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Joystiq Review: Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

Justin McElroy

This is an exceedingly weird release. On the same disc, you've got an older, graphically-juiced version of the classic Escape from Butcher Bay paired with Assault on Dark Athena, a modern take on the same game, but one that never feels like anything more than an expansion.

So, as the game's targeting a lot of different audiences, I thought I'd write short, separate reviews for each of these groups. I know, it's totally Web 3.0.

If you played and liked Butcher Bay: You're going to want this. You can't play your old version on your 360, and besides, the new version looks great. The one thing you may have forgotten from BB that hasn't aged so well? Load times. Seriously, when you're going from one area to another in the prison, it's brutal. We're talking 13 to 15 seconds every couple of minutes in some sections. The good stuff's still there, though. Melee combat is satisfyingly brutal, voice acting's great, and the stealth is really intuitive and well-handled.

Gallery: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena | 13 Photos

As you move on to Dark Athena, you should probably prepare for some disappointment. The basic ideas are still the same, but there are some serious pacing problems here. The biggest offender is the SCAR, an infinite ammo grenade launcher you get halfway though the game, which obliterates not only bad guys but the taut, hide-and-stab stealth combat that makes the first half so enjoyable.

But still, you won't regret the purchase, go buy it -- or at least rent it. And hey, there's multiplayer now, too (though we didn't have an opportunity to try that out), so that could be another value-add.

If you're Vin Diesel: Seriously? They didn't just send it to you?

If you played Butcher Bay and hated it: You should probably stay away. If you were frustrated by the aforementioned load times or the dumb enemy AI, you're still going to be frustrated by the BB remix and Dark Athena.

Now, if you disliked BB because it didn't have enough shooting for your tastes, you might like Dark Athena a bit more. There's a much heavier focus on gunplay here (especially once you get the SCAR), and there are a few pretty cool sequences where you'll rip through the opposition in a heavily armed (and armored) mech suit.

Of course, if that's what you're in the market for, you could certainly find another game that's doing that kind of action better.

If you're wondering how the car handling is: You're thinking of Wheelman.

If you've never played either: Oh, you should play this so hard. When you're deep into 2004's Butcher Bay (and not waiting for it to load) it doesn't feel dated in the slightest. This is a totally immersive, moody take on the first-person shooter that puzzlingly wasn't furiously emulated by other games after its release (except, arguably, by Starbreeze's own The Darkness).

Dark Athena's first half is pretty good, too, with the sneaky combat being even more refined. Developer Starbreeze has even got a smart way of keeping you from leaning on guns -- by affixing them to rifle-toting drones. But in the game's second half, there's a real feeling that someone wanted DA to be padded to justify the $60 price tag. It swiftly turns into a plodding mess, that forces you to methodically scour each room for murderous robotic spiders that can kill you almost instantly if you miss even one. Not. Fun.

If you can power through DA, there's some fun to be had there, and, like I said, Butcher Bay is a classic. But whether you're new to the series or you're a Butcher Bay fanboy, it's going to be hard for you to shake the wish that Starbreeze had just made a real sequel that feels as fresh and cool as its predecessor.

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