We may baulk at the conditions in some of the most notorious lock-ups on
the planet - Iraq's Abu Ghraib, Springfield Penitentiary - but they have nothing on Butcher Bay; a nightmarish triple-max prison containing some of the galaxy's most despicable criminals. Well, apart from Lord Archer...
This futuristic hellhole becomes home to Richard B Riddick, the enigmatic
slap-headed, goggle-wearing psycho convict with the ability to see in the dark, from sci-fi movies Pitch Black and The Chronicles Of Riddick, portrayed superbly by gravel-throated Hollywood actor Vin Diesel. Despite the fact that movie-to-game conversions haven't fared well over the years (think The Great Escape and shudder), I can happily report that Escape From Butcher Bay is one of
the most surprising, atmospheric,brutal and downright enjoyable PC titles I've booted-up in the past year.
Developed by Starbreeze (previously responsible for third-person hack 'n' slasher Enclave) in association with Vin Diesel's new games company Tigon Studios, The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is a triumphant sci-fi action-adventure that effortlessly fuses elements of first-person shooter, beat 'em up, stealth game and RPG. Although it's still essentially a port of a summer Xbox game, us lucky PC owners receive a special 'Developer's Cut' version of the game. In addition to mouse control, better graphics and quick saves, this features a smattering of new levels and characters, plus a developer's commentary, akin to those DVD commentaries where directors and actors wibble on about how marvellous it was to work with each other.
The plot is pretty straightforward, with the title summing it up perfectly - Escape From Butcher Bay. As the game is essentially a prequel, it's freed the developer to create a videogame set in the Chronicles Of Riddick universe, without having to jemmy in a movie storyline. You play as Riddick, who's been transported to the prison by his old nemesis William J Johns (voiced by Cole Hauser from Pitch Black) as punishment for as-yet-undetermined crimes.
Your arrival ruffles a few feathers (and large, rippling muscles), and you're soon involved in the seedy underworld of the jail, learning how to chat with other prisoners through a LucasArts adventure-style interface, gradually beginning to work the system, find out valuable information and earn respect from guards and inmates alike. To progress the storyline, you complete missions - some essential, some optional - given to you by the characters you meet, ranging from taking out rival gang members to retrieving packages from poison gas-filled caves.
Fists Of Fury
The game really sucks you in right from the start, and in the beginning is actually more akin to an action-adventure role-playing game than a first-person shooter. You don't immediately have access to guns, because all of the guards' weapons are DNA-encoded - attempt to pick one up and you get a short sharp shock. What you do have access to is a range of nasty weapons for hand-to-hand combat, such
as knuckle-dusters, clubs, screwdrivers and 'shivs', which are basically crude, home-made knifing implements.
Butcher Bay's brutal
punch-ups are the best I've experienced in an FPS, with combinations of the movement keys and both mouse buttons pulling off a range of punches, stabs, uppercuts, blocks and combos that leave unfortunate opponents reeling with bruised faces, cut flesh and walls decorated in streaks of crimson. You can even wrestle with guards and use their own weapons against them, forcing their hand to pull the trigger and blow their own heads off. Superb stuff.