Breaking out of prison is a scenario that's been used in countless movies such as Escape From Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption. Almost by default, it creates dramatic tension, exciting scenarios and memorable characters who have to overcome impossible odds and the threat of death to gain their freedom. Strangely, we always side with the lead character trying to flee, rather than cheering on the guards to give them one more severe beating - which is odd, because in real life, we'd be shunned by society if we drank a toast in our
local to a daring jailbreak by dozens of mass murderers.
The latest anti-hero to rattle his cage is Richard B Riddick, the bald, enigmatic hard-as-nails convict from the sci-fi movies Pitch Black and The Chronicles Of Riddick. Escape From Butcher Bay is a videogame prequel, an ultra-violent action-adventure mixing elements of a first-person shooter, stealth game, RPG and brutal beat 'em up. In it, your objective is simple - escape from the galaxy's worst triple-max security prison.
Hooray For Hollywood
OK, we know what you're thinking - why should we even have a twitch of excitement about a movie tie-in that's been out on Xbox since the summer? Simple - this is a very cool game that you simply cannot ignore. I've already completed the console version, and having now extensively played the enhanced PC 'developer's cut', I can happily confirm that Escape From Butcher Bay is shaping up to be the definitive edition of the rip-roaring futuristic blaster. In my opinion, it's also set to be the best movie-to-videogame conversion since GoldenEye.
Riddick is without doubt the game's star; a wise-cracking, ice cool psychopath, whose crimes are only ever hinted at, superbly played by the gravel-voiced Vin Diesel, in what's definitely his most convincing acting role yet. After being captured and transported by bounty hunter William J Johns (voiced by actor Cole Hauser from Pitch Black), you begin your term in Butcher Bay. As befits such a place, it's a gritty, rusty, shit-stained hell-hole, populated by disturbed foul-mouthed guards, crazed inmates and other horrors which you encounter as the plot unfolds.
Your first task is just to survive, as your arrival upsets the natural balance of power in the prison yard, throwing a whole gang of murderous individuals in your general direction. Riddick can talk to other characters, using a Monkey Island-style text interface to find out essential info about Butcher Bay, such as getting access to weapons. He can also undertake mini-missions, which include everything from retrieving an inmate's missing spectacles to killing a rival gang member.
Escape From Butcher Bay has a very minimalist HUD - weapons are only briefly displayed when chosen, and health, indicated by small white boxes in the top left-hand corner of the screen, only appear when you're involved in combat. Your main weapons in the early part of the game are crude handheld affairs, including knuckle-dusters, clubs and shivs. The latter are sharp, improvised pieces of metal or tools that you can use to hit, stab and slice enemies in hugely entertaining first-person punch-ups.
Death On Two Legs
If you prefer, in many situations you can go into a crouching stealth mode, shown when activated by a blue-ish tint to the screen, nice eyeball vein effects and
the handy ability to hear any nearby person's heartbeat. Here you can pull
off stealth kills by coming out of your hidden position, carefully sneaking up behind opponents and deftly snapping their necks, slashing their throats or cutting their spinal cords - useful in later levels when the heavily-armed prison guards become your main opponents.