The Riddick franchise is an unusual beast. Originating with the anti-hero in David Twohy’s modest budget 2000 sci-fi film Pitch Black, its success was a pleasant surprise for all involved. The amoral convict Riddick was an instantly alluring character so expectations were high for the big budget The Chronicles of Riddick, slated as the first part of a trilogy. Sadly it proved grossly underwhelming and to most, myself included, it seemed the franchise would die there.
Yet in a bizarre twist of fate, it was a videogame adaptation that kept Riddick alive. Trouncing the rule that all movie-to-game adaptations are universally rubbish, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay was one of the best first-person action games of its generation. Eschewing the film’s plot it instead focused on its greatest strength, Riddick’s character, and placed him in a triple max prison from which to escape. At least in its opening hours it is the closest you can get to playing the first season of Prison Break. It kept the gameplay varied as the pace shifted between gritty melée combat, stealth sequences and larger firefights.
Above all, it nailed Riddick’s predatory movements accompanied by Vin Diesel’s unmistakable gravelly growl. Vin Diesel was clearly aware of how well the role of Riddick suited him, and he has thrown himself as fully behind the games as he has the films. He actually founded developer Tigon Studios who produced Butcher Bay with Starbreeze (sorry girls, but Vin is very much one of us geeks — he’s an avid gamer, and even used to play Dungeons & Dragons…).
And so years later, Riddick’s return is not in film but a videogame sequel. Assault on Dark Athena is a stunning looking game with some incredible digital acting: good voices coupled with very physical performances from its characters, using body language rather than merely moving lips. This aside, and much like the Chronicles film, it fails to live up to its predecessor, with generic action and highly derivative gameplay. However that is only the half the package. The real gem, and easily worth the price alone, is a full remake of the original Butcher Bay in stunning HD. That the game does not show its age at all speaks volumes about the quality of the original as much as hinting at stagnation in modern releases.
So now, at last, we have a Chronicles of Riddick trilogy. It’s definitely not the way Twohy would have envisioned it, and his film could yet surface, but it is a trilogy nonetheless. Given Riddick’s character, it seems fitting that his franchise too would take any route to survive.