REVIEW: Chronicles of Riddick – Escape From Butcher Bay

Personal Favorite: ESCAPE FROM BUTCHER BAY

Following the mildly successful movie Pitch Black, developer Starbreeze Studios created The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a prequel to the film which also released in 2004, The Chronicles of Riddick. The story involves Riddick, who has been taken under capture to a max prison called Butcher ChroniclesOfRiddick_XboxBoxBay, and must figure out a way to escape. It is a FPS action/stealth blend, released for the Xbox and PC. Escape from Butcher Bay had excellent sales and reviews. The game was remastered in 2009 and packaged in with its sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.

I’m a big fan of the Riddick movies. Pitch Black was not only one of my favorite and first sci-fi movies, it would probably make my top 10 favorite movies list. So back in the day when I heard there was a game being developed that was essentially a sequel to Pitch Black, I was excited. Problem was it ended up being Xbox and PC only. For a long time all I had was a PS2, then a 360. I didn’t get my own original Xbox until just a couple years ago. My first interaction with Escape from Butcher Bay was its remastered version when it came packaged with Assault on Dark Athena on 360. I loved it for many reasons, which I will get into in a sec. For this review though, I wanted to play the original version for the first time, so I can give you the honest opinions on the version of Escape from Butcher Bay that came out for the Xbox.

I found the original Xbox version of Escape from Butcher Bay to be of the same quality as the remake aside from one major issue, which I will cover first and get it out of the way: the graphics. For the time period, Escape from Butcher Bay was praised for good graphics. However its one of those games that don’t age well visually, because it attempted to be as realistic as possible, using all technology available at the time to accomplish that. We’ve come such a long way though, games like Escape from Butcher Bay now look like crap because we’ve become used to much more realistic graphics and we have more advanced TVs that reveal these flaws even more. When playing Escape from Butcher Bay there were numerous times where the screen was too dark to see enemies or surroundings, even with my TV’s gamma at max. There were numerous times that character models were noticeably blurry, edges of terrain abnormally blocky and poorly textured.

Other than that, the original version of Escape from Butcher Bay is phenomenal. It has a great blend of stealth and combat that’s on par with even Metal Gear Solid games. The voice acting is fantastic and uses the same actors from the films, with Riddick and Johns being voiced by Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser Escape-From-Butcher-Bay-2respectively. As if having Vin Diesel wasn’t enough the game also features my man Ron Pearlman and famous rapper XZibit. That helps add to the atmosphere of Escape from Butcher Bay, which is already well done with dark environments (although again, often times too dark), gritty NPCs, great narration and a plot that while not full of twists or complicated narratives, suffices to stay interesting and immersive. The cinematics are well done and help set up the story and mood properly. Escape from Butcher Bay makes good use of sound, particularly during stealth moments when you’re trying to tell how far away your prey is by the volume of their conversation or footsteps. Suspenseful background tracks blend into the narrative pretty well at a couple key moments of the story too. Controls can be clunky at brief moments but no more than most stealth games, which never feel smooth and well responsive in my opinion (until MGSV).

This was a strange review for me because I played the HD remake first, so the whole time I’m playing Escape from Butcher Bay I was having a bit harder time enjoying it because I couldn’t help but keep comparing it to its improved version. Escape from Butcher Bay is still an amazing game for its time. But if I had to suggest you to play it, I would have to suggest playing the remake that came packaged with Assault on Dark Athena (which is also a fun game). The remake helps greatly in the graphics department, to help you better appreciate the things Escape from Butcher Bay nails: immersion, setting and killer stealth action.

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REVIEW: Microsoft XBox

XBOX REVIEW

After all these hours now playing the Xbox over the last month, this review will end up being mixed. While I’ve had tons of fun playing the console, there are plenty of things I could harp on that are kinda easy to ignore when you’re in the middle of enjoying a game, but kinda hard to ignore when you’re sitting here trying to fully assess it. Take the noise for instance. The XBox at times sounds like an aircraft carrier, loud enough where its xbx controllerdefinitely distracting. Occasionally there were times where I’m really trying to hear something important in a game and the console is too loud, but the majority of the time its not loud enough to bother me much. When I’m in the middle of an intense stealth moment in Chronicles of Riddick or trying to hear a dialogue exchange in Knights of the Old Republic, the XBox is loud enough to annoy me and pull me out of the experience. The XBox also has to be the heaviest console of all-time, it feels like almost twice the weight of most other consoles I’ve reviewed so far. On top of that it is too big, taking up tons of shelf space. I also am not a fan of the white and black buttons due to their tiny size and them being nearly flush with the controller surface. This makes them really difficult to press when you need to hit them quickly. Its not very noticeable though because most games I played didn’t use them at all.

