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I'm not sure whether or not The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena takes itself seriously. It's almost as if Vin Diesel sat down in a room full of game designers and told them about everything that he thinks is "totally awesome," then forced them to go turn his insane and manly imagination into some video games. The dialogue is ridiculous, the fighting is over-the-top and violent, and the main character is like some sort of muscle bound poet who leaps on every opportunity to make himself look like a beast. What happens when you combine all this? A whole lot of big, dumb, manly fun.
As the sequel to 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Assault on Dark Athena has a lot to prove. Butcher Bay was a critical darling, earning an average score of about 9 out of 10 from most publications. That game was also famous for its (at the time) incredible graphics that blew away other games of the era. Why should you care about how great the prequel to AODA was? Well, as it turns out, the developers of the new Riddick outing have been kind enough to not only put the original game on the Dark Athena disk, but to upgrade and polish it as well. Needless to say, Escape From Butcher Bay is still great (although perhaps not as good as it was five years ago), and it adds to the value of the package immensely.
The good news for fans of the original is that Assault On Dark Athena is just as good as its predecessor, if not better. Once I received my copy, I immediately blazed through the updated Butcher Bay, moving straight into the AODA campaign. One of the first things I noticed about the newest chapter in the Riddick saga is how much more action-oriented it is than its predecessor. While much of Butcher Bay's gameplay was either stealth-based or conversational (the other prisoners oftentimes had important things to say), this newer game throws in many more gun battles, mech suit excursions, and knife fights.
Right near the beginning of Assault on Dark Athena, I picked up these awesome little dagger-style weapons called Umlaks. For the rest of the game I had these daggers, and I used them pretty regularly. In fact, there's really not any reason to use any other melee weapon in the game once you have the Umlaks. Why would I take on a monstrous, club-wielding guard using a stick when I could instead hobo-stab him 97 times with my shiny space-daggers? As the game progresses, it gives you a stun gun (which I loved using to "split the wigs" of unsuspecting crewmen), and eventually a full plethora of generic weapons ripped straight from Halo. Once the game reaches this point, it never lets up on the action, and does a fantastic job of ramping things up all the way to an escape from the spacecraft to the mainland.
There's a point in the game at which nearly everyone who plays the game will agree should have been the ending. But it doesn't. It tacks on a looooong final stretch to the finish, which would be a horrible thing if it weren't for a weapon that Riddick finds called the SCAR gun. The SCAR gun is actually pretty cool, and totally changes how you approach the final few levels of the game. Unfortunately, through the use of the SCAR gun and a well timed Umlak attack, I was able to beat the final boss of the entire game in under five seconds. I wish I were kidding. The ending cutscene is pretty stupid, too.
I can't speak much for the multiplayer component of the game, as it was nearly impossible to find a game online. I did manage to get into several matches of "Pitch Black" (in which one player is Riddick and everyone else is out to get him) and that was nice, but the character animation when online makes everyone look like a jackrabbit. Too often I received a "this server no longer exists" message that made me want to drop-kick my TV. In other words, I don't have a full understanding of the online experience offered by the game because the game wouldn't let me play. Very frustrating.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena has obvious flaws, and it doesn't really try to hide them. That's totally okay, in my book, though, because I had a lot of fun while playing it. In fact, "big, dumb, manly fun" pretty much summarizes AODA. That's not an insult, just a description. So if you don't have the cash to buy the game, at least rent it. You won't regret it.
Platform(s):Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer:Tigon Studios, Starbreeze Studios