Retro: The Chronicles Of Riddick

By Jim Rossignol on August 18th, 2008 at 11:11 am.


One particular game seems to have come up a great deal in our gaming discussions from the past couple of months, and so I decided it was time to go back and play it. 2004′s The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (TCOREFBR?) is one of those games that sits at the back of my mind, silently benchmarking everything else that has appeared since. It is one of those action games that really doesn’t seem to have had much influence over the course of gaming, and yet is a splendid comparative high-watermark for anything with guns, or fists. Weirdly, for a first-person action game, the fists are actually what is most important.

Perhaps what I recalled most clearly about Riddick was the nagging sense that my review at the time (86%, PC Gamer UK) failed to capture what was most interesting about the game. I remember marking it down because it spiralled off into a medium-quality shooter in the later stages, but it was one of those times when I should have ignored my most recent impressions and returned to what was most compelling about the game: the ultra-violent action adventure in the three prisons of Butcher Bay.

Returning to the game in 2008 the first thing that strikes me is just how smooth and clutter-free the game world is. There’s almost no HUD, except for name tags on characters and the odd conversation tree.. yes, conversation trees in an action game. Hell, it even begins with a dream sequence (or is it some kind of a memory?) as a tutorial. Riddick is quite unlike anything else from that era. It’s dead linear in its direction – and not an RPG – yet much of the game deals with wandering around talking to in-mates and getting on the right side of tattooed convicts. There loads of fighting, but also a good amount of talking, investigating, wandering and sneaking.

In fact this is a rather low-key game, nothing like the hyperbolic storms we’re constantly being served by the action-game fraternities. It’s a science fiction game in which the futurism keeps its head down – utterly unlike the film that came out around the same time. The game story acts as a prequel to Pitch Black, explaining Riddick’s supernatural eyes, but that almost doesn’t matter. It’s a prison-drama in which story-telling takes a back seat. You’re simply dealing with being imprisoned: looking for an exit. As a result the tone is closer to a hyper-violent Thief game (stealth being a major feature; Thug: The Dark Project?) than it is to other games from the same era, say Far Cry or Half-Life 2. The themes are close-up and fleshy: shattered faces in fist-fights, broken vertebrae from stealth kills. The gunfights are generally a disappointment, although they’re just about brutal and noisy enough to be interesting.

Even Diesel’s muttered one-liners don’t seem as overwrought as they so consistently are in his Riddick films. It’s just your character muttering to himself, as you suspect habitual murderers might end up doing.

The prison setting is remarkably convincing. The in-mates are wonderful grotesques, muscular and weathered, and cast starkly in Starbreeze’s remarkably beautiful game engine. The play of light and the cast of shadows made this a game that would not age rapidly, and remain impressive even now. The level of detail in the prison was balanced with a lack of general mess: it’s some how just enough to give you an impression of a living world, and yet starkly minimal. Perhaps it’s the life of the characters, the peerless idling animation of thug smoking a cigarette and then idly stubbing it out on the ground, that make it so convincing. A behavioural trick of the brain: if it moves like it’s alive, it’s alive. These motions are supplemented by a huge cast and excellent voice-acting (Vin Diesel, Ron Perlman, Xzibit). No squeaky-voiced comedy character here, just hard men… and even harder men. Oh it’s macho, but the fact that they’re all imprisoned, or about to be beaten to death with your fists, mean it’s no Gears Of War.

There’s also a strange tension in the prison itself: action games are about empowerment, and yet you’re always controlled and hedged in by the game world. In this particular case that is easily explained away by your environment: the layers of a planetary prison.

Anyway: those fists. There’s an indistinct, messy quality to the fist fights, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The wild physical action of battering someone to death /shouldn’t/ seem as controlled as using a rifle at thirty metres. Riddick gets across the brutality of melee better than almost any other first-person game I can think of. I love the fact that it’s so low-down and dirty too: tackling soldiers at close range and blowing off their heads with their own shotgun is exactly how Riddick should operate. The broken necks, the facial injuries on your fist-fight opponents – their tumbling, broken bodies. Riddick is long on the nastiness. It’s horrible stuff. Great stuff.

