Chances are you’re well aware of the Riddick universe. If not from the classic Xbox title Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, then the films starring self confessed video game addict Vin Diesel.
Athena packs in two games in one. Not only is there a brand new tale for Riddick to gruffly mutter his way through, but a remake of the aforementioned Xbox classic released 5 years ago which attained numerous high scores and awards for its terrific blend of stealth and action.
For those of you that have somehow managed to miss every avenue of the series thus far, Riddick is the absolute anti-hero. He’s wickedly aggressive, lacks remorse, and utters the kind of threats that could chill the blood of any self professed "tough guy".
Butcher Bay remains a fully fledged classic. As Riddick, you find yourself dumped in one of the most widely regarded prisons available. And as you aim to ultimately escape, you’ll take part in a terrific blend of traditional RPG style chatter, hectic gunplay, sneaky stealth-based action as you keep to the shadows – utilising Riddick’s unique ability to see in the dark – and horrifyingly brutal hand-to-hand combat.
It's to the game's credit that even 5 years on with little more than a fresh lick of paint it remains as a true thoroughbred. The balance of action and stealth still stands tall as one of the very best ever created, and the very few changes – one of which trims down a section of the original which caused us no end of irritation – only help nudge things up a level. Admittedly some textures do appear a touch blocky and aging, but the gameplay remains fully fledged brilliance.
Dark Athena unsurprisingly takes the base of the original and refuses to budge particularly far from what’s proven to be a winning formula. At least initially. Again in the guise of Riddick you’ll be tasked with chatting the various folk you stumble across, first on the titular ship, and secondly on a doomed colony planet, and giving a thorough thrashing to anyone who gets in your way.
Sadly things aren’t quite as tight as the original. The first few hours descend into the kind of fetch and carry missions you usually only find in sandbox titles, and while the same framework as Butcher Bay helps make this tedious opening head towards the enjoyable end of the scale, you can't but feel a little disappointed after Butcher Bay.
Similarly, balance doesn’t seem to be quite as important in the developer's minds this time around. Where before you had a good choice between brute force or sneaky stealthing, a large portion of the game forces you down one or the other path. And like the original, the gunplay simply isn’t quite of the standard of more singular focused titles, and the game's reluctance to allow you to concentrate fully on your fists and shivs does start to become frustrating.
Things also take a downturn towards the end, as dark stealth action is almost eradicated completely. It’s not horrifyingly bad, but when you fully understand just how excellent the stealth-based sections are then you can’t help but feel a little short-changed.
Visually things are top notch. Lighting effects in particular are universally incredible, and character models – particularly when talking – look unnervingly real. The voice acting too, lead by Vin Diesel, is absolutely superb and it’s a true shame more games don’t show quite as much technical prowess.
Sadly the additional multiplayer is poor. While Pitch Black mode, which sets a group against one lone Riddick character, is a high point, the rest is dull and derivative. Plus things don’t seem to be too heavily populated, which is never a good sign.
While Butcher Bay is still an absolute classic, Dark Athena sadly doesn’t show quite as much gaming brilliance. It’s a long way from bad, but you can’t help but feel a touch disappointed.
The decision to turn to more action and less stealth is a badly made one, and it knocks down a package, which could have been universally essential, to merely recommended.