Chronicles Of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena

By Jim Rossignol on May 18th, 2009 at 8:53 am.


It’s taken me a while to get around to Starbreeze’s remake and expansion of Chronicles Of Riddick, but I’ve finally punched and stabbed my way through it. The original game is one of my favourite olden FPS games, as detailed here, but can this contemporary-tech revamp and sizable sequel live up to the legacy? Here’s Wot I Think.

Let’s get this bit out of the way: Atari have included batshit DRM in the PC build of Assault On Dark Athena. It needs to validate online the first time you play, and Atari says: “The activation code lets you install the game on up to 3 machines, with an unlimited number of installs on each assuming that you don’t change any major hardware in your PC or re-install your operating system.” If that stuff boils your piss then you’d best steer clear. I’d be expecting an unlock in a few months time, mind, and if you follow the rest of what I say here you might think that’s okay. So yes: Riddick.

Emotionless, but still kind of a good bloke, that’s our hairless and begoggled felon. He’s the kindest psychotic murderer in outer space, and he’s a genuine pleasure to take control of. Sneaking, beating, shooting – he’s like the Lara Croft of transgalactic neck-breaking. In fact Assault On Dark Athena reminded me a whole lot of Lara’s most recent adventures: there’s lots of climbing and exploring to be done. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first thing to note is that this release includes a high-quality remake of the original game, and you can play either from the start. They’re both distinct packages and can pretty much be considered in isolation from each other. The original game pushed many of the best buttons in my brain and this pretty much a beat-for-beat recreation of that game. The prison environment is even more atmospheric than it was previously, and the melee combat remains solid – although a little less entertaining that it used to be, thanks to contrast provided by Zeno Clash. Riddick’s melee is as pleasingly brutal as ever, but it does feel a little constrained: straight up boxing, compared to Ghat’s lunging brawl-technique.

When I started playing the Butcher Bay remake I was initially horrified: it barely looked any better than the original game, albeit running at a higher resolution! I was being an idiot, of course, and hadn’t bumped up the texture detail or the post-processing. When these were maximised, with a hint of anti-aliasing, it started to look pretty good. It’s not exactly going to rival our most high end PC corridors, but it’s not doing a bad job. The depth of field effect for melee, which brings a combatant to the foreground while blurring out the background, is particularly good.

I won’t say much more about the original chapter, suffice to say if you’ve not played it, then that alone gives you a decent reason to want to buy this. It mixes stealth, adventure, and hand-to-hand combat brilliantly, and only really falters on the bits of the game that require you to use a gun, or a robot deathsuit. I might be suffering from mental exhaustion or something, but there also seems to be a slight disparity on the melee of Butcher Bay compared to that of Assault On Dark Athena. Perhaps it’s the heavy dependence on blade weapons in the new game, or a lag in the new animations, but it doesn’t feel quite as smooth, or as believable, as the original. In this, hands-on your foe excels.

Anyway, Assault On Dark Athena sees Riddick dragged aboard a mercenary slaver ship. These space nasties turn out to be capturing people and either selling them into the galaxy’s prison system, or killing them and using the bodies as cyborg drones. These drones make up the majority of the enemies you face, and you even get to take control of them for some disposable death action. The opening hour or two of Assault On Dark Athena is splendid: the feeling that you are engaged in the infiltration of a starship is superb, and you spend a good deal of time hugging shadows, only to step out and brutally face-stab your enemies. It’s thrilling stuff.

This breaks down a bit as you hit the first hub of the game. The idea that you’d be left largely unmolested as you chat with prisoners, and carry out tasks for them, seems a little strange. And as this section develops you come to rely heavily on ranged weapons: the weakest part of the game. There are small bouts of melee to follow, but the game does start to lean on man-shoot traditions at this point, and it becomes far less interesting. There are also some problems with rough edges in presentation: the voice acting is often out of sync – voice acting which is, incidentally, quite profane. I’ve not heard swearing like that in a sci-fi game, ever.

