It's ironic really that - five years after its original release - the star of The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is its predecessor, Escape from Butcher Bay
. Although Riddick's second game outing is a solid FPS with excellent atmosphere and visuals, you can never quite shake the feeling that it's not as well-paced, immersive or compelling as its prequel. AoDA picks up an unspecified amount of time after the events portrayed in Butcher Bay, with Riddick and Johns' escape ship captured by the Dark Athena; a vast mercenary-come-pirate ship that scavenges off anyone unfortunate to cross their path.
Level design in AoDA is mixed; incorporating typical dark corners and corridors, blasting through open outdoor areas and even a couple of interesting twists on the zero-gravity nature of spaceships. The whole game is quite heavily skewed toward gunplay, with Riddick able to take cover (of sorts) and shoot over or around obstacles, as well as many sections where waves of enemies must be mowed down. Further, there are a number of melee fights, with regular enemies (which is still always entertaining) and against boss enemies (which can border on frustrating). Health adopts a segment perspective, and after a few seconds of hiding the current segment regenerates - health stations are dotted fairly generously around the game, and usually a little backtracking isn't out of the question to find previous stations.
Perhaps AoDA's greatest misjudgment is in its pacing. With his 'eyeshine' and penchant for melee weapons and stealth, Richard B. Riddick is a character who excels in the shadows. Despite this, much if not most of the game is reduced to a repetitive and often frustrating shoot 'em up, which - while competent enough - isn't really able to compete with the better sci-fi shooters out there. It's especially telling that around two-thirds of the way through Riddick crash-lands on a nearby planet, and any notion of stealth is more or less abandoned as he acquires an infinite ammo gun and has to duel with both a host of boss encounters and supremely irritating insta-death spider-bot turrets. While Butcher Bay is never afraid to present the player with shooting sections, perhaps its greatest achievement is with its balance and pacing; a juggling act so clearly lacking from its successor.
Enemy AI is a little disappointing, with foes at times more than happy to wander slowly around a corner despite the abundance of their dead shipmates scattered around. Visuals are very good in AoDA - sharp, crisp and clear, with nary a frame issue or graphical glitch to complain about. Things aren't quite so nice in Butcher Bay since the original game has just been given a HD makeover, but it still looks good with great character models, and in particular both games do light and shadow tremendously well, as well as having a really tangible and pervasive atmosphere. Presentation all around is very good, although perhaps loading is a little more frequent than would be ideal.
The narrative in AoDA is noticeably thin and stretched out across the game's eight or so hours. Johns is cast aside early on as Riddick seeks an means off the merc-ridden ship, but other than escaping and communication with a couple of prisoners, there's very little in terms of plot or objective, which is a shame as it's one of the more distinctive and compelling inclusions in Butcher Bay. Slightly galling is that a young girl pops up on occasion whom Riddick both takes orders from and helps for no discernible reason, presumably since he was shown to have a bit of a soft spot for girls in trouble across his two movie roles.
Ultimately, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a decent overall package that succeeds more due to the remastering of quiet classic Butcher Bay than the somewhat disappointing more recent Dark Athena episode. For those who have yet to experience the game outings of Richard B. Riddick this is an enjoyable package which is definitely worth trying out, but for those who played through Escape from Butcher Bay last generation, it's hard to recommend the same game yet again, along with its largely forgettable sequel.