Today sees the release of Raven Software’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Watching a promotional interview with some of the Raven staff, one developer suggested that Wolverine might be “the movie game that finally, does not suck“.
Finally? What a tired argument. While there has been a swathe of lazy, rushed licensed tie-ins, there are still many precedents for the “decent movie game” – and somewhere near the top of that list should be Starbreeze’s The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay; a game, coincidentally, that’s forming the bulk of my gaming line-up this weekend.
Released for the original Xbox in 2004, it was long a source of annoyance to me that Riddick never made it onto the 360’s backwards compatibility list. The reason for its absence was, we were told, because there was a 360 remake impending. It’s taken a while, but the recently released Assault On Dark Athena combines an all-new single-player game with that hi-def Butcher Bay remake.
Rather than wrap a first-person stealth game around the confines of a movie plot, Starbreeze set out on the right foot by building a new installment of Riddick’s adventures, acting as a prequel to Pitch Black, and existing as a canon entry to the universe. The result was a game that managed to deliver a compelling narrative, but one that was ideally suited for a 12-hour videogame, rather than a two-hour movie: the tale of Riddick’s initial escape from prison, told as a first-person stealth game that erupts into bursts of frenetic violence.
Forget solidity of world: Starbreeze’s games are all about solidity of characterisation. From the measured, terse voice acting from Vin Diesel, to the omninpresent shadow on the floor – those distinctive, thickset shoulders, hunched and ready to strike – the game is all about delivering on a sensation of being a character. That solidity of characterisation extends to the supporting cast, too. Many games have hired spectacular voice casts, but the Riddick games managed to get great performances out of their actors, too.
It’s in the first-person combat that the full realisation of Vin Diesel’s character really emerges. First-person melee combat has always been a challenge for game developers, and so many attempts have ended up in complex interfaces or floaty, impact-less punching. Riddick’s melee is still one of the best examples, trumping even the Condemned games’ mannequin-beating and tramp-battering. It has a real heft to it, and despite the swiftness of the blows there’s a slow, inevitable rhythm to every fight.
Riddick’s hands aren’t just terrifying weapons for his foes; they’re deeply unsettling for the player as well. I’m always taken aback by the brutality contained in them. The ferocious counterattacks that end fights in a second are always a notch more than I’m expecting; as I watch the arms that extend from my viewpoint force a guard’s gun into his mouth, or drop an elbow into an inmate’s face, you’re constantly reminded that you’re not just any pair of disembodied hands, or another generic space marine; you really are Riddick. It achieves what every licensed game sets out to: placing you, the player, front-and-centre in an already-defined universe. It is, in every sense of the words, a genuine role-playing experience.
So that’s my weekend sorted: a return to Butcher Bay, along with a trip back to Azeroth, a digression into the wonderful Windosill (recently covered on Offworld) and perhaps a jaunt through a Left 4 Dead campaign. If a bit of first-person brawling isn’t up your street this weekend, perhaps you’ll be checking out this week’s big re-release – the Live Arcade port of stompy-mecha-beat-em-up Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram. Or, maybe, you’ll be doing something totally different.
What does this weekend have in store for you, Offworlders?