Film Review

The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay & Assault On Dark Athena

I’m a huge fan of the Riddick films, I love the mythology, world building, alien anatomy and general vibe, and while the film trilogy is amazing there are also all kinds of other bits of lore to be found in other arenas including comics, animated shorts and two spectacular video games that I got a chance to view entire walk-throughs on YouTube the other night. Now, these aren’t just cheap promotional ‘tie-in’ games that are rushed into production to be released alongside the film for no other purpose than cash, they are deep, important chunks of Riddick’s story with integral character beats, wonderful stories and jaw dropping set pieces all their own. They’re also great because Vin Diesel did the voice and motion capture work for Riddick, which has to be the lynchpin role of his career and he’s supported by a galaxy of star talent and cult actors in voice roles.

The first game is called Escape From Butcher Bay and it sees Riddick and his perennial bounty Hunter nemesis/best pal Johns (Cole Hauser) arrive at the titular penitentiary, a grim institution lorded over by preening Germanic warden Hoxie (Dwight Schultz) and brutally kept in check by his corrupt head guard Abbott (rapper Xzibit). It’s here that Riddick must fight his way through hordes of feral inmates and descend deep into the bowels of the prison to find a way out and discover pieces of his mysterious identity. He participates in a gruesome fight club run by Centurion (Michael Rooker), fights alongside exiled gang kingpin Jagger Valence (Ron Perlman) and runs afoul of many other creeps voiced by awesome folks like Tony Plana, the late William Morgan Sheppard, Stephen McHattie and Joaquim De Almeida. Deep in the heart of the facility he encounters half undead deformities and meets a shadowy subterranean prophet called Pope Joe (Willis Burkes) who operates on him and first gives him his ‘sight in the darkness’ eyes. Along with these eyes come haunting visions where Furyan spirit Shirah (Kristen Lehman) speaks out to him from his ancestral past and guides his eventual path towards destiny that we see unfold in the films.

The second game is called Assault On Dark Athena and while not as mythologically rich as Butcher Bay it has the advantage of being made a few years later and so the graphics, cutscenes, fighting styles and visual aesthetics are far more polished and impressive. It picks up right where the other left off, as Riddick and Johns approach a mammoth slave ship ruled by aggressive tyrant Revas (Michelle Forbes), where he must fight and outwit his way to find intel and weaponry deep within the giant floating prison. He’s aided by former military man turned inmate Dacher (Lance Henriksen, superb) and he forges a deep bond with a little orphaned girl roaming the craft, a relationship that reminded me very much of Ripley and Newt from Aliens and provides Riddick’s arc with pathos and poignancy. I can’t speak for the actual gameplay, controls or anything on the ‘hands on’ aspects of these games as I essentially watched them as you would a movie, but in that sense they are absolutely terrific stories and more than essential to the Riddick canon and lore. Spectacularly violent, gory and hard-R like these stories were always meant to be, a beautiful fusion of poetic deep space atmosphere and kinda steampunk/mecha/convicts in space aesthetics and a wonderful pair of expansion stories on Riddick’s exciting, moving, imaginative, immersive and artistically spellbinding voyage through galaxies to find his identity, history and change the course of the universe’s future. Highly recommended, whether you want to get an old console and play them as games or hop on over to YouTube and view them as films.

-Nate Hill

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