Worse, perhaps, are some of the poorer set pieces. I’d rather have faced another dozen stealth kill situations than have to go through the humdrum linear shooter sequences. It’s as if Starbreeze really weren’t paying attention to what made the most sense, or was the most entertaining, in the original game. Add to this the occasional AI failure, and you get a stretch of annoyances.

That’s not say I didn’t enjoy playing through it: there are some splendid combat sequences, the story is stronger than I expected, and there’s a fair bit of environmental exploration, with you leaping, clambering and puzzling your way forward. The only problem with that is a strange inconsistency in the jump/use controls. Some stuff mantles on jump, some does not. There seems to be no hard rule, and you end up hitting both keys.

Being miles behind all the other reviews that have come out, I’ve had plenty of time to mull over what has been said. It’s hard to quantify the value of a remade game. Will gamers really want to replay something just for improved visuals and the odd tweak?* It seems a given amongst reviewers that this is somehow a not much of a bonus. Reviewed in isolation from its past, this is quite a package, even if Assault On Dark Athena does not impress as it might have done. (I do find it bizarre that one reviewer are claims that Assault On Dark Athena is a better game than the original: it isn’t.)

This is a game that has been made in the spirit of its original incarnation, but has not learned from it. What was strongest about Butcher Bay was that much of your time was spent working through a semi-hostile environment: talking to NPCs, working out what needed to be done to facilitate your escape, and killing people when you had to. Assault On Dark Athena returns to that in only the most cursory fashion, and despite some superb dialogue and splendid false ending, it does not match up to the muscularity of the original game. There is too much dependence on Riddick’s rather wobbling gun-toting skills, and not enough opportunity to maul and murder your enemies in melee. Nor is that melee always as good as it could me: I even saw a couple of desynced animations, with Riddick stabbing brains that were not there. Then there are the checkpoint saves, which occasionally make you replay too much.

That said – and against my own critique – I’ve found it consistently entertaining. The ludicrousness of Riddick’s “I HUNT FROM THE DARKNESS” dialogue – which is treated as normal by the people he interacts with – is amusing enough on its own, but the bits where you ace a sequence of violent kills have you starting to believe it. There are so many psychotic killers in gaming, but Riddick is one of the best. It was an interesting contrast to Thief: Deadly Shadows, which I’d been playing the week before. I think there’s probably an ultimate Riddick game to be made: one which truly delivers the neck-breaking shadow-lurker in his most empowered, close-combat form. Playing through Butcher Bay again reminded me just how good Starbreeze had been when they hit this originally in 2004.

I’d probably wait for this to become less than full price before making the plunge into the shadows. It has too many flaws to be recommended without reservation, but it’s nevertheless an engaging and distracting game, particularly, I imagine, if you’ve never sampled the skull-crunching delights of the original.

Chronicles Of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena is out now, published by Atari.

[*Random side thought: there do seem to be a few games out there which are candidates for a full tech overhaul. Deus Ex and System Shock 2 could both be brought to a new generation by being wholly remade in modern engines. And you’d have to cut greasels from DX, natch. They were shit.]

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54 Comments »

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  1. Psychopomp says:

    Concerning Starbreeze, it seems they cannot get gunplay down, period.

    The Darkness:Great story, so-so gameplay.

    EDIT:OH GOD IT IS 3 AM HERE I SHOULD PROBABLY SLEEP

  2. Leeks! says:

    That’s strange, all of the reviews I’ve read pretty much agree that AoDA is inferior to EfBB. Who offered the opposite opinion, Jim?

  3. Jim Rossignol says:

    An American mag. Possibly PCG US, or Game Informer? I was only mentioning it in passing because it surprised me – most web reviews I’ve seen rate Butcher Bay higher.

  4. Dominus says:

    I would love to play a Riddick game but with a Thief gameplay!

  5. Nallen says:

    I picked up the demo of this yesterday, on the heathen console. Enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting, but I’d agree this is one for a post price drop purchase.

  6. Cedge says:

    @Dominus:
    I can’t really see that it’d still really be Riddick anymore, if it got too terribly much more like Thief.

