While he had starred in other movies, Vin Diesel’s first memorable role was the tough anti-hero of Pitch Black.  Since then he has gone on to star in some major blockbuster movies like XXX and The Fast and the Furious.  Little did anyone know that Pitch Black would spawn a sequel, and Vin Diesel would found a game studio.  Tigon Studios was born, and the first game they developed is The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay.


CoR is a game based on the movie with the same name.  Normally, most readers would cringe at this statement, and with good reason.  Most movie-based games seem to have been done poorly, but there seems to be an upswing in the quality of these titles.  With all the buzz surrounding this game, hopes seem high as to its quality.  Let’s see if this holds true.


In CoR, you are placed behind the eyes of the main character Riddick.  Set before the events of Pitch Black and the recently released movie, CoR takes the player through Riddick’s escape from Butcher’s Bay and the origin of his “eye-shine” capability.  During his escape Riddick will sneak around, take care of enemy guards, find smokes and money, and complete tasks.

Let’s just get this out of the way right away.  Anyone who has any doubt about Doom 3 being playable on the Xbox just needs to look at Riddick in action.  Yes, the game does look that good.


CoR takes place in a gritty prison, and the graphics really give that expression.  Everything looks dirty from the walls, to the clothes, to the ceilings, to the floors.  Grime covers the environment, kind of like those tile cleaner commercials.  The cellblocks have writings on them.  Signs scattered throughout the game are readable, giving you an idea where you are.


The character models are impressive.  While modeling people in video games is one of the most difficult models to create, Riddick does a fine job.  While soldiers all mostly look the same except because of the helmets they wear, the other prisoners have their own distinctive faces.  Even their body types and facial movements are different.  This level of detail makes this game more immersive than a game that has everyone looking the same.


The lighting effects are spectacular.  Flashlights have a halo effect, where the inner circles are brighter and the outer circles are dimmer.  Objects will cast shadows from the lights.  Often Riddick will cast his own shadow in front of him.  If two light sources are behind an object, it casts two shadows.


Speaking of lighting, once Riddick gets his “eye-shine” ability, he has the ability to see in the dark.  While in this mode, the screen has a purple-ish tint and a fisheye effect.  Even the fisheye effect influences the health boxes when they are on the screen.


With all this eye candy, one might expect the frame rate to constantly drop.  While there are occasional frame rate drops under 30 FPS, the frame rate of CoR stays consistently high.  Even when the frame rate does drop, the game is never unplayable.

Music is used in CoR, but it isn’t played very often.  When music does start playing, something big is about to happen.  However, the music really takes a back seat to the sound effects.


CoR uses sound to full effect.  Enemy footsteps and chatter will give away their position.  Riddick’s own footsteps get louder the faster he moves.  Walking near a cell will allow you to hear what a prisoner is yelling from inside.  Grates clang when hitting the ground after being kicked away.  Metal hinges squeal when ventilation shaft doors are opened.


The voice acting is excellent in CoR.  Every character sounds convincing, and each one seems to have a different voice actor.  The conversation relates to the missions and helps to make the environment believable.  One note of warning: This game would have gotten the “M” rating on language alone.  The swearing is over the top.  This game shouldn’t be played around kids.

Control is a mixed bag.  While CoR is played from the first-person perspective, it can’t always be considered a shooter.  Some of the game is more of a first-person brawler.  With all these different options, controls can be convoluted.  CoR does do a good job with making the controls feel second nature though.


Here are the basics for the controls.  The left analog stick controls movement and strafing, while the right analog stick controls where Riddick looks.  Pushing in the left analog stick toggles Riddick between his standing and crouching positions.  Pushing in the right analog stick activates and deactivates Riddick’s “eye-shine” ability.


While unarmed, the left trigger puts up Riddick’s arms to block punches, while the right trigger swings Riddick’s arms.  The swings depend on the movement of the left analog stick.  Sneaking up on an enemy and then hitting the left trigger grabs the enemy.  Once the enemy is grabbed, tap X repeatedly for a silent neck snap or right trigger for a loud one.


To select a weapon, hit the Y button until it shows the weapon of choice, and then use the right trigger.  The right trigger also fires ranged weapons.  The A button jumps.  The D-pad will make Riddick lean over corners and get a sneak peek.


