize here isn't Dark Athena. The prize is the chance to revisit, and re-appreciate, how superb Butcher Bay is. Butcher Bay is one of those games that forever seems to be floating around in my subconscious. About six months ago on a random Saturday night, I dug out my original Xbox copy of the game, craving a replay. I tried to load it up on the 360, certain it was one the backward-compatible Xbox titles. And we all know how that worked out for me.
I'd file the game's sequel, Dark Athena, in the same category as "The Godfather: Part III." It's a disappointing, f***ed-up postscript to something that was great, but it's still an interesting postscript. And to expect it to ever live up to, or better, the source material is borderline absurd.
As Tom says, Dark Athena picks up where Butcher Bay leaves off. The unhappy couple, Riddick and Johns, escapes together, and then beds down side-by-side in cryo sleep. Their little man-honeymoon doesn't last long. They're hijacked by Revas and her mercenary slave ship. Johns is gassed. (Note: I never assumed he was killed in this moment, Tom.) Naturally, Riddick has to figure a way out of yet another bad situation. Like in Butcher Bay, there's a run-errands portion of the game, which feels more tedious this time around. And the errands are performed all in the name of getting -- surprise -- a vent tool.
Again with the damn vent tool. What the f*** is a vent tool, anyway?
The first-person fisticuffs, as they were in Butcher Bay, are still iffier than I would like them to be. I wish there was more strategy involved beyond "pull right trigger repeatedly until you connect." And those "Loading..." screens? I can forgive them in Butcher Bay, but kiss my ass if you expect me to tolerate them five years later in Dark Athena.
None of these gripes are deal-breakers for me. It's the utter cohesiveness of the game worlds and the excellent pacing that makes both games -- Dark Athena, too -- must-play titles. There's a queasy intimacy here that's unlike anything I've experienced before. The premises of both games are elegant in their simplicity: Find your way out of a prison; or, in Dark Athena, escape from a mercenary slave ship. And Starbreeze consistently complicates and dramatizes these premises in smart, interesting ways.
Yes, as Tom pointed out, both games can be obscenely frustrating. Getting through the Mines in Butcher Bay, especially through the notorious Security Checkpoint, is still a pain in the ass. Dark Athena also has more than its share of you've-got-to-be-kidding-me moments. Both games will frustrate you again and again. I didn't mind it. But if you like cakewalks through sunshine land, if you prefer your games didn't put up much of a fight, Butcher Bay and Dark Athena aren't for you.
Considering the 20- to 30-hour package here, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a must-have, despite its faults. While we all sweat out this stupid recession, Dark Athena turns out to be one of the best gaming bargains of the year. And, honestly, there isn't much else worth playing this month. Or the next. I recommend letting this game test your mettle for a few weeks.