Atari Preview Tour: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay was awesome. It was one of the best games for the original Xbox, and was one of the only movie-to-game adaptations that was good. So why isn’t the original game backwards compatible with the 360? Is Microsoft too busy making more Barbie games backwards compatible?

Actually, in this case, the blame goes to Starbreeze Studios for the lack of backwards compatibility. It’s not that Starbreeze didn’t try and make it backwards compatible, it’s just that it’s not really possible. You see Starbreeze did things to the original Xbox hardware that no other company ever did. They pushed the Xbox to its limits to make Escape From Butcher Bay above and beyond any other game on the system.

So because of that, we now have The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena coming out Spring 2009. Dark Athena is the original Butcher Bay plus ten more hours worth of gameplay, story, and one other new addition you probably weren’t expecting. Hit the jump to find out what’s new in the world of Riddick.

Before going on to the new stuff, lets talk about what’s new about the old stuff. The Escape From Butcher Bay portion of the game won’t just be the original game with a new paint job. Starbreeze went back and recreated all of the character models, the environments, the AI, and more. Everything has been remade to take proper use of current-gen hardware. This is also going to be the PC Developer’s Cut version of the game so there will be two new levels original Xbox owners never got to see.

So that’s basically ten hours of gameplay just right there. Starbreeze could have just called it quits then and you know people would have eaten this game up. But Starbreeze loves their fans and they wanted to give players more. How much more? Ten hours more with the second half of the game, Assault On Dark Athena.

At the end of Butcher Bay (spoiler alert!), Riddick and Johns, um, escaped from Butcher Bay. Of course, Riddick’s luck sucks and his ship gets captured by the Dark Athena, a ship full of mercenaries. Riddick manages to wake up from his cryonic sleep in time to hide from the guards of the Dark Athena and watches as Johns is taken away while still in cryonic sleep.

Now the player is in control and follows the Dark Athena guards so Riddick can figure out what’s going on. Riddick loses the guards as they go through a door that only the guards can get past. Riddick tries to open the door, but the security alarm goes off and another guard makes his way to inspect what’s going on. The guard comes in to check the room and Riddick quickly dispatches the guard with no trouble at all.

The guards of the Dark Athena are cyborgs called Ghost Drones and they will inadvertently help out Riddick in a lot of ways. Riddick can pick up dead Ghost Drones and use them as a shield, kind of like how players can pick up Locusts in Gears of War 2 as meat shields. Riddick can also use the gun that’s permanently attached to the Ghost Drone and shoot at whatever until the bullets run out. There’s one more thing the Ghost Drones will do more for Riddick, but more on that later.

From here, Riddick can now move forward but not before finding a Bounty Card lying on the ground. The Bounty Cards are collectibles like the Cigarette Packs from Butcher Bay. There will be a ton of these scattered across the levels to collect and they will unlock additional content for players to mess around with.

Riddick then runs into a little girl named Lynne who has managed to escape from the Ghost Drones. Lynne asks for Riddick’s help to save her mom because she’s worried her mom will be turned into a monster, just like her daddy was. Turns out those Ghost Drones were once people. The Dark Athena captures bounties as well as normal people. Bounties are sold and innocent people are turned into mindless slaves for the Dark Athena to be used at will (kind of like in Prey). There’s a couple of Ghost Drones on patrol looking for Lynne which causes her to get spooked and she runs off into the vents to escape.

We also get to see that the Ghost Drones aren’t always mindless souls as these patrolling Drones are actually speaking. In actuality, it’s just one of the mercenaries somewhere on the ship remote controlling this Ghost Drone. You can spot the difference by looking at the Ghost Drone’s eyes; white glowing eyes are remote controlled Ghost Drones while the dumb Ghost Drones will have red eyes.

After Riddick sneaks his way through a maze like patrol of Ghost Drones, he comes across the Captain of the Dark Athena as she is discussing business with a couple of mercenaries. The Captain knows that Riddick is on board and she wants him very bad. The ladies just can’t resist that bald head of his … and the big reward on him either.

Riddick then moves on further into the ship and encounters a couple of mercenaries. After getting the drop on one of them (like literally — Riddick stabs a guy as he dropped down from a ventilation shaft), he takes on the other guard in a fistfight. Well, fist to sharp-curvy-blade fight. The fighting system from Butcher Bay is of course in Dark Athena and will make players feel like they’re playing a current-gen HD version of Punch-Out as they bob and weave mimicking boxing moves.

After Riddick KO’s the guard, a prisoner makes contact with Riddick from somewhere on the Athena. The prisoner helps out Riddick by unlocking the prison cells nearby and getting Riddick access to a very special room. This room is the Ghost Drone control room where Riddick can take control of Ghost Drones himself. Riddick kills a mercenary controlling a Ghost Drone and Riddick then plugs himself in to take a Ghost Drone for a ride.

Riddick gets uploaded into a Ghost Drone and the game goes into a whole new direction. The screen even looks different as everything has a shade of red and is slightly blurry. Riddick will now remind you of a straight up action game as you can blast away at anyone that gets in the Drone’s way. Ghost Drone Riddick starts killing a bunch of Ghost Drones and then goes for a locked ventilation shaft. Drone Riddick unlocks the vent and then makes it enter the vent in order to stop the vent fan with its body. The Ghost Drones are very disposable and Riddick will just jack into another Drone if one dies.

These parts to Dark Athena will really help keep the game very fresh. I do like stealth games, but can get very tired of them fast. Dark Athena is throwing in a lot of new gameplay twists to help keep players interested.

After the preview was over, I talked to some of the members of Starbreeze and I could tell that these guys really put their heart and soul into the project. A lot of the members from the original team that worked on Butcher Bay, including Vin Diesel, came back together to work on Dark Athena. They’ve created a game that all Riddick fans will love and they’ve fixed up a lot of the issues from the original game including that damn Mining level section that left me completely stumped, causing me to never beat the game proper.

Before I left to go on to my next preview, I was told one more important fact that will get Riddick fans really excited: Dark Athena will have online multiplayer. Nothing about the multiplayer was revealed, leaving me wondering if this will be an FPS type deal like Halo, a stealth only deal, or maybe both (kind of like Splinter Cell’s multiplayer). We should be hearing actual details as we get closer to the release date.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by Atari for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. It will be out sometime in Spring 2009.

Hamza Aziz