Crouching silently in the darkness, steely fingers wrapped covetously around your steely implement, you alone can see, you alone are filled with the terrible and wonderful knowledge of impending violence. You are filled with purpose; you are a predator, and your prey approaches. As you leap, and see the effect of jagged edge on soft, receptive flesh, you realize that you’ve never felt quite so connected to a game character. You are Riddick, and this is The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. This is what TCOR is about at its best moments, and its best moments are rather stellar.
TCOR consists of not one, but two games; the fantastic Escape from Butcher Bay, and the 80% good Assault on Dark Athena. In both, you portray galactic-serial-killer-anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, portrayed in two feature films, one animated feature, and here by Vin Diesel. In this world of “mercs” and “cons,” Riddick is a cut above; a proficient sneaker and frequent escape artist, both Riddick and the games are at their best when skulking in the shadows and shanking unsuspecting guards in silence. Brought to the formidable Butcher Bay prison by the bounty hunter Johns, portrayed in the film “Pitch Black” and in the game by Cole Hauser, Riddick immediately begins working the angles and figuring a plan of escape.
This is done in standard RPG fashion; talk to this person, perform this function for them, return and collect your information. This definitely separates TCOR from your standard action games, and is one of the first instances of the incredible immersiveness and attention to detail paid in both games, though to a greater degree in EFBB. Little things like the sign that says “No F**king in the Courtyard” really enforce the down-and-dirty prison vibe, as do the various prison gang intrigues that Riddick eventually gets caught up in. Though the player doesn’t really need to get involved; one can blow through TCOR doing only the main quest and have a pretty rocking time, while performing side-quests and doing a bit of exploration rewards the player with various packs of cigarettes, which are in fact unlockable content of various types, such as character models or development sketches.
Once Riddick begins his escape, it’s hard to describe how satisfying sneaking around and silently killing guards really is. The moves are easily performed, a method of wait in the darkness until their close enough, you receive a visual cue, and then perform one of a series of scripted motions. If you are spotted, TCOR features a perfectly serviceable, if not terribly deep, hand-to-hand combat system that enables you to pummel enemies with fists or club, or cut at them with various edged implements. Riddick is also deft with the firearms that are found throughout most of the levels, and while you can use them and indeed have to through certain portions of the game, I always enjoyed the game more when I was making use of Riddick’s “shined eyes” (that allow him to see perfectly in the dark) and the “pounce like a lion” technique. TCOR’s peek system, however, makes for an excellent early form of a cover system, so if one must use the firearms, you can do so without exposing yourself completely to enemy fire.
Too often towards the end of Dark Athena, which finds both Riddick and Johns captured by a mercenary ship whose business enterprise involves raiding colonies and turning them into mindless combat drones, you end up in just such a situation, forced to use your firearms and fighting giant Alpha Drones which, admittedly, were a challenge the first time, but lose their shock value after repeated battles where the developer seemed like their idea of a challenge was not just one fairly-easily-defeated enemy, but two. Added to that are the obnoxious Spider-Drones which can spot you even in total darkness, completely removing the need for stealthiness altogether; in this environment, TCOR rapidly loses all the qualities that made it an interesting and innovative game, and becomes just another mediocre space shooter.
The graphics in both games are, in a word, adequate. It’s clear that this is an updated Xbox title, and while they’re not fantastical or ground-breaking, the level of attention to detail in the environment and character models make up for the short draw distance and somewhat stiff movements.
The voice acting is, generally, fantastic; Cole Hauser, Ron Pearlman, and Lance Henriksen all do fine jobs. Vin Diesel as Riddick, however…I think it’s not so much his fault as the writers’, who give him such silly things to say. He sounds like an angry gothic fortune cookie. The best line Riddick has in the whole game is “The darkness…is where I shine.” That’s the top of the pile, folks. The rest of the throw-away characters, including one who fantasizes openly multiple times about murdering a woman and raping her corpse, are fairly coarse and shout variations of “I’m gonna kick your ass” over and over again. Based purely on the language, and not on the graphic violence, this is not a game I would recommend for the kiddies.
TCOR is a great way to experience, or re-experience, a classic original Xbox game. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good; the dialogue is rough, and the gameplay may fall flat at times, but for all those instances where you’re crouched in the dark, anticipating your opponent’s next move, feeling every inch the shadow-clad predator, TCOR is definitely worth a shot.