Feeling down? Work sucks? No free time? Things could be worse. You could be in a high security prison where guards carry more than batons and pepper spray and where playtime consists of fights to the death with other less than amiable inmates. Even worse, you could be in a movie tie-in game. Unfortunately for Vin Diesel, his character, Riddick, is in such a situation in the game prequel to the movie Pitch Black. Luckily for all PC gamers (and Xbox owners before them), Riddick re-writes the rule book on movie licensed games.
First person shooters are hardly in short supply on the PC. The platform is home to the best the genre has to offer and has recently seen what is set to be the game of the year, Half-Life 2. It would be easy to brush Riddick off as another console to PC port that isn't worth your time, but that would be a mistake. Riddick is one of the best PC action games this year, and this Developer's cut offers PC gamers some exclusive features. The plot is simple, escape from Butcher Bay high security prison. As you may expect, this isn't an easy thing to do.
'The sparingly used lighting plays a key part in creating a genuinely foreboding environment'
Technically the game uses all the current buzzwords in the industry to create a look that can compete with the recent PC big hitters, but it's the games moody atmosphere that stands out. The sparingly used lighting plays a key part in creating a genuinely foreboding environment to play in. Gangs hang out menacingly and other inmates go about their business, creating a believable working prison; each inmate has his own personality and look. Riddick himself casts shadows on the environment and is modelled with a brilliant likeness, shown off when the camera switches to a third person view for certain actions, such as ladder climbing and recharging health.
The on screen HUD is minimal with only a health bar (which uses a recharge mechanism similar to that of Halo) appearing on screen. This lack of information that has become almost mandatory in a videogame makes for a very involving experience. Much like Namco's Breakdown, combat is not limited to guns. Riddick has a very well implemented hand-to-hand combat mechanism that is more than just a gimmick. A lot of the game is played without Riddick carrying a weapon. Punches are thrown and blocks are made with ease, making hand-to-hand combat more than just a gimmick plastered on the back of the box. Good timing can result in some impressive combo's and when taking on an armed guard you can pull off some wonderfully brutal disarm manoeuvres.
Using weapons is equally as satisfying. There is no crosshair, normally found in games of this type, just a laser sight. Targeting zones are forgiving to the player, but never make the game too simple. Fire-fights are always fun due to the enemies excellent AI; they are seen running and ducking for cover. While this is nothing new, it works well to make for some exciting shootouts. Of course, the now standard melee attack can be performed when in close quarters to an enemy, and when used at the right moment it packs a killer punch.
Anyone familiar with the Film Pitch Black will know that Riddick has the ability to see in the dark and that ability plays a major part in the game, even though you don't start the game with it. After an extremely unnerving section, battling dwellers in some underground tunnels, you learn how Riddick got his special ability and it wasn't by eating a lot of carrots. Switching into this night vision mode makes Riddick's eyes extremely sensitive to light and it is impossible to see anything if there is more than ambient lighting in the area. This vision mode looks very cool, but must be used in the right situations so you don't hamper your vision unnecessarily.
'Being the cold killer Riddick is, he loves to sneak up on people and break their necks'
Seeing as you are trying to escape, Riddick must lay low, so stealth occasionally plays an important part to the gameplay. Crouching will put you in stealth mode; if you are hidden from view the screen will take a blue tint and distort slightly. You can move around like this unseen from guards. This works well, but there are moments where you think a guard should have seen you, but just walks straight past. It is a minor flaw and never hurts the gameplay enough to detract from the game, but seems a little unrealistic. Being the cold killer Riddick is, he loves to sneak up on people and break their necks; this move is very satisfying and is the best way to kill enemies when bullets are scarce or when you have to try and remain unnoticed. Killing a guard in the patrol path of another isn't a wise move. The dead body will alert him and the alarm will be raised, creating a very difficult situation for Riddick. Riddick can drag bodies around and placing them in dark corners or behind crates is the best course of action.
Matching the games stunning visuals is the equally good soundtrack. It could have come straight from a Hollywood movie and fits with the mood of the game perfectly. Voice acting is top notch with all characters in the game giving good performances; Vin Diesel in particular is excellent, delivering his lines with a tone perfectly suited to a cold blooded killer. Sound effects are also excellent and pack a punch suitable for the visceral onscreen action. It should be no surprise in a game this violent, but there is a liberal amount of swearing in the game. Make no mistake, this is a game for a mature audience.
It is hard to criticise a game so lovingly created as this, but there are a few little blemishes. The game is a great experience, but it is a short one, even with the newly added section to the PC version of the game. While some would argue that a ten to twelve hour game is too short to warrant a purchase, the quality is high throughout and is much more enjoyable than a game padded out by mediocre tedious areas added to lengthen a game. The developers have added some reason to play through the game, with the newly added developer's commentary providing the biggest reason to do so. Commentary tracks appear as floating objects throughout the game, meaning you can listen to as many as you want while you play through the game, should you choose to do so. It really is a great and original feature that will surely be copied in future high profile releases. Cigarette packets can also be collected to open extras about the games development, which is a nice touch, but not as entertaining as the commentary mode.
The lack of a multiplayer mode is disappointing, but as the game was always intended to purely be a single player game it would be unfair to criticise. While the game looks stunning, some of the character models have noticeable seems and the game can bog down, even on a high-end machine.
Riddick is a game that will be passed over by many gamers, expecting it to offer nothing more than under-par console FPS action. While the game is a console port and pretty short, it is an experience to remember and the additions made to the PC version make it a worthwhile purchase for any serious FPS fan.