Earlier in the week, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena infiltrated Xbox Live with a new demo.  A followup to the widely acclaimed Escape from Butcher Bay, Starbreeze’s second Riddick Chronicle follows the soft spoken but stab-happy renegade as he stows aboard the titular Athena.  For those who prefer Chronicles of the Narnia or Spiderwick varieties, this demo won’t be of much interest (and shame on you, by the way), but if you like your Chronicles dark, stealthy, and Riddicky, read on as we take a look at the demo.

The demo drops you directly into a fight.  There’s no obligatory intro scene, dialogue panel, or tutorial; instead, the game begins with Riddick hovering above a pair of unwary mercenaries, readying his deadly space ulus for some satisfying insta-kills.  “Holy shit, these space ulus kick ass!” I exclaimed after quickly dispatching the mercenaries.  I ran into the next room and began hacking away at an armed guard, who ignored my space ulus and emptied a full clip into my face.  I guess you have to know your limits with a space ulu.

Which leads to the first (and least surprising) bullet point of the review: much like Escape from Butcher Bay, Dark Athena is a stealth combat game.  There are guns, but the demo forces you to be very judicious about how they’re applied; even when Riddick is drowning in ammo, his lack of armor and relatively low health force the player to prefer stealth kills to Commando combat.  Luckily, Riddick’s controls are pretty standard stealth stuff.  There’s a stealth mode button, an inventory wheel, and trigger-activated gun and melee controls.  There won’t be much of a learning curve here for FPS fans.  Stealth mode allows for insta-kills, which also lets Riddick use certain enemies as human shelds.

The demo pits Riddick against an army of mercenaries and fighter drones aboard the Athena, and is short.  There’s only about twelve minutes of game here.  It’s enough to get a feel for Dark Athena’s style, though, so if you’re on the fence about Chronicles and have never tried Escape from Butcher Bay, there’s definitely some value here.  The game shows off some impressive visuals, but they’re all wrapped up in the boring grey steel of the Athena’s cargo bay.  As a showcase for the followup to a shockingly beautiful game, it’s puzzling why Starbreeze would want to feature sterile wall plates and cyber-boilers over something a little more dynamic.  Vin still sounds perfect as Riddick, and the few bits of dialogue from the supporting cast didn’t disappoint. 

Even though it’s brief and visually drab, there’s a great section of the demo where Riddick hijacks a drone conrtol center, taking over the bodies of a squad of Borg-esque fighters.  It’s a neat game-within-a-game moment that had me yelling “Hey, who got something creative in my sci-fi shooter?”  Hopefully the game will feature other moments like this one, and won’t trap poor Riddick in such a boring environment for too long. 

In short: There are fun moments, so give the demo a shot, but be prepared for a short and visually uninspired ride.