The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay – Second Opinion

I hate to be the one to rain on Mike's parade—OK, actually I don't mind at all—but calling this game "the biggest surprise of this generation of gaming" and a "flawlessly executed adventure" is a little excessive. And before I go any further, let's get one thing straight: for the last time, the movie Pitch Black is overrated—vastly overrated. Please make a note of this.

At E3 this year, during my tour of the Universal-Vivendi booth, I was introduced to one of the producers of the The Chronicles of Riddick. I'm embarrassed to admit that I barely listened to the guy. I didn't even bother making any notes during our conversation, because in my obviously prejudiced opinion, any game based on a semi-obscure science fiction movie starring Vin Diesel frankly wasn't worth noting.

But everything that Mike notes as great in the The Chronicles of Riddick—the graphics, the dialogue delivery, the level design, and so forth—is indeed great. The game does show evidence of a surprising amount of craft, which is shocking, considering this is supposed to be nothing more than a throwaway movie tie-in. I honestly don't think I've ever quite expected so little from a game and gotten so much in return. Yet, that doesn't mean there aren't a few chinks in the armor worth poking at…

I wouldn't use the words "wonderfully intuitive" to describe the game's first-person hand-to-hand combat system. During my scraps with inmates and guards, my strategy was usually this: 1. pull right trigger as fast as I possibly could, and 2. keep pulling until my opponent was KOed. This approach got me through 95-percent of my fist fights. I've also heard gamers say—not you, Mike—that the first-person fisticuffs in the game is remarkably better than it was in Namco's Breakdown. It's not. I've played both games, so trust me when I tell you that, yes, it is indeed better, but only marginally so.

Another sore point: whenever I peppered guards with gun fire, instead of cowering or staggering or reacting in any way, many of them simply stood their ground, as if enjoying a pleasant summer breeze instead of a hail of hot lead. Indeed, unless I hit them with direct headshots, there seemed to be a subtle disconnect between my bullets and their bodies, which only makes the portions of the game where I actually did have a gun (and there aren't many) feel chaotic and messy, and therefore less gratifying. While sniping from a distance with the pistol is certainly much more rewarding, I wouldn't call the shooting segments of the game "first-rate," not by a longshot. Nor is the artificial intelligence of the guards anything remarkable. Sure, the guards sought cover and flanked me like well-trained Marines, but on more than one occasion, I watched as a knuckle-headed guard inadvertently walked into the line of fire of another guard, getting himself killed in the process. During fire fights, if I had the space to maneuver, I figured out that if I simply circled my enemies, I could often trick them into shooting one another.

And those reversal moves, those moments when I was able to turn the tables on a guard and force-feed him his own gun—supposedly executed by a "well-time button press," as Mike says—are still something of a mystery to me. Sure, I managed to pull them off, but it almost always felt like luck more than skill. "Well-timed," I guess, means "keep pushing the button until it works." Toss in intrusive, laggy load screens—the loading graphic is nice to look at, but after my tenth hour of gameplay, I was fairly sick of it—and some seriously pixellated cut scenes, cut scenes that for some reason look far worse than the actual in-game graphics—and no, the words "flawlessly executed adventure" and "sheer perfection" don't come to mind for me.

I concede that the final third of the game, after all the hours spent backtracking and petty errand-running, did pay off. The pace picks up considerably during the last levels, and a plot twist-no point in revealing it here—had me sitting on the edge of my couch in broad daylight and practically jumping out of my skin at anything that moved in the shadows. There's even a tasty little denouement at the end of the game, a brief, final level that feels sort of tacked on at first, but in my opinion is a fine way to close the show.

It's fairly obvious by now that I have no love for Vin Diesel or his wife-beater-wearing Riddick character. In fact, the content of The Chronicles of Riddick is probably the game's single biggest handicap and most unforgiveable flaw. No, the game isn't a "masterpiece," not by a longshot, but the simple fact that I kept playing it all the way through to the end, despite the unappealing content, stands as a testament to the game's above-average quality. Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.