The black button zooms in and the white button turns on and off flashlights on the barrel of weapons.


The controls feel fine most of the time.  However, the fist fighting portions can be a bit hard to control.  Punches can only be thrown while not moving, so that does leave Riddick a bit defenseless at that time.  Also, I found it too easy to crouch when I didn’t want to.  Since there isn’t any display of Riddick’s standing position, often times I wasn’t sure the position of Riddick.

CoR has many different elements that make it difficult to pigeonhole in a specific genre.  Take one part stealth from Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, another part first-person fist fighting of Breakdown, another part solo first-person gunning of Halo, mix them together, and the result is Riddick.


When playing Riddick, stealth plays a major part of the game.  While this could be compared to the Thief series, Riddick is much tougher than Garrett.  However, sneaking behind an enemy and quietly snapping his neck is often times a much more effective strategy, especially when the enemy has a gun and Riddick only has a shiv or screwdriver in his inventory.  Once an enemy has been dispatched, hiding the enemy bodies in a dark place ensures that other guards aren’t alarmed


At first, Riddick’s use of weapons is limited, because the weapons are DNA encoded so that prisoners can’t use them.  Once Riddick does gain access to weapons, the shooting begins.  While Riddick can go in commando, stealth will serve him well during these times as well.  Well placed shots will take care of enemies quicker, and Riddick’s stealth tricks serve him well in these situations as well.


Starting out in CoR, Riddick lands at Butcher’s Bay.  Apparently there is a good price on his head, and someone is ready to collect.  Riddick ends up in a cell block and starts talking to the other prisoners there.  During this time he gets missions to complete.  These missions help Riddick get through his stay and earn him respect, weapons, and money.  They also progress the story of Riddick.


The missions have a wide variety.  While some missions have Riddick kill a character for retribution or weapons, others will earn you trust of the other prisoners.  They progress the story and give you guidance as to where to go.


The game does not have a true linear path to progress past an objective.  While one way to complete an objective might be to drop onto a guard, take out another one, and sneak through some hallways towards an objective, the other way might be to enter the ventilation system and crawl through it towards the objective.


The HUD is very minimal.  When selecting weapons, they will show up on the screen.  Boxes in the upper left-hand corner will indicate Riddick’s health during battle.  Other than that, most of the information that you get from the surroundings are displayed through visual clues.  For instance, while crouched and hidden from view, the screen will become tinted blue.  The “eye-shine” mode has its own tint.


The game can be difficult.  Since Riddick is at a disadvantage through most of the game, stealth is key.  Once Riddick is low on health, it is difficult to find stations to refill it.  Sometimes you will find yourself going back to earlier checkpoints and replaying them so that you can get through them with more health.


The AI of the characters in CoR is impressive.  Prisoners vary punches while fighting.  Soldiers use boxes for cover, and will hide behind boxes while reloading.  Enemies won’t run directly at you while shooting.  Audio clues give away your position to them quickly.  The AI programming is some of the most impressive seen in a game.


Speaking of checkpoints, Riddick has a good checkpoint system.  When reaching certain areas, checkpoints will be saved.  However, these checkpoints are saved at the main menu, so you can go back to any specific point in the game.

Riddick contains three difficulty levels and an estimate of 10 hours to complete.  Throughout the game, packs of smokes can be collected for concept art.  There are also side missions that can be completed.  However, unless you are the type of player who must complete everything in a game or find all the different ways to advance through the levels, most won’t find a compelling reason to play through the game again.  However, those hours while playing the game are quite well worth the time.


While the game is Xbox Live aware, it doesn’t support any multiplayer of any type.  While some might miss it in this game, I can’t fault Starbreeze and Tigon for keeping it single player.  With all the different styles in this game, the concentration on keeping the single player has made Riddick a much more cohesive experience.

Putting the essence of CoR into words is a difficult proposition.  CoR combines stealth, shooting, graphics, and story into a package that is impressive.  What’s even more impressive is that this is the first game to come out of Tigon Studios, in collaboration with Starbreeze Studios.  If their other titles are as impressive as this title, they could become a major force in the industry.  CoR leaves you wanting more, not because it is short, but because it is good.  This game deserves a rental from all action and shooter fans.  Highly recommended.

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