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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Riddick game raises the stakes
By James Bregman
BBC News Online staff

The Chronicles of Riddick is not only one of the most satisfying movie tie-ins ever, but also perhaps the best-looking game the Xbox has yet seen.

Screenshot of Chronicles of Riddick
Riddick has to find a way out of a high security prison
It is in the firm tradition of the first-person viewed action game, but delivers infinitely more than most of the dime-a-dozen games of the genre.

The eponymous hero is the character played by Vin Diesel in the movie Pitch Black and its new sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, although the game has an original storyline and is set before both films.

Indeed, plot is not this game's important point. All you really need to know is that it is set in the future, and uber-criminal Richard Riddick has been imprisoned in Butcher Bay jail.

Butcher Bay is one truly nasty place. It is filthy, dark and run by a brutal gang of wardens who shoot dead any inmates that show the slightest sign of wanting to start a row.

They do not even bother to remove the bodies of their many victims, and the walls are perpetually bloodstained.

So Riddick can hardly be blamed for wanting out, and his efforts result in extensive running around shadowy corridors battling towards freedom.

Claustrophobic world

Much of this is pretty formulaic and uncomplicated stuff. But like Doom 3, the game relies primarily on its technical excellence to make it hugely worthwhile.

Vin Diesel plays Riddick
Vin Diesel lends his likeness and voice to the game
As well as looking amazing, the levels are very well designed with a good blend of stealthy creeping around sections and all-out gun battles.

There is nothing to stop Riddick rushing blindly at a foe, but creeping up and silently strangling them is often a wiser procedure.

It is not only the environments that are visually excellent. The animation is strong too, and it is refreshing to encounter enemies that behave in a reasonably realistic fashion.

Unlike their relatives in many games, they will not dally if they want to shoot you, but just open fire. Knock them down once and they will just stagger to their feet and keep shooting as rapidly as possible.

This adds to the intense feeling of claustrophobia. There is often nowhere to take cover in the very confined areas the game drops you in.

Diesel impact

For the early stages, Riddick has to make-do with a screwdriver, since the guards' guns are encoded only to recognise their owners' DNA. Once our hero finds a way around this, the fun really starts.

In addition to the bar-raising graphics, what really makes this game great is Vin Diesel himself.

Screenshot of Chronicles of Riddick
Format: Xbox
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10
Playability: 8/10
Enduring appeal: 8/10
Overall: 8/10
Although his digital avatar bears an unfortunate shade of resemblance to Dr Evil, it is his trademark voice, constantly muttering butch witticisms and threatening people, that makes a truly massive impact.

Riddick rarely stops talking for long, and the preposterously gravely Diesel gives it his all.

The other voice acting is also top-notch, including turns from Hellboy's Ron Perlman and even A-Team legend Dwight Schultz. That is no bad thing, since there is plenty of interaction with fellow lifers.

Here again, the game scores highly by not doing anything needlessly complicated.

Talking to people to gather information and instructions is a straightforward business, and the convincing way they react and form allegiances helps develop what storyline there is.

The use of cut scenes is unobtrusive and works well, including an oft-repeated shot of Riddick regenerating his health via a rather frightening set of injections, which is somehow just staggeringly unpleasant to behold.

Chronicles of Riddick is a pretty brutal game that does not shirk from regular splatterings of gore and violent sound effects.

But if you can stomach it, there is much to recommend in one of the best games of its type that any console has yet seen.

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