In fact this game so much right – from the tone of the environmental design and the characters, to the balance between action and atmosphere – that I’m surprised it comes across so modestly. Despite Diesel’s ludicrous Riddick character, this is not of the same bombastic magnitude of over-the-top adventure that so many games want to give us. I see it rubbing shoulders in the same shadowy bar as Stalker, Thief. Riddick taps a vein of gaming that is something like Film Noir.

Finally, I should note that I have no idea how to get Riddick working on Vista: although apparently that’s just me. Comments report working Vista installs. Hopefully the PS3/360 remake of the game will bring us a Windows DX10 version too, because for now I have to revisit Riddick on my cranky old laptop. That’s okay, but it’s not exactly my preferred experience.

If you’ve not played Riddick yet, I suggest you do so. You can pick it up on Amazon for about $6.

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70 Comments »

  1. lukasz says:

    I bought Riddick recently because of RPS comments. thx guys, it was a very good purchase! (20 dollars though i paid. silly Australia)

    I really liked the moment in one of the tunnels full of gas. You couldn’t see shit. neither could soldiers. but you could see a light shadows of your enemy. the slaughter by Riddick was epic!

  2. Sarin says:

    Great game.

    Is the ps3/xbox one actually a remake a honesty-to-goodness sequel?

    A sequel would be great but they’d have to slot in a reason to use fists and shivs :D

    Also, wasn’t the game dropped by Actizard?

  3. derFeef says:

    It was a great game. One of the finest movie-to-games adoptions.

    Oh and, is this Peter Moore on the second pic? :)

  4. Joe says:

    Awesome game, but I did kind of prefer the melee in Condemned tbh.

  5. Jamie says:

    Are they still working on the remake? I haven’t heard anything about it for a while

  6. Ash Firelord says:

    Any chance it’s available trough Steam? I don’t like the Amazonians, they are evil and will devour your children in the middle of the night, some day.

  7. El_MUERkO says:

    not being an xbox owner my first experience of riddick was the PC directors cut, I have to say I was stunned by the quality of the game, it dripped atmosphere and immediately entrenched itself in my list of best FPSs ever

    starbreese went on to do The Darkness which was a bit ‘meh’ but still did some clever stuff with the TV channels to add a sense of solidity to the experience, i like forward to their next release :)

  8. PetitPrince says:

    “The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (TCOREFBR?)”

    You missed “Developer’s Cut”. So it’s really “The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay – Developer’s Cut (TCOREFBBDC)”.

  9. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Ash:

    I actually bought my copy – the Director/Developer’s Cut edition, even – from Amazon. I believe the trick to acquiring it is to not have any children at all :D

    Riddick – great game. I was pretty much taken by the same reasons: melee combat is compelling and actually done right, as opposed to most other games, specially those that suffer console to PC conversions, rendering the action and controls somewhat imprecise and ‘floaty’. Using an NPCs weapon against them is also something I’d like to see more often, and the stealth was pretty rewarding as well.

    It’s a shame it went so below the radar for most gamers.

  10. Ash Firelord says:

    My experience with Riddick:

    1 – Oh how nice, looks like the Xbox game is good; I’ll wait to buy it at an affordable price.
    2 – Oh great, waiting payed off, there’s an improved PC version, I’ll buy that once I get my PC the upgrade it deserves.
    3 – Finally, a new, game-capable PC! Oh what’s this? They’re working on an improved version of Riddick…?

  11. Mr. Mechanical says:

    Always nice to see Escape from Butcher Bay getting its just dues. Such a great game, I love how it’s constructed. It’s basically just one man’s series of attempted prison breaks, and each time he gets caught and sent to an even higher security area of the prison. It all leads up to a wonderful finale as well. I love it when games have that kind of narrative flow and payoff to them. With satisfyingly sharpened gameplay mechanics to match!

