Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Release Date: 06/01/2004
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There once was a time, back in the early 2000s, when first-person shooters were breaking ground and shaking the industry. Deus Ex, Half-Life, Unreal Tournament, Quake, and various other franchises were considered the “Golden Era” of FPS. The Chronicles of Riddick was one of my favorite movies growing up as a kid. Vin Diesel was a mysterious, sinister badass and the movie was oozing with character, atmosphere, and insane dieselpunk sci-fi goodness. When Butcher Bay was released I remember the movie including the Xbox demo from Blockbuster Video and I was so mad I didn’t have an Xbox or PC at the time.
Fast forward 14 years and I have finally experienced this masterpiece from two console generations ago. Riddick was a serious industry shaker at the time not only for its graphical fidelity, but for the rich atmosphere, mature content, and Vin-freakin’-Diesel. The story isn’t exactly fantastic, and it’s a short game, but the experience itself is pretty incredible and there’s no other game like it (except its sequel of course).
You play as John Riddick himself who is captured by bounty hunter Johns and taken to Butcher Bay maximum prison which is on another planet. Hoxxie, the prison warden, is the bad guy here along with creepy creatures and the guards themselves. I love the opening of this game as you are in the max-pop area and get to talk to other prisoners and complete side quests to earn currency for weapons and cigarette packs which unlock concept art. The atmosphere is amazing with dieselpunk structures, dirt, vomit, grime, and nastiness everywhere and the entire complex is dark, looming, claustrophobic, and morbid.
Don’t get too excited about hearing “side-quests” as the area is very small and it’s nothing more than talk to this guy to get that thing and bring it back to that guy so he will talk to you now to give you that thing to bring back to the last guy. There are only two areas where you can do this and it feels a bit off and forced and kind of unnecessary. There’s no character building and none of the prisoners are really fleshed out. I would rather have just walked around, talked to people, and moved on, it really just felt like extra game time tacked on, and not to mention that the quests are kind of tedious.
Once you move past the first area you go around sneaking up to guards, breaking necks, and getting into a lot of shootouts. For someone who likes the dark so much there are a lot of shooting sections and only a few sneaking areas, but those give way to problems as well. The AI can see you no matter how far away they are and it makes learning guard patrols and sneaking around successfully a pain. A lot of time I had to just shoot everyone or run away and come back. In the last third of the game, you don’t even get weapons and only a tranq gun that stuns guards with a slow reload animation, so this makes sneaking even more difficult.
The game is also ridiculously hard, I died more times than I can count and a lot of it was because of the clumsy shooting and fighting mechanics. Sure, they work and the three guns are cool and have personality, but they are so inaccurate that I had to unload a whole clip per enemy because the spread was so wide. Fighting also poses problems as you can’t really do combos and the AI’s punches are so random and doing parries is hit or miss. It all works and looks good, but it could have been cleaner and tighter.
The story isn’t really all that detailed, and Riddick’s character is barely talked about here. You learn where he gets his night vision and honestly, the whole story is really anticlimactic. There aren’t many cutscenes and I wanted more screen time with Riddick, Johns, and Hoxxie because their characters are great. Even Abbot, voiced by rapper Xzibit, is an awesome character and we stop seeing him about 1/4 through the game.
The game also looks great, and the lighting effects were unreal back in the day. I played the version on Assault on Dark Athena, so it was upgraded to that engine, but the original version needed a beefy PC and pushed the Xbox to its limits. The music kind of sucks and sounds really generic, but the sounds are awesome with fantastic voice acting and ambiance.
Overall, Escape from Butcher Bay is an FPS classic that everyone should play. The game is dark, crude, mature, and oozing with character, but it’s just sad we only get morsels for the story and on-screen time with some great characters.