There are only two games I can think of that are better than the movie they're adapted from. One is "Goldeneye007" for the Nintendo64 and the other is "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay" for the original XBox. In fact, I think "Butcher Bay" may be the best "Riddick" story we've had in all of his "chronicles". It's the one that best establishes him as a brutal anti-hero and sadly, while "Pitch Black" also accepted that tone, it's been diminished with 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick" and now "Assault on Dark Athena". It's a good character and a far better one that Diesel's ludicrous xXx but the attempts to soften him up by protecting children and calling himself a monster like some sad emo child aren't deserving of this anti-hero.
However, after a five-year absence, it is good to see the character back as he returns via the Xbox 360 in "The Chronicles of Riddick – Assault on Dark Athena". "Dark Athena" is actually two games. The first is 2004's "Escape from Butcher Bay" and the other is the new game, "Assault on Dark Athena" which takes place after the events of "Butcher Bay" but before the events of "Pitch Black".
Despite an attempt to update the graphics for the next gen, neither game is particularly up to what we expect in terms of visuals. Everything is just a little too shiny and smooth but it's certainly not an ugly game. It's just not the cutting edge we've seen from other new games on the platform and it's not going to give your plasma screen a workout.
If you've never played "Escape from Butcher Bay" before, you are in for a treat. Even if you're not a fan of stealth action, you should really give "Butcher Bay" a shot. While there is perhaps a little too much emphasis on trial and error (even on normal difficulty, you will probably die a lot; then again, I could just be an awful gamer) there's not that sense of frustration that I feel when I'm playing a third-person stealth game like "Metal Gear Solid".* Because you're in the first-person perspective, can hear your target breathing, shot out all the lights and your enemies can't see you but you can see them because of your "eye-shine" ability, and the kills are so rewarding. The game doesn't encourage you to go through a firefight but you can…you just won't want to.
"Butcher Bay" also offers a variety of side-quests and a massive world that can almost be a bit too confusing at times. There are a nice couple of breaks where you get to jump inside a "Heavy Guard" suit which is basically a mini-mech that kills everything in its path. It is one of the best ways to relieve stress I've found in a while.
Sadly, like "Chronicles of Riddick" is inferior to "Pitch Black", so too is "Dark Athena" inferior to "Butcher Bay". "Dark Athena" isn't a bad game, but while I expected less impressive visuals for "Butcher Bay", I thought "Dark Athena" would be more impressive considering it was developed specifically for XBox 360. Its biggest sin is not only in softening Riddick's brutality (most of the bad-guys are now "drones", depriving you of precious, precious screams from jamming a shiv in their eye) but in putting a great emphasis on action than stealth. It's not as egregious as jump as say "Sands of Time" turning into "Warrior Within" and ditching all that was good in the successful game for everything that sucked in the previous game; but you'll probably be going back to "Butcher Bay" more than you do "Dark Athena".
Finally, there's the addition of multiplayer modes. You have your standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, etc. but the one that will keep you coming back is "Pitch Black" mode where only one player gets to be Riddick while everyone else is the hapless not-Riddick and only has a gun with a flashlight on it to save them. If you somehow manage to kill Riddick, then you become Riddick until someone kills you. If you suffer from hyper-tension, I recommend against playing this mode. For everyone else, dig in.
If I have one major problem with the multiplayer, it’s the inability to boot players from private games. I just want to play with friends and I don't need jack-holes boning up my game. This needs to be a standard feature in all multiplayer games.
Since it is two games in one, "The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena" is a good value but seeing as the Riddick character has declined in popularity over the years, I'm predicting that this game sees a $20 - $30 price cut within six months and this will go from being good deal to a great deal. You should pick it up but you don't need to rush out and do it right now.
Rating ----- B minus
*This may also be because I'm actually playing the game instead of watching feature-film length cut-scenes.