Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (PC) - Part 1

Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay title
Developer:Starbreeze|Release Date:2004|Systems:Xbox, Windows

Today on Super Adventures I'll be taking a brief look at the first few hours of sci-fi movie spin-off The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - Developer's Cut. I've played through the game before and I remember liking it well enough back then, but then I remember liking a lot of things and my fuzzy memories don't always match up to the truth.

The game was originally released for the Xbox (and later PC) back in 2004, but it received one of those HD makeover type of things three years later to port it across to the shiny new Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. They enhanced the visuals, tweaked the AI, added multiplayer, included a sequel campaign, and called it Assault on Dark Athena. But I'm not playing that one.  

The Dark Athena version may have the big advantage of having way more content and actually being sold online, but it seems to be built on the Xbox original, skipping the PC port's improvements like quicksaves and developer's commentary. Which is a bit of a deal breaker for me as I happen to like quicksaves and developer's commentary!

The original version does have one problem though and that's that it flat out refuses to start up on my PC. Well, it didn't until PC Gaming Wiki saved me yet again. It turns out that Nvidia owners can fix the game by "downloading Nvidia Inspector and setting the Extension Limit to 0x00001B58". This also reactivates Shader Mode 2.0++, so I can pretend I've got a GeForce 6800 Ultra in my case and push the graphics to max.

(Click the screenshots to view them at their original 1280x720 resolution.)

My fuzzy memories told me this menu looked awesome, and they did not lie.

Is this the best menu screen in video game history? Probably not, but I'm not coming up with anything better right now. A metal regular hexahedron interface made from over 8000 reconfigurable sliding blocks of whimsy and delight.

The game begins with a pre-rendered cutscene showing escaped convict and murderer Richard B. Riddick struggling to survive in a barren empty frozen wilderness with only his wits, his beard and his flowing locks of hair. Oh and a pair of knives, which he just used to kill a giant furry blue monster that made the mistake of chasing him into a dark cave.

Oh damn, I think he may have just killed Sully from Monsters, Inc. Well at least he won't be going hungry for a while.

Riddick has a bit of an advantage in the dark, as he once found a doctor during one of his short stays in prison who gave him night vision in exchange for 20 menthol Kools. Well that's how he remembers it anyway, but the voice in his head calls bullshit.

No he's not going crazy from being on his own for so long. Actually he's let himself grow hair, so maybe he has gone a bit strange, but the real reason he's talking to ghosts is because somewhere between the movies 'Pitch Black' and 'Chronicles of Riddick', creator David Twohy decided that his semi-realistic sci-fi universe could do with a bit more weirdness. So he added the furious Furyans, the death worshipping Necromongers, an air elemental called Aereon, and the afterlife dimension of the Underverse. Also now Riddick has genuine superpowers. I'm not a fan of the change to be honest.

I'm not saying it's a bad idea to go from a kind of realistic setting to a straight up fantasy one, especially now that I've seen robot inventor Tony Stark leave his films to team up with a super soldier from World War 2, a green rage monster, and the actual Norse god of thunder. But in my opinion 'Chronicles of Riddick' got too weird too soon, in a way that hurt the characters and setting. Imagine if 'Aliens' had explained that Ripley was so tough because she was born on planet Krypton, that's pretty much exactly what they've done here.

And furthermore... uh, oh right I'm supposed to be playing a game aren't I?

But if Riddick didn't get his eyeshine from surgery, then how did he end up looking like a cat in headlights? And how did he manage to get out of that dark pit of a prison to star in 'Pitch Black' anyway? And why is that 'F1' key icon up there in the top right corner all stretched out like it's off an Amiga 500 keyboard? Oh duh, it must be because I'm playing in widescreen! The game looks perfectly fine, but the HUD ends up a bit stretched.

To find the answers to the other two questions Riddick has to flash back to a few years ago, before any of the movies, to a time when he still had regular eyes and much less hair. This is the point where the Assault on Dark Athena remake begins, as it skips the ice planet framing story entirely to make the game purely a prequel.

Our flashback begins with Riddick held prisoner on a shuttle, guarded by Johns, his nemesis from 'Pitch Black'. He's managed to catch him somehow and has brought him to the Butcher Bay Correctional Facility, a triple-max slam located in an endless wasteland on some other shitty planet in the ass-end of space.

The game starts by explaining the basics, telling me that crouching puts me into sneak mode, which widens the FOV and turns the screen blue if I'm hidden in shadow. No need for a light meter in this one. Then it tells me to creep up behind Johns until I'm close enough for my hands to appear on screen, then click right mouse button to wrap them around his neck. Tapping the action button then quietly chokes him to death. Or I can press left mouse button and snap his neck instantly, but that's a bit louder.

