I never played the Xbox version of Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. I had read all the reviews and heard the game was really good, but I played the demo of it in the Official Xbox Magazine and was not too enthralled with it. In many cases, an FPS-like game has to catch my attention in order for me to find it interesting. For some reason, the game did not catch my attention. The graphics were fantastic, but that was the only thing that interested me. I waited for the PC version to come out, figuring it would be better given the extra time.

After completing Escape from Butcher Bay on the computer I can easily see what I missed on the Xbox: a surprisingly excellent game. For a game that is based on a movie license, but not the storyline of the movie itself, this game will probably stand as one of the best ever made so far. If you didn’t pick this game up on the Xbox (or don’t have one) it would behoove you to pick this up on the computer. It’s an experience you likely won’t forget.

The graphics, much like critics said about the Xbox version, are phenomenal. Starbreeze did a superb job with the characters and the overall look of the game. Riddick in the game looks just like Vin Diesel in real life. Butcher Bay is a jail and Starbreeze makes it look like the most realistic jail you’ve ever seen. The walls have writing on them, which are usually filled with swear words. The jail looks dark and dank, but it also looks like a high security and technology filled jail.

The characters all look excellent. Their voices are also in sync with their mouths both in cutscenes and in the game engine itself. Light use is also very well done, although probably not as well done as a game built around light and shadows, like the Splinter Cell series.

The game also shows off the little things. You can look back and see bullet holes in the wall go from hot to cold. Blood, although excessive sometimes, splatters over like you would imagine it would if you were punched in the face, stabbed with a shiv or shot at by a weapon.

The game looks beautiful, but there are some things here and there that make them seem less so. When you are talking to characters you can often see graphical seamson them when in the cutscenes. Whether that is a problem related to the video card (I have a Radeon 9800 Pro with the newest released Catalyst drivers) I don’t know, but they were a distraction. The framerate can drop quite a bit depending on how high you set the monitor resolution for. Escape from Butcher Bay is a graphically rich game, so you better have a powerful graphic card and system to run at the highest resolutions without much of a dip. I’m not sure how much the Xbox version slowed down or how much of a difference there is between the two, but the computer version was obviously set up to run at a high resolution.

Both the aural sound and the music are simply top-notch and of Hollywood quality. Let’s start with the voices. You have Vin Diesel (who happened to help produce the game with this Tigon Studios) doing the voiceover for Riddick. He has obviously got the part of Riddick down cold and he conveys the same type of performance here as he would if he was actually acting on the silver screen. The other voice actors also do an excellent job. Each inmate and guard has their own voiceovers. Early on the inmates do a good job of keeping quiet enough so that the guards don’t hear them. Unlike many videogames with voiceovers out there, the actors here don’t seem to just be reading from a script and are actually getting into their parts.

The sound effects in the game are also top notch. Early on your only weapons will be your fists and shiv-like weapons. Each time you hit an opponent with your fist you can hear the bone cracking sound as fist meets face. Once you get the ability to carry weapons, they have great sounds associated with them too. There aren’t a whole lot of weapons, but for what is there they make a loud sound.

The music is also top notch. The music blends into the game so much that you might not even notice it. The orchestration is nice and each section the music does a great job of highlighting the current mood of the game (sneaky time or kill everything time for instance).

Control in this game is much like other first-person shooters out there. However it is difficult to call this game a simple first-person shooter since there are sneaky parts that you can choose to do. The standard WSAD does your movements, left mouse button fires, right mouse button allows you to do other things such as grab a person from behind or block attacks. E is your use button to pick up things, talk to people and open things while the spacebar key allows you to jump.

The control is really good in this game and you will be hitting the C button a lot to go into crouch mode (or sneak mode). This allows you to sneak up behind a guard, grab them and either snap their neck or put a shiv in them. The sneak mode is enhanced by a blue tinge that shows that you are still hidden. The sneak mode also gives you the chance to see more of your periphery than you can if you’re walking standing up.

Wow, for a small startup developer like Starbreeze (whose only other released game was Enclave on the Xbox and PC) this is like dropping an atomic bomb for one of the first games you bring out. Escape from Butcher Bay happens before the events of Pitch Black and is an original story. Riddick has been captured by the bounty hunter Johns, who decides to drop him into Butcher Bay, the worst place for a criminal to go. Obviously Riddick is not the type of person to be kept down and stay in a prison, so once he’s inside he does everything within his power to assert control and find a way to be the first person to escape from Butcher Bay.

Early on you have to use your fists to get through the area and talk to all the inmates. Some of them will have jobs for you to do in order to extract more information from them, others are there to show you that you are their bitch and you’re not the top dog in Butcher Bay. This soon changes of course when Riddick goes directly for the boss of the small gang running cell blocks A and B in the Bay. Once finished with that Riddick has more respect with the inmate community, but he has also sparked the fires of the higher ups and making himself more of a target than when he first came.

A main problem at the beginning is that he cannot use any weapons because they are tied to the DNA signature of the guards. Any inmate that goes to touch a weapon will be shocked and can’t use the weapon. Riddick gets the information of how to fix this problem and sets his sights on that. The rest of the game is you guiding Riddick through Butcher Bay and getting him out of there. You’ll have to use both your smarts and your brawn to see yourself out of the Bay.

During the game you get the ability to use Riddick’s “special sight”, which comes in very handy in dark places. Once a flashlight is shined straight onto Riddick he will be blinded. Escape from Butcher Bay is set up to allow you to play both balls out or from a sneaking perspective. The beauty is that you can do either or both and still make it to your next destination.

This game was simply exciting from beginning to end. None of the levels felt the same and the whole game seemed well developed from beginning to end. The cutscenes didn’t become too plentiful and in fact they do a good job of complementing the action of the game.

If there is one thing that could be found as a fault with this game it is the length of it. Many people this day and age feel that if a game in this genre is not 20+ hours it isn’t worth it to pick it up. Escape from Butcher Bay will take you north or south of about 10 hours to beat, but there is a lot of extra stuff for you to look at after that.

There are tons of unlockables in the game that are opened by picking up cigarette packs. There is also a big plus for those of you that have played the Xbox game before. There is a developer commentary that you can turn on while going through the game. You may think that it is relatively short, but it is quite long. There are certain spots in the game that if you click on them you will hear a commentary about the section. The thing is the spots are quite plentiful in the game and it makes this game feel a lot like watching a DVD movie with the commentary track turned on. It’s a major bonus.

I’ve also heard they added in at least one more game section into the PC version that was not in the Xbox version. This is how they get away with the “Director’s Cut” subtitle.

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is simply a wonderful game and an absolute shocker from a little known development studio. If Starbreeze is capable of making a game like this, I can’t wait to see what they have coming up. Escape from Butcher Bay is different enough from the other FPS behemoths: Halo 2 on Xbox and Half-Life 2 on PC that it stands on its own as a superb game. Is it the best game out of the three? That’s debatable, but it is easily the biggest surprise out of the three by far. Highly recommended.