When presented with the choice of two games, 2004's Escape from Butcher Bay and 2009's Assault on Dark Athena, only one thing ran through our mind: how has it been five years since Riddick dazzled on the Xbox? At the time Starbreeze's first-person action game was a technical marvel, doing things with the Xbox that didn't seem possible. It also proved to be a highly entertaining game that managed to mix stealth, gun-play and melee combat more successfully than any game in recent memory. Bringing it and a full-length follow-up to next-gen platforms and PC in the shape of The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena seemed like a very good idea, and we haven't been disappointed.
The two games act as prequels to the surprisingly good movie Pitch Black, once again starring Hollywood hard man Vin Diesel as Riddick. As the titles of the games suggest, Escape from Butcher Bay sees you trying to get out of the high security prison, whereas Assault on Dark Athena picks up where that left off and tasks you with getting off a - you guessed it - high security space ship. The two games share many gameplay similarities, but Dark Athena probably has a slight edge in terms of action, if not in overall quality.
The on screen HUD is minimal with only a health bar (which uses a recharge mechanism similar to that seen in almost every FPS released since Halo) appearing on screen. Lose a block of health completely and you'll only get this back at health stations, but get to cover while that block is still visible and it'll replenish while you're stood still. It's a neat system that mixes the modern approach with a more old-school health pack system.
Riddick has a very well implemented hand-to-hand combat system that the entire game is built around - Dark Athena isn't quite so reliant on fists, but the option to go in for up close and personal kills is still there and by far the most satisfying option. 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 combos and you can pull off some wonderfully brutal disarm manoeuvres - Riddick isn't against brutally stabbing someone in the armpit if you time a counter well enough.
Using weapons is equally as satisfying and the controls can be tweaked extensively so they're to your liking. By default targeting zones are forgiving to the player, with a hefty auto aim assist in place, but seeing as gun-play isn't the focus of the game this works rather well. While the enemy AI isn't quite as impressive as it was in 2004 (even with some improvements) they put up a good fight on all but the easiest difficulty setting. Dark Athena introduces a stun gun fairly early on, which freezes enemies on the spot just long enough for you to go in and stab a knife through their skull, but given the more frequent enemy heavy situations it was ultimately a wise decision.
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 Escape from Butcher Bay with it - seeing as Dark Athena follows on from Butcher Bay your Eye Shine ability is available from the start there. 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, meaning it's nearly impossible to see anything if there is more than ambient lighting in the area. This vision mode looks extremely cool too, but must be used in the right situations so you don't hamper your vision unnecessarily.
Both games are built around Riddick being a highly trained killer, able to skulk around in the shadows, so tight stealth mechanics were a must. Thankfully the system developed for Butcher Bay returns and seems as fresh now as it was back then. Crouching will put you in stealth mode, with the screen turning blue and distorting slightly when you're hidden from view. Riddick loves to sneak up on people and break their necks, stab them with a hairpin or slice them up with two razor sharp blades, but 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 that will more often than not end in death or an unwanted fire-fight. Riddick can drag bodies around and place them in dark corners of rooms or in unused passageways in order to remain undetected, and this mechanic comes into play frequently during Dark Athena's many light puzzle sections.
Ghost Drones make for a new enemy for Riddick to face while skulking around the dimly lit corridors of the Dark Athena. While the remote controlled soldiers are pretty easy prey, they also double as mobile cover (albeit cover that can only move backwards) and weapons. By grabbing a downed drone you're able to use its weapon to take down any surrounding enemies and to break glass (a barrier that frequently blocks your path to new areas). Riddick can also take control of these drones during the Dark Athena campaign, complete with a slightly overhauled HUD.