Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

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Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena should've been released a year ago. Originally starting life as a small expansion to Xbox's Escape from Butcher Bay, it's now a full-length, eight-hour sequel to the critically acclaimed shooter.

Kicking off where the first game finished, 'Athena sees our man Riddick caught by a massive, Borg-like mercenary ship that's capturing humans and turning them into horrific, mechanised zombie drones. Naturally, angry Vin Diesel's out to chin the bad bosses at the helm, and look absolutely as hard as he can while he does it.

Exactly as we expected from the blokes behind The Darkness, the presentation in 'Athena is impressive; scripted scenes between Riddick's various shady characters, though not quite up there with Metal Gear Solid, look fantastic.

Starbreeze's upgraded facial animation tech provides some truly emotional scenes between the inhabitants of the ship, while the universe itself is as gritty and believable as sci-fi gets.

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Playing as Riddick is an immersive and satisfying experience. Hand-to-hand combat is a visceral power-mix of knives to the face, snapped necks and getting smacked round the face with a big metal pole. Scaling high rails and climbing ladders switches the game's perspective into third person, justified by the ease of Riddick's platforming sections which successfully merge into the shoot-sneak-climb set-up.

Like Butcher Bay most of the game has Riddick lurking in the shadows, stabbing gun-toting attackers in the back and then turning their weapons on them, before scrambling through air vents. It's one of most satisfying first-person stealth games around.

Riddick's sneaking mechanic is simple; with a press of X you're put into stealth mode and a subtle change of the HUD to the colour blue indicates when you're hidden. With the d-pad you can activate your sinister night vision to see clearly in the dark. It works extremely well and makes for visceral hide and seek killings.

But eventually Riddick gets his hands on some hardware and initially it's a smooth transition from slicing to shooting. Enemy-filled rooms full of shadow (the Dark Athena doesn't have very good lighting) suggest that you're better off darting from the darkness with a blade than a gun. But 'Athena never stops you from going in all guns blazing, which removes a lot of the pressure of having to 'Splinter Cell' every room.

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For the first half of the game there's no doubt that Assault on Dark Athena is a brilliant and gritty stealth shooter. But for some reason it all goes downhill at about the half way point ... right about where it probably would've ended if it stayed the small expansion it was intended to be.

After a plot 'twist' in place of where the end credits should've been, the emphasis in Riddick quickly switches from sneaking and sabotage to straight-laced first-person shooter drudgery.

For most of the later half of the game you've got a gun in you hands and clever set pieces are swiftly replaced with frustrating mini-boss fights, and stabbing from the shadows with generic physics gun puzzles.

There are no explosive barrels in the game (yay) but in permanent Call of Duty mode Riddick ultimately lacks the flair and inventiveness that made it so brilliant in the first place.

The game doesn't feel designed for big gun battles; with so much of the original game's focus placed on melee combat and 'gun = death', large fire fights become lethal set pieces that drain your health bar in a second. Dark Athena's later section is very difficult, sometimes frustratingly so.

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