So the very first thing I'm told to do in this is kill off one of the lead characters from 'Pitch Black', a film that's set after this story. Well that's a bit ballsy of the developers, to kick things off with a continuity error and then let me escape before I even set foot inside the prison.

Yep, he's dead alright.

I'd grab his assault rifle, but Pixie up there just tried that himself and it didn't work out so well for him. Seems that unless Riddick is secretly Johns's twin brother, the DNA protection on the gun means that it's staying right where it is. Though you never know...

Oh shit someone's started firing at us! I can run off into the endless desert surrounding the prison, but the 'minefield' signs are putting me off, so I'm thinking I might jump into this convenient hatch that's just opened instead.

Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay pack of bloss smokes
I'm collecting cigarettes? Seriously?

That... makes a lot sense actually, considering I'm in a prison right now. Well, underneath a prison anyway.

I'm actually in the prison's tutorial obstacle course it seems, where I can learn all about how to climb up boxes in third person. Or I can just ignore the 'F1' icon and leave the tutorial off if I want to figure things out for myself, the game's fine with it either way.

On thing that I've noticed about the game which is really unusual, is that Riddick has feet in first person view. In fact he's got legs and a torso down there as well, and when I turn around I can see his shoulders sometimes. There's no third person view button, I can't switch perspectives manually, but his entire body is always there in the level, and his shadow is a constant presence on the walls. It puts a lot of modern games to shame.

Though on the other hand modern games don't have the character clipping through walls quite so much, so there's plenty of shame to go around.

You know, before I climb up these boxes there's something I need to check.

Yeah, I thought things would start looking very 'Tron' if I found an angle where the boxes are all in shadow. I don't have night vision yet, so it's nice to know that if the lights go out I can still find my way around as long as there's boxes stacked up everywhere I want to go.

I wonder what's in all these unmarked boxes anyway. Whatever it is, they're apparently important enough to be under constant armed guard. I'm very much unarmed at the moment still, but the game assures me that if I drop down above an enemy I can instantly knock them out. I think I'll just leave him alone for now.


His friends in the tunnels below seemed a little more threatening, so I crept up behind one and took him out. It seemed like a great plan until his friend over there with the flashlight on his shotgun found the body before I could drag it somewhere. Now he's a little agitated.

The laser sight shows me where he's looking and the gun's flashlight tells me which way he's aiming. Neither of them are facing me though, which is nice. Though he only has to turn 90 degrees to the right and I'll be lit up like a convict in a search light. I'm safe in the shadows, but only until they take my shadows away.

I do have one last trick up my sleeve though: the guard I killed was carrying a shotgun, and unlike the rifle, these things don't have DNA protection. I just need to figure out where he's standing and...

Uh... WHAT? But I was escaping! I had a gun and I was kicking ass!

Rise and shine, Mr Riddick, rise and shine. Wake up and smell the fact that it was ALL A DREAM! A dream inside of a flashback. So Riddick is still on the transport to Butcher Bay, Johns is still alive and well, I don't actually have a shotgun, and that cigarette packet I found... actually still counts as being found in my collectables list. I guess some things transcend the boundaries of reality.

By the way, Riddick and Johns are both voiced by their respective actors from the films, and they're really underplaying their roles. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as Vin Diesel knows exactly how to Riddick at this point. Cole Hauser on the other hand sounds like he's just getting the lines out of the way so he can go to bed, and I'm sure a lot of that is due to the fact that the realtime polygon head lip-synced with his words isn't capable of conveying the subtly of his performance. The motion capture's pretty good though, especially considering the actors had nothing to do with it.

Well it's certainly nice to be back in Quake II again. So here's Butcher Bay then, the real Butcher Bay. Honestly I'm kind of disappointed that it's exactly as it was in Riddick's dream, despite the fact that he's never been here. Bit of a missed opportunity there I reckon.

The two of them meet with the warden, Hoxie, and his entourage of elite guards, and Johns starts to negotiate his price for bringing in Riddick. He even threatens to take him somewhere else, as apparently these maximum security space prisons are fighting over the higher value bounties like Riddick. It seems that Hoxie is either going to get a lot of money or a lot of prestige with our hero as a guest in his establishment, and he's adamant that he's not going to leave here. Not ever.

Well probably not ever. As far as I know we still haven't learned what Riddick's original crime was or how much time he's got left to serve on his sentence.


