Ahoy hoy Dtoiders. Tonight's post is an exercise in an approach I've always cared to see in reviews for any medium, be they film, television, literary, musical, artistic, or video game. Whether or not I should muster the dedication to do this sort of thing (i.e. critical commentary) on any sort of regular basis remains to be seen, but I'm here for the remainder of this essay at the very least.
Many reviewers, pundits, and even regular readers often comment as to how video games should be reviewed. Gameplay versus graphics versus relevance versus adaptation versus controls versus yada yada yada what have you. Personally, I've always found that quantitative notation - that is to say, rating things on a scale from 1 to 10 - is a disservice to products both commercial and artistic. Mind you, this blog is not an argument on the nature of game review, but the title in particular that I care to talk about serves as an excellent example to highlight several of the points one might make in that argument.
The Chronicles of Riddick has been stretching its muscles as a franchise for several years now, and Assault on Dark Athena marks the second foray of the mythos into the video game market. Like its predecessor, Escape from Butcher Bay, the game will heavily incorporate mechanics from the first-person shooter and stealth genres, while also dabbling lightly with puzzle elements. Not to mention the fact that it's a franchise tie-in; a quality that most gamers are eager to admit is predisposed to being composed almost entirely of suck.
I admit that I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Dark Athena. I found Butcher Bay to be a surprisingly entertaining and engaging title, despite the fact that I could critically identify a lot of its independent qualities as mediocre at best. After downloading and playing the just-released demo for Dark Athena on Xbox 360, I've little different to say about this next installment.
Therein lies my dilemma.
From a strictly first-person shooter point of view, I could say that the fighting mechanics are shallow and Riddick's bulky frame difficult to maneuver in combat with multiple opponents. Then again, Riddick is something of a stealthy fellow (despite his might), and the controls don't exactly respond as though you're supposed to be getting into five man brawls, thus leading me to the stealth side of things..
Slinking in the shadows with your eyes set to shine while playing as one of sci-fi subculture's most badass of badasses is easily among the better video game experiences out there. It seems as though every single room you encounter is kind enough to spare at least one small patch of shade for you to bide your time, should you so choose. The AI seems somewhat improved from Butcher Bay, as the wiseguys on Athena tend to know better than to tarry too long near dark corners; as though the creators expect you to have to go all Rambo from time to time, or risk a stealth run in full fluorescent glory. If, however, this is the case, then the combat controls could have easily been more powerful.
Now, as a franchise tie-in, I have little ill to say about this title, or this series in general. I know next to nothing about the origins of Pitch Black, but I am aware that all subsequent releases have been labours of love. Vin Diesel is something of a huge dork, and The Chronicles of Riddick (film) had many elements ripped straight from D&D. He loves fantasy, he loves video games, and one of the many reasons that Butcher Bay and Dark Athena are something more than the average movie video game is the simple fact that, though the publisher may have greenlit them based on name brand recognition and sales projections, the developers (and all else involved) WANTED to make these games.
Dark Athena has been written and developed independent any movie release and bears no resemblance to the stories of any previous titles, save, of course, for the classic Riddick formula (i.e. stick to the shadows, slit throats, survive and be free). Chronologically, it falls after the events of Butcher Bay and prior to the film Pitch Black.
There's really nothing terribly noteworthy to say about the demo. As mentioned above, it could be described as mediocre in almost every way. And, truth be told, the playable portion was rather meager. Yet the whole of the product screams at me to play it. Perhaps it's the chance to portray Riddick. Perhaps it's the novelty of taking command of near-limitless armed drones and turning your aggressor's forces against them. Perhaps it's the well-executed, intuitive lighting and colour schemes. Perhaps it's the supplemental chapter of a story of which I've yet to tire. There's also something to be said for some of the more graphic kill animations.
I honestly haven't a clue why these games equal more than the sum of their parts but, as far as I'm concerned, they do. If you've played Butcher Bay, then I say to you that you can expect more of the same with a new coat of paint and some more story to boot. If this is your first dance with Riddick, then I recommend that you not compare it, and instead judge it on its own merit, as a self-contained and cohesive product.
Download the demo. Try it out.