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.
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.
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. 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 as the dead body will alert him and he will raise the alarm. 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 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. 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 again as cigarette packets are collected to open extras about the games development, but this depends on if you are someone who must finish games completely or not. The lack of a multiplayer mode is disappointing, but as the game was always only a single player game it would be unfair to criticise. While the game looks stunning, some of the texture work is a bit rough and there are a few glitches here and there, but these problems are easily forgivable as the game visually has no match on any console.
Riddick is a game that seemingly came from nowhere, but is easily one of the best games available for the Xbox. While the game is short, it is an experience to remember and is a showcase title graphically. Had the game weighed in a little longer it would be easy to recommend as a purchase. Those of you who want a more substantial offering for your money may want to give this a miss, but it should be experience by everyone, even if it is just for a weekend.