Wow, Barber, there's a service that Riddick's in no danger of needing for a while.

Barber here actually just wants to let me know that a guy in the courtyard has been talking like he knows me. Apparently he's over by the Pit, so I suppose I'll just freely wander the hallways of this maximum security prison until I find where that is.


Nice skybox. I'm not so sure I like all these cameras staring at me though. They're just waiting for me to attack a mission critical NPC so they can gun me down with their turrets.

Well this definitely looks like a courtyard and there's the Pit over there in the middle, so one of these four NPCs must be the guy talking about me.

Whoa, I recognise that voice. I think this guy's Bucho from 'Desperado'! Also the villain in 'Fast Five' (and a season of '24' now that I think of it).

Mattsson here quickly clears up the misunderstanding. He just heard I was coming and wanted to help me get a shiv, because he's just a nice guy. Well he seems a panicky and trustworthy type, and I like the way his shadow looks like it has bunny ears, so I'll go down to his bunk and pick this free shiv up. Not that I have much choice.

Hang on, he never told me which bunk was his.

Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay missions menu
Well at least my journal knows where I'm meant to be going. Those other jobs in the list are things I've picked up by chatting to the other prisoners.

A guy in the courtyard called Haley said he'll help me out if I kill Rust, and a man in the cells named Waman wants me to kill some other bloke called Molina. Personally I'm thinking I should learn a bit more about these people before I decide who to use my new shiv on. Riddick may come off as a cross between Hannibal Lector and a grizzly bear, but he tends not to kill people unless they're really asking for it.

Crap, Mattsson's free shiv offer turned out to be a cunning trap! Either that or these two are just mad that I get to wear my own outfit instead of getting prison clothes like the rest of them. Fortunately I've already been through an easy tutorial fight in the dream sequence so I know what I'm doing here. Kind of.

Basically holding right mouse button lets me block anything they're throwing at me, while pressing left mouse button will send my fist directly at the guy I'm closest to. I can throw different kinds of punches by pulling in a direction while hitting the button and they'll never miss, though I'm not locked into any kind of brawling mode right now. I'm free to ignore these two and run around the room, but the door's kinda locked and they're coming after me relentlessly, so I should really deal with the problem at hand. Fortunately they only attack me one at a time (on normal difficulty) so I don't have to worry so much about what the other's doing until they switch places.

Also they turn into ragdolls when I land the killing punch and fly backwards. And yeah, it is a killing punch, they ain't ever getting up from that beat down.


Well, this is awkward.

I returned to have a chat with Mattsson and discovered that it was actually gang leader Rust who wanted Riddick dead, and the poor terrified goon was only too happy to bring a shiv around to my cell later. But as soon as Riddick got his hands on the weapon, Rust himself strolled by to explain that he's the biggest badass around here and the shiv belongs to him. And it turns out he's played by Steve Blum!

Riddick tried to calmly explain how the concept of ownership works, but it just wasn't sinking in, and he eventually found himself holding a pointy metal rod up to Rust's eye socket just as Xzibit showed up at the door with a gun. Man, the cast in this game is awesome.

Xzibit's playing Abbott, the warden's second in command and Rust's guardian angel. Rust runs the Aquila Majors gang (the one's who've been putting AQ on all the walls) and Abbott uses him to keep the inmates under control, so he'd very much appreciate it if Riddick would let the guy go and hand over the shiv. Rust breaks Mattsson's finger to make a point after he gets what he wants and the two leave.

I'm probably making this sound really grimdark and miserable, but that's not really the tone of it. It strays closer to black comedy at times and I can tell the team was having fun with it.

Escape from Butcher Bay                     |                              Doom 3           
Escape from Butcher Bay's visuals are reminding me so much of Doom 3 right now, so I grabbed a shot to compare the two. I was honestly expecting Butcher Bay to come off looking worse, seeing as it's a couple of months older and everyone knows that Doom 3 had revolutionary graphics for its time, but to me Butcher Bay has the edge here. Riddick doesn't have a seam running down the middle of his face for one thing.

Doom 3 does have the advantage of anti-aliasing, but Butcher Bay has actual self-shadowing on its models! With soft shadows! It's showing up the game famous for its revolutionary real-time lighting here. To be fair though I am playing the PC version released four months after Doom 3, with its slightly enhanced shaders.

Also, it's so weird seeing Riddick with regular brown eyes. He need to hurry up and get that fixed. And escape, obviously.

Click this link to see if I can get either of those things done in the next hour or so of gameplay: Part two.

Semi-Random Game Box