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Critical Reception: Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Assault on Dark Athena, a Chronicles of Riddick sequel that "perfectly complements the film series."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Assault on Dark Athena, a Chronicles of Riddick sequel that reviews describe as "a blend of action, strategy and atmospheric tension that perfectly complements the film series." Dark Athena currently earns a score of 81 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Earnest Cavalli at Wired's Game|Life blog scores Dark Athena at 9 out of 10. "Game developers tasked with crafting a game based on a movie franchise need only look to The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena to learn how to do it right," he says. "First, capture the central theme of the film: in this case, the careful balance between high-octane action and mankind's innate fear of the dark," Cavalli instructs. "Then ensure that the characters that initially gave the film such appeal are represented by pitch-perfect simulacra within the virtual world. "Finally, load the disc with content. Athena's biggest draw is the fact that it includes an upgraded version of its predecessor, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, a 2004 sleeper hit on the original Xbox hardware that defied all the (mostly true) stereotypes about terrible games based on movies." Cavalli describes the remastered Butcher Bay as a faithful and satisfying remake. "The next-gen remake retains Butcher's Bay's cinema-quality voice acting," he writes. "Butcher Bay's gameplay didn't get mucked around with either. Once you're accustomed to the new sights and sounds of the world, playing it feels exactly like the Xbox original." "The sequel, Assault on Dark Athena, plays quite similarly," Cavalli notes. "The focus is still on using shadows and stealth to avoid firefights while knocking off unwary enemies. It's filled with tension, although the difficulty level has been taken down a bit. Dark Athena offers a good challenge, but it never becomes frustrating." Cavalli recommends a purchase, despite expressing some concern over "stale" multiplayer modes. "Even if you were to completely strip out the multi-player options, however, I'd still highly recommend Assault on Dark Athena," he says. "With a blend of action, strategy and atmospheric tension that perfectly complements the film series it's drawn from, Dark Athena sets a new standard for games based on films." GameZone's Steven Hopper rates the title at 8 out of 10. "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay was one of the unsung heroes of the original Xbox," he begins. "While a critical smash and a commercial success, it never really attained the same level of lavish praise as games like Half-Life 2 or Halo, even though it managed to be just as groundbreaking within the FPS genre in terms of storytelling, action, and ambiance." Hopper notes that fans of Escape from Butcher Bay may be disappointed by some aspects of Dark Athena. "Assault on Dark Athena is a fun addition to the original game, offering up more story elements and new gameplay for fans of the original who couldn’t get enough," Hopper assures. "However, there are some noticeable shortcomings, especially when compared to the original Riddick title." Hopper continues: "The campaign feels a lot more restrictive and linear than the original game, and while you will interact with other people on board the ship, this element of the game feels a lot more secondary than it did in the original." Hopper finds a high point in the new Pitch Black multiplayer mode. "In this mode, one player will become Riddick, while the others will have to hunt him down in a completely dark area," he describes. "While Riddick has his ability to see in the dark, the others will have to rely on flashlights to spot and take him down. The downside to being Riddick is that you don’t have access to any guns, and limited to using your Ulaks for melee combat and stealth to take out your enemies." Otherwise, Hopper maintains that Dark Athena's greatest asset is its inclusion of Butcher Bay. "The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is a solid action title that undoubtedly gets a boost by having the original classic Escape from Butcher Bay included in the package," he concludes. "However, simply off of the merits of the new campaign and multiplayer, the game wouldn’t be nearly as recommendable without it." Over at 1UP.com, Andrew Pfister gives Dark Athena a grade of B-. "Butcher Bay turned out to be an unexpected hit, standing out in a year stocked with some of the last generation's greatest games," he writes. "It still plays great, and now it looks great." "It also has the unfortunate side effect of highlighting the shortcomings of the new content," Pfister continues. "The continuation of events immediately proceeding Riddick's escape from the Butcher Bay prison, while definitely substantial enough to warrant a stand-alone product, deviate too far from what made the Butcher Bay game so great and the Riddick universe as a whole so enjoyable." Pfister notes that Dark Athena's first hour shows promise. "What ensues is a fun and promising romp through the innards of a massive spaceship," he describes. "Riddick finds a set of particularly nasty melee instruments, starts doing favors for captured prisoners, and then sneaks around in the shadows and ventilation system, slowly killing off the crew and tormenting the captain -- quality fun, just like Butcher Bay." Dark Athena's new emphasis on gunplay often spoils the mood, however. "Problems arise when guns are reintroduced into the mix, because it's then that you get the sense that Dark Athena is telling you that bullets are usually the best answer," Pfister says. "You still have opportunities to shoot out the lights and create more favorable combat conditions, but you'll be frequently funneled into situations where enemy guards are either lying in wait with itchy trigger fingers, or they're bunched together making it difficult to isolate and eliminate them one at a time." The result is an uneven mix of stealth and action. "Athena wants to take pages from both the run-n-gun and stealth design books, but the game's direction is too muddled to pull it off," Pfister writes. "Athena frequently presents situations where you expose yourself to groups of patrolling enemies, often without cover or shade, and as far as direct firefights are concerned, Riddick is outmatched." "As a product, this package is recommendable to anyone who hasn't experienced the first game, or wishes to add it back to their current library," Pfister notes in conclusion. "It also includes a surprisingly fun multiplayer suite, with the Riddick vs. Everyone Else mode 'Pitch Black' as the main attraction. But as single-player games, the unsatisfying Dark Athena should be played as a curiosity and then put back where it belongs: in Butcher Bay's shadow."

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