Last year really was the year of Half-Life 2. Whether it was the controversies, the massive delay, the technology or just plain everyone wanting it as soon as humanly possible, it really was worth the massive wait. However every so often there is a game that comes along which just comes out of no where and really shows what can be done by perhaps lesser known developers. Riddick did exactly that on the Xbox, with some of the finest gameplay and graphics you will ever see on that machine. Now it's the PC's turn to get this masterpiece, and the Half-Life 2 comments become very relevant, because if HL2 was the hyped up game of the year, this was the best sleeper of 2004.
In an interesting move, the game is actually a prequel to the 2004 film. Basically if you play this game then see the film you will have a greater appreciation of the universe in which Riddick resides. The game revolves around Riddick's escape from a high security prison, Butcher Bay, and while in concept that may sound a little bland, the developers have managed to put together some decent level design despite the fact it is enclosed in the one structure. As the story begins, Riddick is being sold to a prison by a bounty hunter. Riddick is not happy with this and decides he is going to escape and the whole game revolves around this task.
The game is a first person shooter, although we use the term shooter very loosely. That's because a lot of the time you will be using your fists or knives to take people out. The aim is to build yourself up as one of the more tough guys in the complex, so beginning from the bottom of the food chain you slowly work your way up trying to get information to escape, thus sometimes resulting in fist fights. Of course being a prison it's not going to be easy and some of the superb game mechanics that the developers have included really enhance the game. It is this detail which immerses you into the game so much, detail such as DNA codes on the enemy weapons. This is the main task of the first few missions; get Riddick's DNA into the system so he can pick guns up. It may not sound like much but in the context of storytelling it's one of the most memorable aspects and really shows the lengths the developers went to.
Riddick is not a run and gun game. It is an adventure game with first person shooting elements. A lot of the time you will have to find out information to progress rather than just shoot everyone and move to the next level. For instance getting a shiv to keep yourself armed. There are some stealth elements to the game and again the depth shines through here. There is two 'modes' for Riddick to be in; action and stealth. When in stealth mode, weapons can not be used and Riddick moves slowly while crouched. The game gives an indication whether he can be seen or not, a blue tinge is on the screen when he is hidden and in a nod to another fantastic game, you can shoot the lights out to confuse enemies and move undetected. You may need a guide at times to find where to go.
One thing which did puzzle us about the game is the structure. There are different security areas in the complex each with different rules. In the top level almost anything goes; you can get into fist fights without the long arm of the law giving you a hard time but further down you can't even touch characters without getting in trouble. The confusion comes from being able to use guns and then not being able to because of the DNA technology again. The storyline is not confusing, just the fact that the developers force you to go back to hand to hand. Obviously they may have wanted to showcase the sublime hand to hand combat feature, but forcing players to do it again only leads to confusion and anger in our book. On another note, you also get to control mechwarrior style contraptions later in the game giving another dimension to the already superb gameplay.
One of the finest aspects of the game is the engine and graphics it is built on. Although the developers were somewhat restricted in terms of environment due to the same location being used throughout, the graphics are some of the best seen, porting over from the Xbox quite well. This is a game that is going to show you why that graphic card cost so much money and why it was worth it. It is also a game that is going to make old pc's chug like a steam train. One of the most interesting features however is the ability to use various shader technologies showcasing how far graphics have come. Once you see how good the Pixel Shader 2.0 looks, you won't want to see the bland and dull textures from the other options, no matter how slow it may run. One of the most interesting features for the graphics is Vin Diesel. The man who plays Riddick in the movie, plays him in the game right down to a complete likeness being represented in the game and his own voice acting. He does a stellar job and adds a great deal of authenticity to the title.
When the story is finished, the gane doesn't end there. It unlocks a new option for PC users, where as you play the game, commentary runs giving you some background information about what the developers did and why. This is a great feature and along with this videos include various levels of development giving you a true insight into how far the game has come since it was first proposed to Vivendi. These videos give a really good view of how the game was made and it would be nice to see more developers doing this type of thing as bonus unlockables.
When all this is put together it adds up to one of the finest PC games you're likely to play. Starbreeze Studios have really pulled off a massive effort with this game and the new additions from the Xbox give it even more replay value. For the PC gamers out there who like a great story, intense action and varied gameplay, Chronicles of Riddick will really get you going, allowing it to go down as one of the best examples of a game which paired stealth, hand to hand and action in first person gameplay and passed with flying colours.