  7. Schadenfreude says:

    Re: The out of sync audio. I was getting that too in cutscenes until I turned down one of the graphical settings (Can’t remember which one; something related to fancy lighting). Seems it doesn’t skip frames if it can’t render quick enough, it just slows everything down so the audio races ahead in realtime.

  8. Helm says:

    A curious thing is that I played the remake at normal difficulty and at a particularily cruel part of the game where when you die you are restored a long place away and have to redo a large part of the map, I turned god mode on.

    The curious thing is that I found myself enjoying the game more like that. I still stealthkilled mostly, I just didn’t worry about health. And THAT felt like what Riddick was bragging he was much more. I don’t know if this is a point against the game or a point for the main character, but I finished the original game with god mode on and enjoyed it much more without the death-restarts.

    I’m 30 minutes in Dark Athena, I prefer the setting much more to futurist prison, but we’ll see.

  9. SuperNashwan says:

    Just as a side note, you might not expect the DRM on this to be unlocked because it’s actually working; it hasn’t been cracked yet and probably won’t be now.

  10. DSX says:

    Escape is a great game, and Athena really starts strong in the same vein but drops the ball about 2/3 way through when you get off the ship and you have to start fighting those alpha drones. An unkillable (at range) enemy you have to stun with 5 sticky gun blasts at once and then run up to melee him. Once you figure it out, they throw a second one at you like 2 minutes later.

    These guys, plus the hard-to-see spider turrets that can kill you in like 3 seconds are such a shark jump move compared to the rest of the game, I just punched in the godmode code to finish the plot at that point.

    The big daddy moment while controlling an alpha though was priceless. Too bad there was no harvest option, just adopt.

  11. Russ says:

    I had passed this up as I do not enjoy sneaking so much.

    And checkpoints? Really? There is no excuse for checkpoints, ever. If they are there, they should be everywhere.

    @Nallen: What, the PS3? Is that the heathen console? I mean, they did piss off some church in England.

  12. danielcardigan says:

    How did the PC version do in the charts? I wonder if the draconian DRM actually helped it at all, or made no difference…

    I’m holding off buying it until it’s cheap enough not to matter what the DRM is.

  13. teo says:

    Meh, I didn’t really like this piece =/ I can’t put my finger on it but it felt like it could’ve been on any random gaming site on the web, which isn’t true of the majority of stuff that goes up here which is why people come here.

  14. bansama says:

    Let’s get this bit out of the way: Atari have included batshit DRM in the PC build of Assault On Dark Athena.

    Yup, I’ll be first to admit that that is what has stopped me from getting the game. Considering I’d have to pay over $80 for the game (importing be my only option), I just don’t want to. With that sort of DRM, I am never prepared to spend so much. I’m also very very sceptical that it will ever get patched out.

  15. Dominic White says:

    I’ve heard that the later parts of Butcher Bay get some upgrades beyond the obviously graphical. I recall reading somewhere that the already-fantastic final level (one of my favourite moments in FPS history) gets some improvements.

    Anyway, this one looks like a good’un. I don’t particularly care about the DRM, because I’ve only got one PC that could run the game anyway, and I know that a crack will be out to strip out the DRM before long anyway. Official patches are overrated.

    I will probably wait for a price drop, though. I’ve heard the multiplayer is pretty naff, and there’s not really much replay value to the game, so full price is off for me. This is just me, though – I’m cheap.

    While Metaboli/Gametap are decent, I wish the PC had some kind of rental-by-post service like Lovefilm. Being able to swap in/out a small library of games as often as I want for a cheap subscription is perfect for me, as I like to try a lot, but not much really fits my criteria for purchasing.

    And I’m annoyingly moral, so I won’t pirate.

  16. Jim Rossignol says:

    Dominic: yes, there do seem to be some changes within Butcher Bay – odd tweaks here and there – but I my memory of the original wasn’t good enough to be entirely sure of them all.

    Teo: Sorry to disappoint. I guess I’m just out of awesome this week.

  17. Nighthood says:

    @SuperNashwan
    2 cracks have been made, no DRM will ever stand up to determined pirates.

  18. Alonzo says:

    After GFW Radio I can’t read the line “That’s not to say that…” without laughing, but I won’t hold it against you.

