If you’re not familiar with the Xbox Chronicles of Riddick game, Escape from Butcher Bay, I’ll forgive your skepticism when I say that it was one of the system’s greatest games. But it’s true… besides the still-astonishing graphics and character work, the game used a first person perspective and truly put you in the shoes of the goggled badass. An even superior version hit PC shortly after and ever since we’ve been waiting to see what else developer Starbreeze Studios had up its sleeves.

A couple of years ago it was announced that a remake of the first game was going to hit the Xbox 360, but we’ve since found out that something even better’s on the way- a completely overhauled remake of the first one along with a sequel, plus a multiplayer component. At the way this is shaping up it’s going to be the best deal since The Orange Box… especially since Butcher Bay with revamped graphics alone would have been worth a purchase.

I stepped into dark Riddick booth to try out the game and jumped into the very beginning. The portion of the game was completely finished, and might even make it into your hands as a demo. It picks up immediately where the last one left off.

The demo starts you off on a spaceship, coming out of an Alien-style sleep chamber. There’s a reason that you’ve been waken up- your ship is being captured by the titular Dark Athena, a merc ship that’s after you for some reason. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear much of the story because of some yappy fanboy that was excited about the game (and also the noise from the other monitors). Anyway, the Dark Athena pulls your ship in, but not by a tractor beam. It shoots out a massive spear attached to a tether that smashes into your ship and starts yanking it. More and more tethers smash into you until it’s all over, and you’ve been towed to the ship. But you’re more than they bargained for and are soon out free on the ship, trying to take out their soldiers.

I wish I could’ve heard more of the game on the NYCC floor, but hopefully I’ll get another chance to try it out soon. Vin Disel voices the raspy Riddick once again. Along with Mr. Glowy Eyes you’ll notice some other familiar voices, such as Lance motherfuckin’ Henrikson, who plays Dacher, a prisoner on the ship, and Michelle Forbes (Helena Cain from Battlestar Galactica) who plays the captain of the Dark Athena.
You start off in the game without a weapon, but like Butcher Bay showed us Starbreeze knows how to do hand-to-hand combat in a first person perspective, and do it perfectly. I found a couple of soldiers that were wandering around looking for me in the dark and quickly incapacitated them with a few blows. I grabbed one of their rifles and went off in hunt of more. The game is just stunningly beautiful, easily one of the best looking games I’ve seen. Your character’s body still casts shadows and really makes you feel like you’re ractually controlling the whole person (and not just a camera with hands attached to it) and it switches to third person when climbing ladders and such.

I ended up getting blasted to pieces the first playthrough because I refused to stay in the shadows, instead opting to charge at my enemies with my rifle trying to gun them all down. Big mistake. It’s all about the dark here, staying hidden and using Riddick’s night vision to take your foes out one by one. Not that there won’t be incredible weapons and moments of action, but this is a more realistic shooter.
Along the way I talked with a fellow from Atari who was repping the game (didn’t get your card, buddy, sorry!) who filled us in on all the details. He hinted at a few new modes and multiplayer features. The absolute coolest sounding multiplayer mode he mentioned has one person playing as Riddick, and all the rest as normal soldiers. The maps for this mode are purposefully made as dark as possible, and the soliders have to hunt Riddick down and kill him with the aid of their flashlights. Of course, with his night vision he thrives on the dark, and when the rep told us how much fun it was to sneak up on people and kill them before they knew it, we knew he was telling the truth.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is well on its way towards being one of the best titles of 2009.

(Thanks to all the fine folks at Atari for spending time talking to me about their games!)