    The remake, Assault on Dark Athena ought to be interesting. Updated visuals and AI, plus a multiplayer mode. The singleplayer portion will also be expanded to carry on from Riddick’s eventual escape at the end and then show how he infiltrates some sort of space frigate called the Dark Athena. I won’t be surprised if it all somehow leads up to the beginning of Pitch Black.

  12. Naseer says:

    Starbreeze are all but finished with the remake (not sequel btw – but with added content) – according to this swedish interview: http://gaminglife.se/?p=530

    If there is a publisher or not, that I don’t know.

  13. Feet says:

    Great game. Thoroughly enjoyed the fighty parts and the talky parts.

  14. Optimaximal says:

    In fact this is a rather low-key game, nothing like the hyperbolic storms we’re constantly being served by the action-game fraternities.

    I think the muted reception was down to the later PC release and the fact that it had relatively high requirements to play well at the time.
    The Xbox copy was released parallel to the awful second Riddick film and was notable for being several shades better in plot, action and a distinct lack of pretentiousness, facts that almost every review pointed out repeatedly.

  15. CrashT says:

    How much of the game is left after the Mech sections? As I got that far before my PC when casters up, and am trying to convince myself to play it again, but not sure if I should if I’d almost finished it anyway.

  16. BaconIsGood4You says:

    God I played the crap out of the demo for it. I’d try and spook the AI buy hiding in the shadows and leaving trails of bodies. So much fun.

    The rest of the game was great but didn’t manage to capture the Batman-esque level of power I felt in scaring and defeating my enemies.

    Can’t forget the Developer Commentary mode too if you’re talking about innovation. I just wish more games (basically only Valve has done this) did it.

  17. grinder74 says:

    it’s a great game, now i catch up on and play this one :)
    recommend for anyone who not played this yet

  18. CrashT says:

    @BaconIsGood4You:
    Tomb Raider: Anniversary has a Developers Commentary, handled in the same way it is in the Half-Life 2 episodes.

  19. Sum0 says:

    Ironically I think the film license put me off the game, until I heard how good it was. It’s such a great FPS, it’s a shame it isn’t more well-known.

    In particular, the graphics have held up very well indeed.

  20. Monkfish says:

    The game’s release was such a low-key affair, it was almost as stealthy as Riddick himself. Escape from Butcher Bay was the suprise of 2004 for me – well, pleasant surprise, that is.

    I love it when a great game is released without any fuss or fanfare and I wish it would happen more often. Modesty of this ilk is such a rarity in videogaming these days.

  21. RiptoR says:

    Just wanted to say that Riddick works fine on Vista here, had no problems playing it on my x64 install.

  22. Laco says:

    My favourite moment in this game (which I understand wasn’t in the original console release?) is the part when you finally get to control a guard mech, after half a game of creeping around in the shadows and basically avoiding conflict as much as possible.

    It was just such a brilliant pay-off; I remember coming upon the empty suit slowly, hardly daring to believe I’d be allowed such awesome power.

    It felt like the developers looking over, giving a wink, and saying “Oh, all right then.. just this once.. go on, have some fun”.

  23. Dreamhacker says:

    TCOR:EFBB…er Riddick, is probably the single best movie-related FPS yet!

  24. Ocho says:

    The before mentioned developer commentary mechanic as also seen in Tomb Raider and Valve games — I definitely saw it in Riddick first. Also, I enjoyed the use of tinting the entire screen blue to indicate you’re hidden — eliminates hud, breaks up visual monotony, and works seamlessly into the gameplay. They did a lot of things right, looking forward to the rerelease.

  25. R. says:

    “My favourite moment in this game (which I understand wasn’t in the original console release?) is the part when you finally get to control a guard mech, after half a game of creeping around in the shadows and basically avoiding conflict as much as possible.”

    No, that was in the original Xbox version too and massively theraputic it was to boot. Stompin’ around the hallways, blowing the hell out of all those annoying guards in your mini-Metal Gear while their panicked chatter dominated the comms systems. Brilliant.