    Tom Chick had a pretty scathing review of the Dark Athena content on his blog, but that seems to be somewhat in isolation with most agreeing that it simply just isn’t as good as the original.

    Also it’s a shame that little has been said of the multiplayer, GiantBomb had a video up of one of the game modes that looked very similar to The Hidden Source mod, and it looked quite promising. I’m sure the rest of it is forgettable deathmatches but it might be good for some split-screen on the xbox at least.

  19. Alez says:

    I’ve pretty recently discovered this site but already had big hopes, since it’s a pc only site, none of that [perfectly enjoyable] consoles.

    But what’s this? Dark Athena enjoyable? Come on man, the first game was really nice, i liked it despite the fact that i hate vin diesel. It had such an interesting world and gameplay mechanic. But this Dark Athena seems like it was actually the first game. It’s inferior in every way to Butcher bay. Incredible how they just seem to ignore EVERYTHING that made butcher bay good and transformed this into a forgettable dark shooter with bad shooting controls. Without God Mode i never would have finished this crap. Thanks to the autosave for the console [people of sound moral fibre] and a lack of proper SAVING, you have to repeat way too much to enjoy anything.

    Yeah, stupid rant on me but i was really hoping i’d see some justice on this site and have Dark Athena butchered (get it??) by the reviewer LIKE IT DESERVES.

  20. Premium User Badge

    abhishek says:

    I’m another one who hasn’t bought the game because of the DRM. I was actually looking forward to it too, because I somehow managed to miss the first game back when it came out, but I will simply not put up with this kind of DRM. I’m not sure how the game is doing in terms of sales but I get the feeling it might not be as well as they had hoped, seeing how the price of the game was dropped 20% within weeks of it’s release. Someone from Atari mentioned once that they would release an unprotected .exe after some time had passed. The game has already been cracked for a while, so I see no reason for them to not do so now.

    edit – thought I’d add the link –
    http://www.ataricommunity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=673039

  21. wiper says:

    You leave greasels alone, you bugger!

    Personally, I think they should remake System Shock 2 without any enemies. Then at least I might have a chance of finishing the damned game rather than giving up due to playing in /sheer terror/ all the time.

  22. Jazmeister says:

    @ Jim Rossignol

    Out of awesome, except for the awesome article about evil architecture.

    Wait, what week was that/is this? And anyway, is this EMODARKNESS?!

  23. Spanish Technophobe says:

    I’d be game for a System Shock 2 remake that removed the enemies, but kept the sounds they made. Brrr.

  24. Carra says:

    I’ll just skip this one then and keep my memories of the sweet, sweet original intact.

  25. kevlar says:

    See, this is why people suck. AODA without a doubt, blows Butcher’s Bay out of the water. Athena for the most part leaves the options of how you want to approach it up to you. It also has just much more interesting level design and pacing to boot. The fact that people prefer to not be imaginative and think the better game is the one where you’re forced down corridors and essentially told what actions to perform every single moment along the way, and usually fail if you don’t perform that one specific action, breaks my heart. If you think BB is the better half, then I’m sure you’ll love Velvet Assassin.

  26. Benny says:

    I’ll be leaving it with the DRM in it’s current state, as i tend to destroy/rebuild my pc quite often atm.

    And i’d prefer System Shock 3 rather than a full remake of either ss2 or dx. But with bioshock being such a big franchise now for 2K i doubt they’ll bother getting the rights to a system shock sequel.

    Orrrr this whole bioshock 2 stuff is a hoax and they’re actually making SS3 now and i can die happy :)

  27. Ravenger says:

    I’ve decided not to get this mainly because of the DRM. I’ve installed Butcher Bay on every one of my new PCs that I’ve built over the last few years (uninstalling from the old machine first), and after every OS re-install. I’d have run out of activations by now if it had used the same DRM system.

    Also, weirdly, they’ve removed the quicksave system from Butcher Bay, making the remake worse than the original, which is another reason I’m not keen to purchase it.

  28. suibhne says:

    @SuperNashwan: This game’s DRM was cracked almost three weeks ago, possibly earlier. I have no idea where you got the idea that the DRM was impregnable.

