Publisher: Atari SA, Tigon Studios
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Release Date: 04/07/2009
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Escape from Butcher Bay was a revolutionary game for its time with dark and gritty visuals, a dieselpunk atmosphere, and interesting characters. It was also a technical marvel that only a few games achieved at the time. Assault on Dark Athena would be, of course, a highly anticipated sequel with next-generation technology. You play as Riddick once again trying to escape another hell hole known as Dark Athena which is a renegade merc ship holding Riddick prisoner and using dead bodies as drones.
Surprisingly, and right off the bat, this is almost exactly the same as Butcher Bay in every way shape and form. That’s not completely bad, but it makes the game feel very dated and gets held back by Butcher Bay’s problems. This almost feels like an expansion rather than a sequel and is released 5 years after the first game, it really shows its age. For starters, the same animations, models, weapons, and overall gameplay is almost just a slight upgrade over the last game, and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two. The weapons still fire really inaccurately, the AI is still awful, and the game is overly linear.
Sadly, some of the best parts about Butcher Bay, are absent such as the areas where you get to talk to people and soak in the atmosphere and interesting characters. The entire game focuses solely on Riddick and his nemesis, Reyas, who gets little screen time. Even the opening isn’t as interesting or cinematic as the first game, and to be honest, there’s even less stealth required in this game. This is due to getting a new weapon known as the SCAR that shoots detonatable percussive blobs so the game rides the last half on this weapon. There were only a few stealth areas that were mandatory to keep from dying. It’s mostly running and gunning and a lot more climbing and platforming.
That’s not necessarily bad, but the pacing is a little more off, but another trade-off is you’re not stuck on the cramped Dark Athena ship the entire time. You end up crash landing on the planet below and get to explore some outdoor environments, but again, completely void of life. I feel like this game could be so much more and really holds itself back. There’s a lot of lore, backstory, and interesting things that could be shown. Outside of shooting the melee combat is exactly the same with a new edition of the UK’s which are badass knives, but aren’t used much after the first half of the game.
Visually, the game looks decent but looked dated even when it was released as it was using a dated engine. The shadows look great, and there are some new effects for PC such as better anti-aliasing, SSAO, and high-res textures, but even when it was released it didn’t punish PCs too much. The voice acting is once again astounding, but there are a lot fewer characters here and it’s sad to have even fewer cutscenes than the last game. The ending is also really stupid with no resolution, and the entire game refuses to build on the character of Riddick and his purpose to even exist.
Overall, Assault on Dark Athena is a fun sequel to a game with many flaws that transferred over, but the sum of its parts is an enjoyable 6-hour experience that’s probably quite forgettable. Its prequel is much more memorable, and Dark Athena focuses too much on tired gameplay and less on building on top of an already great sci-fi world and character.