    It’s one of a mere handful of games I’ve since returned to and enjoyed just as much. Nice to see others appreciated it too, looking forward to the revamp.

  26. Bloodworth says:

    I loved TCOREFBB! And I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said about it. I just want to add that I loved the over the top portions towards the end of the game.

  27. hydra9 says:

    Beautiful.

    I’d been wanting this game for ages. Not quite sure why I hadn’t bought it, but I finally ordered it yesterday. Then by a strange coincidence, your article pops up! Nice.

  28. Deuteronomy says:

    Butcher Bay is probably the best use of a movie license ever, and probably also the best console to pc port ever.

    I played it last year and the screenshots in the article do the director’s cut no justice. I’ve heard Diesel actually had a lot of input into the game design. Although he’s not a horrible actor for the kind of roles he gets he’s a hell of a better game designer. I’m actually interested in the upcoming Wheelman game because of his involvement.

  29. MeestaNob! says:

    I’d read this was quite good, but for some reason – like many other games (no doubt to the displeasure of the developers) – I’d never got around to trying this out. I see it in the store for the measly sum of $20 (AUD) and still don’t pick it up.

    I think I’m make amends on the weekend and try it out… and yet strangely I feel like waiting might be a good idea if it’s getting a spuce up.

    RPS boffins: Any word on the remake heading to PC? Can you ask you pals at Valve to get the old one on Steam too, while you’re making phone calls?

  30. DSX says:

    Tech TV put me on to the game when it came out because of some interviews with Diesel they did, and I was quite impressed at how much input he had into making it more of a story telling game then just a technical achievement. He evidently worked very closely with the writers in developing the riddick canon as well as doing all the motion capture / voice stuff etc for the game.

  31. Al3xand3r says:

    Great game certainly, it had a few sub par scenes but nothing that detracted from the overall awesomity :o)

    About as good (but yes, very different) as F.E.A.R I’d say.

    I got it after DX:IW and even though Riddick is not trying to be an RPG hybrid, some of its set pieces (prison) were a lot better than the whole DX:IW.

    Similarly for the FPS parts being better than many other games’ which relied solely on that, the stealth bits the same, etc.

    I hope the sequel/remake is not exact but expands on all of these aspects to make the definitive FPS hybrid…

  32. dhex says:

    riddick was indeed a big old slab of greatness, but one thing bothered me; i loved the way they broke up the stages with your reimprisonment, but wouldn’t you think after a few of these murders and shootings and whatnot they’d just kill riddick? or does the franchise exist in some weird alternate universe where a prison planet is ok but capital punishment is too far beyond the pale? (never seen the films)

  33. SwiftRanger says:

    I got the game working fine on Vista (64-bit, with Ati HD4870 video card), installed the 1.1 Euro/UK patch first though.

    Apparently it has something to do with the game using OpenGL while Vista doesn’t support that properly, don’t know for sure if there is a “great for every video card”-fix if the problem still persists (google came up with this link).

  34. Urre says:

    dhex: In the universe of Riddick, slams get money from some governmental types for keeping people locked in, so one could say that they actually make more money, the more damage Riddick does, as he becomes a higher-risk prisoner to keep.

    On the other hand I think it’s rather unfair to diss on Riddick or Vinnie for the character, as it’s clearly one of the few interesting action characters the last two decades. Pitch Black being an awesome movie about a bunch of people in the wrong place, with the right bad guy on their side, without any of this magic mumbo-jumbo about destinies and Furians. In Pitch Black, Riddick was just a man who got in trouble one or two a many times, most likely simply because of hardship in early years of his life, leading to a very bitter view of the world, thus taking law and life in his own hands. I can imagine the story in the game would’ve been cooler too, if it wasn’t for the new movie infecting it with the Furian heritage, and the witch doctor just being a regular doctor who had a couple of tricks up his sleeve.

    Less Star-Wars, more Star-Trek. Or something.

