Crawling through tight steel airducts, hesitating every time I hear a guard's voice, I feel like I did when I was escaping prison-hunted, fearful and sneaking in order to stay alive. But when I'm in a dark room with the mercenaries piloting this ship, who stand unaware as I creep up behind them with my knives poised to open their throats, I remember that I'm a hunter-one of the galaxy's greatest monsters.
Like the Metal Gear Solid games, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a hybrid game of action and stealth. Killing and hiding alternate seamlessly as I guide Riddick, the shaved-headed hero voiced by Vin Diesel, as he attempts to elude-and eliminate-the mercenaries who captured him after he escaped his last adventure.
For those of you who are keeping track, the Riddick storyline starts with the 2004 Xbox game Escape from Butcher Bay, then progresses to the 2000 film Pitch Black before switching to animation in 2004's direct-to-DVD Dark Fury, culminating in that year's live-action film The Chronicles of Riddick. The newest addition to that tangled chronology, 2009's Assault on Dark Athena, lands sometime between the first game and the first movie.
Clearly we're dealing with a 21st-Century narrative. Vin Diesel, who performs in the whole franchise and has produced much of its content, has carefully managed the role that made him a star, lending his voice and image to each part of the series. The result is one of the most coherent science fiction stories ever rendered in multimedia.
In much the way that George Lucas created an entire line of interactive devices-called "toys"-to promote and enhance Star Wars, Diesel has figured out a way to let audiences take the destiny of Riddick into their own hands. The games not only round out the story of Riddick, but also let players become him-a predator with night-vision eyes who stays perpetually on the sought-out end of intergalactic manhunts.
The game is full of dark, echoing rooms perfect for creeping through. Boxes and beams create plenty of shadowy corners for hiding the bodies Riddick tends to leave behind. And even though the games sport firearms, Riddick's covert style puts the emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. In Dark Athena, encounters can become either stealthy slaughters or frantic firefights. It all depends on whether I'm hunting or being hunted.
THE GOOD: Assault on Dark Athena is accompanied by a remastered version of Escape from Butcher Bay-one of the best movie videogames ever created and one of the original Xbox's greatest titles. It's an important part of the series' overall story, and its escape-from-prison scenario is more plausible than most games' flimsy justify-the-action plotlines.
THE BAD: Despite its smooth integration into the franchise, Assault on Dark Athena is an incidental episode that feels a little more like a spinoff than the other parts of the Riddick chronicles.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Two games-one brilliant, the other bright-with one great big story to tell.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena ★★★★✩
Rated Mature; 360, PS3, PC