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 Xbox owners, Riddick re-writes the rule book on movie licensed games.
First person shooters are hardly in short supply on the Xbox, but apart from Halo nothing has made it past the good category to be classed as a truly great game. It is a great surprise then that a game with almost no hype from developer not known for great things has turned out to be one of the Xbox games to own this year. The plot is simple, escape from Butcher Bay high security prison. As you may expect, this isn't an easy thing to do.
' a generation ahead of most current Xbox games'
Never has something so rough and brutal looked so beautiful. Technically the game uses all the current buzzwords in the industry to create a look that looks a generation ahead of most current Xbox games, 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 one with 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 with a combination of the right trigger and left analogue stick, while blocks are performed with the left trigger. 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. Firefights are always fun due to the enemies excellent AI. They are seen running for cover and ducking behind 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 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.