    Chalk up another defeat for game consumers everywhere. Atari’s starting to look positively prehistoric these days, in fact, what with Ubi and EA slowly reforming.

    I purchased the game on steep sale because I never paid for the original; I’d played through a copy borrowed from a friend (which is legal in the States, but Atari would very much like to eliminate that possibility). I enjoyed EfBB so much that I figured, hey, I owed them something. Never would’ve put up with this absolutely insane DRM otherwise, and I’ll be looking for a crack as soon as I install the game. Honestly, I’m kind of ashamed that I paid money for it and thereby contributed to the death of our beloved medium, heh.

    In any case, I have a hard time believing they’ll ever release a DRM-free .exe for this game. It’s going on, what, 4 years for NWN2? For that matter, can anyone cite an instance where Atari has released an unprotected .exe after an initial sales period?

  29. C0ntroller says:

    Has anybody mentioned the horribly fuzzy textures in AODA? Everything looks fine until you approach a wall or a screen, and everything looks blurry. Can’t even read the text on the screens. Already HL2 managed this waaaaaaay better…

  30. danielcardigan says:

    Maybe Riddick is long-sighted after the skimming.

  31. macc says:

    I didnt really notice the out of sync voice over. The voice acting is actually one of the strongest points of the game.

    The psycho prisoner (forgot his name) is indeed the most foul mouthed game character Ive ever seen.

  32. Jim Rossignol says:

    The voice acting quality is excellent, it’s true.

  33. PHeMoX says:

    ” (I do find it bizarre that one reviewer are claims that Assault On Dark Athena is a better game than the original: it isn’t.)”

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. The Assault on Dark Athena IS better. The original game lacks a bit more punch in the melee combat and it’s really now a bit dated. Of course the remade part might not be better when it comes to Escape from Butcher Bay, but I don’t understand why you think the new game is worse.

    The animations really seem fluent enough to me, in fact they’ve managed to update this rather well. The shooter stuff fits better than in the first game and feels better as well. (I must say I did actually very much like the part where you get to control the Mech in the first game!).

    The graphics really are on a whole different level than the first game, just install the old one and compare 1 on 1. The shaders in the new game are tons and tons better, animations are smoother and more polygons in the 3D models!

    I dig the new story and ultimately I don’t understand why the new part / new game is worse than the older one. It’s definitely the new best movie 2 game conversion ever made.

    It’s how remakes are supposed to be too!

  34. Jim Rossignol says:

    I don’t understand why you think the new game is worse.

    Hmm. I’m pretty sure I wrote my criticisms down somewhere.

  35. spelk says:

    The 360 version of the game was going for £19.99 in Sainsbury’s this weekend, which made it a whole lot more viable as a purchase.

  36. Dracko says:

    I’d rather see an overhaul remake of the original System Shock over the second, myself. Game design and control issues aside for either games, the first one has far better pacing and a much deeper sense of tension and high stakes in its mission objectives than the sequel. It’s practically Die Hard IN SPACE.

    Regardless, I’ll get this for Butcher Bay alone. Especially at that price, spelk.

  37. jackflash says:

    Greasels were great, don’t dis the greasels.

  38. Flobulon says:

    Greasels were dicks. Being killed by something only as high as your ankle gets annoying. Still, it’s always fun to bait them onto enemy agents…

  39. apnea says:

    This has inspired me to reinstall the old BB. (I won’t bother with heavy-duty DRM. I’m still recovering from last year’s pile-on.)

  40. SirKicksalot says:

    The last level of EFBB is the best final level ever.

    Dark Athena looks amazing, and more similar to the movie design. Can’t wait for a sequel featuring the grotesque baroque art of the Necromongers!

    It has some great setpieces (like the fight near the gravity core or whatever it’s called), and some mindblowingly awful ones… like most of the second half. THAT weapon is simply a missed opportunity, if the game had proper physics it would’ve been awesome.

  41. Rhygadon says:

    So, I have the original version sitting nearby in an unopened box — bought it about a year ago, then heard the remake was coming, and decided to wait. Now I’m trying to decide whether to bother getting the new one instead.