  35. ran93r says:

    Took me a little while to get out of the FPS mentality and adjust to the ported control system (played on PC) but otherwise first class game. I hope we see more of the character, be that movie or game. I might be in the minority but I actually enjoyed Chronicles of…

  36. Optimaximal says:

    I too was disappointed with the sudden ‘deus ex machina’ of the Eyeshine… Would have been much better had they treated it like Minority Reports eye-swap!

  37. Deuteronomy says:

    BTW Direct2Drive is a great way to get ahold of this game.

  38. Butler` says:

    This game took my by surprise at release. I seem to remember playing it non-stop for several days.

    I tried to reinstall it recently to give it another shot, but my efforts were ruined by some kind of graphics error on my new hardware preventing me from starting the game properly, with no apparent fix.

  39. Kast says:

    It’s also a great example of the use of commentary in games. The commentary nodes themselves are probably substantially longer than the game itself! And so interesting, too.

  40. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I found Dick Riddick Tales: Space Bastard Prison Japes to be decent enough, but I’m not a great fan of it. I can see why people rave about it though, unfortunately it doesn’t quite click with me.

    @ R: The PC version has a mech section in the middle which is absent from the Xbox version (see here).

  41. dhex says:

    dhex: In the universe of Riddick, slams get money from some governmental types for keeping people locked in, so one could say that they actually make more money, the more damage Riddick does, as he becomes a higher-risk prisoner to keep.

    a ha! so, in one sense, they’re rent-seeking by being a shitty prison.

    interesting.

  42. Whiskey Jak says:

    Got this at the same time as Halo 2, Jade Empire and Ninja Gaiden for my Xbox while I was on a shopping spree, and although I really liked the other games (say what you will about that) I think that Riddick was my favorite among them, in great part for being so innovative in the FPS genre. I also liked the movies very much for what they were (although the ending of Pitch Black pisses me off to no end).

    This is the game that I used to put in my console to show it off to people who didn’t know much about video games or Microsoft’s console because of the incredible graphics at the time and the individual characters (which is still something that only Starbreeze has done for this kind of game as far as I know).

    If I’m correct, the “remake” will feature 40% of new content. And yes, I would/will buy it.

  43. Horatius says:

    I’d like to give another nod to the developer commentary in Riddick. It made playing the whole game again thoroughly enjoyable.

    I think what made this game so good was that the developers made a good game, that just happened to be linked to a franchise. Vin Diesel is pretty lame, and the character Riddick is even worse. Starbreeze took a potential train-wreck and made it soar. Kudos.

  44. Fat Zombie says:

    I last tried the demo when my PC was rubbish. I shall try it again, now my PC is slightly less rubbish.

  45. Dyrwen says:

    @Jim
    Two words to get old games to work on Vista, it seems: Compatibility Mode. Had to figure out the mode to let my wife play KOTOR on her vista computer. Couldn’t hurt to play it before it gets rereleased.

  46. Mika says:

    From Wikipedia:

    “On July 29, Activision Blizzard had announced that The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena along with eight other games in development had been dropped by Activision Blizzard, putting the future of the game into question”

  47. Down Rodeo says:

    I played a demo of this, wish I’d bought it. If this remake thingy happens I’ll be right on there :)

  48. GeorgeR says:

    This came out around the same time as Spiderman 2 the game. Which was also an amazing Movie-Game I remember that year my friends and I were sure the apocalypse was nigh, as good movie games? We’re sure that’s one of the signs in revelations.

  49. Psychopomp says:

    I *rented* Butcher Bay as a “Ah, well. Might as well, all the good stuffs taken.”‘

    Needless to say, I was suprised.

    Can’t wait for Dark Athena, and I hope we get a sequel one day.

    Also, Starbreeze seems to have a nack for good storytelling. The Darkness was equally “Meh” in the gunplay department, but the story was brilliant.

  50. Erlam says:

    I remember playing through the demo about a dozen times, and then somehow missing the game in stores.

    Cmon steam, don’t make me order this on line ;)