Return to Butcher Bay
While the story for Dark Athena
might be a straight-up extension of the original game, though this time ditching the subtlety a little by separating Riddick from his fellow prisoners physically as well as emotionally, the gameplay is a wholly different affair.
The speed of the game has, to put it bluntly, been ramped up an awful lot and this has heavily impacted on the role that stealth plays in the game – which is minimal. The first game was all about pushing guards off of things and snapping their necks, but you’ll get just as far in Dark Athena
if you tackle things head-on and charge in heedless.
Not that you’ll have much choice about the matter either as, rather than focusing on evasion and quick-kills, many of the encounters are now about standing off against three or four men with bats who know exactly where you are from the moment you enter the room.
Again, Dark Athena starts with a weird, dream-based tutorial
That’s not to say that there aren’t any stealthy sections to the game, just that they’ve been dumbed down a fair bit. The sneaky areas are now more along the lines of ‘avoid the pointless, roaming searchlight as you climb the stack of crates and periodically hide at illogical, preset points.' It sometimes feels like the automated drones who walk preset paths around the crate-littered rooms aren’t a clever story point but just a way to excuse the developer from thinking up something original and new again.
Not that the drones are all bad though, as they do have a few interesting quirks of their own. The basic security force for the station the robots are actually built from old prisoners and victims of the crew and can be piloted remotely by the pirates, which means you always want to be wary of. An auto-piloted drone is an easy foe to take down despite the machine gun built into its arm, but pissing one off might provoke a pirate to take the wheel and suddenly the drone becomes much more adept at finding and killing you.
Wily players will find the drones handy as weapons too as, though you for some reason can’t cut the surgically grafted rifles from them, you can pick up the drone as a whole and use the gun that way. It limits you to only walking backwards (and slowly at that), but it is handy as an ad-hoc turret. Unfortunately for anyone hoping for a challenge though, it also means that you only need to kill one drone, take his gun and just wait for the others to fall into a predictable line.
Punctuating the standard run of pseudo-stealth and combat are a few reprieves in the gameplay, like stopping to question prisoners to get hints and extra information. Just like in the first game there are still loads of collectables to gather for unlockable concept art, videos and the like. This time around you’re not collecting cigarette packets though, but bounty cards left behind by the pirates before they turned rogue.
The second main addition to the game play is the new multiplayer mode which, unfortunately, feels a bit at odds with the rest of the game. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a welcome addition to the title, but we can’t help but feel that it’s a little out of place. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag games built around a buy-based inventory system just don’t sit flush with the rest of the game.
That said, there are a few highlights to the game. One of the game modes, Pitch Black, is a clever take on the ideas put forward in our favourite mod, The Hidden
. One player is selected as Riddick and equipped with bare essentials, while the others are given boatloads of guns and encouraged to work as a team. The twist comes in that the entire map is set in almost complete darkness, with Riddick obviously able to see in the dark.
Again, it’s not a wholly new idea and the fast paced mode is possibly a little unbalanced too, but its fun for short bursts if you’re into that kind of thing.