    The DRM is annoying, but I can deal. My main question is, which one is the better play experience? Do the improved graphics and “new melee system” (mentioned in the ads but touched on in no reviews I can find) offset the annoyance of checkpoints?

    Egad, I hate checkpoints.

  42. metal_spider says:

    As the saying goes:

    “Every time someone mentions Deus Ex on the Internet, someone else will reinstall it.”

  43. SirKicksalot says:

    Rhygadon – the remake is better. The checkpoints aren’t that bad, the problem is that it’s using the same icon for checkpoints and autosaves, so you never know where from you’ll resume the game after you quit.

  44. krendo says:

    Just home and noticed the sainsbury’s deal earlier from another site so caved on the console version so this article is apposite. Mixed feelings, as would have been a Day One purchase on the PC but the DRM thang rankled. Make a stand, etc but screwing Starbreeze. Want to support the PC version but…
    As an aside, interesting that all my local game stores have sold out of their ONE copy deliveries on PC and the Major websites are sold out. Does this give credence to the argument that Atari rely on mugs like me to cave on another format?

  45. Psychopomp says:

    @Kevlar

    That is only true, up until the halfway point. Then you are stuck IN BROAD DAYLIGHT, for most of the game.

    @Alez

    It appears we have a new AIM on the scene.

  46. Starky says:

    “Every time someone mentions Deus Ex on the Internet, someone else will reinstall it.”

    That reminds me I need to reinstall Deus Ex at some point to play that mod/expansion thingy-ma-bob.

  47. teo says:

    if by “that mod/expansion thingy-ma-bob” you mean The Nameless Mod then INSTALL AND PLAY IT NOW!!!

  48. James T says:

    See, this is why people suck. AODA without a doubt, blows Butcher’s Bay out of the water. Athena for the most part leaves the options of how you want to approach it up to you. It also has just much more interesting level design and pacing to boot. The fact that people prefer to not be imaginative and think the better game is the one where you’re forced down corridors and essentially told what actions to perform every single moment along the way, and usually fail if you don’t perform that one specific action, breaks my heart. If you think BB is the better half, then I’m sure you’ll love Velvet Assassin.

    I’ll definitely grant that you’re imaginative — I’m on the final few maps of Dark Athena right now, and there has been absolutely no multiplicity of solutions; both the Riddick games are highly linear (which I mean as no great slight against EfBB, I’m fond of that one) , the only way in which Dark Athena is less channelled is that you are more frequently (well, constantly) asked, as Warren Spector once put it, “which gun am I going to kill you with?”
    Unfortunately, none of the guns are suited to the task. The accuracy of the assault rifle is poor beyond belief, the submachinegun requires a full clip to kill someone (in fact, so does the shotgun, I just checked. At point blank range), and the SCAR gun is… well, dogshit (“I would like projectiles that move faster than people walk, please.” “Oops, sorry, can’t help you there!”). You’re stuck grinding your way through room after room, over and over again because your fucking guns don’t work, no hope of stealth or cleverness, just emptying endless clips until the bores you’re up against finally keel over and you can go looking for the next ventilation shaft.

  49. ack says:

    Just as a side note, you might not expect the DRM on this to be unlocked because it’s actually working; it hasn’t been cracked yet and probably won’t be now.

    Had to look that statement up and found this:

    The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (c) Atari Games
    .:: RELEASE INFO ::.
    Release Date …. 2009.04.08
    Game Type ……. Shooter
    Game Size ……. 1 x DVD
    Image Type …… .bin/.cue
    Protection …… CD-KEY

    .:: HOW TO PLAY ::.
    1) Unrar
    2) Burn or Mount
    3) Install
    4) Enjoy

    Sounds pretty cracked to me

  50. SuperNashwan says:

    @SuperNashwan: This game’s DRM was cracked almost three weeks ago, possibly earlier. I have no idea where you got the idea that the DRM was impregnable.

    I only look at sites that carry scene releases, having just looked I am of course wrong and some clever independent came up with a solution. Plus ca change.