Hands-on / The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena

There are a lot of games to preview here at the New York Comic Con, but few of them look as good as The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. Yesterday we got a chance to take a look at Atari and Starbreeze’s newest project, and believe us, it’s purty.

Assault on Dark Athena is a sequel to 2005’s critically acclaimed The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Atari was not terribly open about the game’s story, but were careful to note that as the title involves the word ‘assault’, combat plays a heavier role this time around. The game also includes a remastered version of Butcher Bay, of which we only saw screenshots. We can tell you that it has aged well thanks to Starbreeze almost completely revamping it, but little else.

Dark Athena uses the same control scheme as its prequel. For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, Riddick games are first person, but not straight shooters. They’re closer to Thief than Halo, mixing stealth and combat. Riddick can see in the dark, and relies on the shadows to gain advantages over his more heavily armed foes.

We played through the tutorial level, in which we got a feel for the game’s tone and learned basic fighting techniques. The level opens with Riddick waking up on a beach without any weapons. Without much more than a short voice-over narrative, you get right into the action. All the level involved was walking through a couple of pipes and killing about six enemies, but the short demo provided a lot of insight into the game.

One thing that struck me was how hard it was to kill someone. We couldn’t just mash the ‘A’ button and expect to beat up people, although I certainly tried. You have try to sneak up on enemies and perform a stealth kill, or face a tougher than you might have thought fight. I was playing on Easy and had to block and counter or face sure death. When you manage to finish someone, the game rewards you with brutally entertaining animations of Riddick beating someone’s head in, but such moments are hard to obtain. One of our kills involved a 20 foot onto an unsuspecting enemy’s head. We took the guy out, but the camera dipped, and a for a moment we saw Riddick’s hands pushing himself back up, as if jumping 20 feet onto people isn’t as easy as some games make it. Had there been other people to fight, we might not have done so well. The difficulty forces the player to use stealth and shadows or face overwhelming numbers of tough enemies. For better or worse, he’s not Master Chief.

Some of those enemies we fought were armed, but their guns were welded to their bodies so that we couldn’t acquire their weapon easily. Riddick is able to pick up the downed enemies and point their guns at other soldiers in the area using their bodies as shields at the same time. However, you’re not particularly mobile when you do this, so don’t expect to go gallivanting off with your newest armed friend in tow.

We eventually found a gun, and were able to take out some guys with bullets, but even then it was harder than most other FPSs. The enemies were heavily armored, good shots, and worked together so you couldn’t expect to survive long if you ran out into a courtyard and opened fire. Riddick requires patience.

Also, while we didn’t get a chance to try it ourselves, the producers did go into detail about the multiplayer modes. Dark Athena features standard death match and CTF, but one mode in particular stood out. “Pitch Black” puts one player as Riddick against five others in total darkness. Riddick, who can see in the dark, is armed only with a couple of knives, whereas the other players get guns and flashlights. A smart Riddick player can pick off the armed enemies one by one. Surround sound and gruesome effects make this option particularly promising.

While I can’t be sure of the story, Starbreeze has shown that it can make Riddick games into a unique action experience. It seems to have expanded on the first person fighting, stealth combat, and moody tone. If the single player game (which we’re told will be much longer than Butcher Bay, thankfully) lives up to the sliver we got a peek at, expect good things.