On the positive side the system is pretty powerful for its era. It was certainly the most technically impressive of the PS2/XBX/CUBE generation. The controller overall is fine, with a nice layout and ergonomic feel that would continue to be improved upon by Microsoft with each subsequent XBox model. I really like the black on black design choice of the console and controllers, the lime green power light and logo contrasts very well with it. While the XBox does share most of its best games with the PS2, let’s not forget there were several fantastic XBox exclusives: Halo, Halo 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Fable, Ninja Gaiden Black, Project Gotham Racing, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jade Empire and more. The XBox also is easily moddable to have games from all platforms, adding to its resale value and replay-ability.

Overall I did enjoy my time with XBox and would recommend it, especially if you can get your hands on a modded one. If you can get past the noise its a great system.

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HISTORY / COLLECTING: Microsoft XBox

HISTORY OF THE XBOX

In 2001 Microsoft made its first move into the console gaming market with the release of its “XBOX” console. It launched at a hefty price tag of $299.99 (which would be $401 today adjusted for inflation). The XBox was a bit more powerful than its peers (PS2 and GameCube), sporting a Pentium processor, hard disk drive and full Dolby Digital sound. Notable launch titles included Halo, Project Gotham Racing and Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. Halo of course for those of us who remember was a huge hit with the gaming community and is partly responsible for the huge influx of first person shooters on consoles over the next decade and a half. It helped propel the XBox past the GameCube into the #2 spot right behind the PS2, where it stayed for pretty much the entirety of its lifecycle. Over its roughly 8 year lifecycle it sold a respectable 24 million units.

Just as important as the console itself though was Microsoft’s creation of XBox LIVE shortly after the console’s launch. XBox Live is an online gaming service that consumers pay a monthly fee to maintain access to. It allows players to play against and with other Xbox users around the globe, as well as access and buy games, movies, music and more. In modern times this sounds far from a unique service, as we are surrounded by hundreds of them, but at the time XBox Live came out it is a ground breaking move for the console gaming world that would give them a foothold in the competition between the next generation of consoles and forced Sony and Nintendo to create their own online services to have any hope of competing with Microsoft over the long haul.

The XBox’s controller was similar to other button layouts we’ve seen, but added two small white and black buttons that served minimal use in some games. The controller is bigger than most others at the time and featured dual analog sticks as well as a d-pad, with two rows of shoulder buttons, similar to Sony’s DualShock design. While the controller does have room at the top to have a memory card inserted, memory cards were not really necessary for those with a small to moderate collection of games as the XBox’s hard disk drive stored enough memory to support a respectable amount of game saves, one of the few advantages it had over its rival PS2.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE XBOX

During this era of consoles I and most of my friends had a PS2. Hell, everyone had a PS2. It is after all the best selling console of all-time. Earliest recollections I have with the XBox are first at a Wal-Mart demo station I played Oddworld and didn’t care for itsc chaos at all. Not necessarily the system, because the game looked beautiful and the control was pretty similar to the DualShock. I just didn’t care for the gameplay of Oddworld, wasn’t my cup of tea. Months later though a little brother of a friend of my girlfriend and I played through the Halo campaign co-op and that unsurprisingly sold me on the XBox. This thing had beautiful games and Halo was jaw dropping amazing at the time, I HAD to have one. But we could never afford to get a new console and I never ended up owning an original XBox for myself until I was an adult and had started collecting seriously. Still, I had my moments with it at friend’s houses from time to time, particularly Halo, Halo 2, Project Gotham Racing and the Splinter Cell series.

COLLECTING FOR THE XBOX

Collecting the console itself and its games is actually not too difficult or expensive to do. Actually all three of the consoles of that generation are reasonable in price to collect for. The console itself is built like a damn tank (and heavy as one too) and so it tends to hold up well with time, so there’s not much worry of buying dud used XBox’s. Most of the gems for the system are reasonably price ~$20 or less too like the Halo, Splinter Cell, Project Gotham, Oddworld and Grand Theft Auto series. Most game stores, pawn shops and thrift stores that sell used games will have most of what you’re looking for. So if XBox collecting sounds like something you’re interested in then I say dive right in, its cheap and easy. There’s a “yo momma” joke to be made somewhere in there.

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REVIEW: Golden Sun

Poll Winner: GOLDEN SUN

Another game I always heard good things about but never got to play for myself until now. Several people have told me how I need to play this game over the years, namely my cousin Austin. So this was the perfect opportunity to see for myself if Golden Sun really gold sunwas as good as they say. Golden Sun was created by Camelot Software Planning, who have often affiliated with Sega, but have partnered with Nintendo a lot too (for not only this game but also for the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games). It released in 2001 to phenomenal reviews and pretty solid sales, quickly gaining a name as one of the better JRPGs made up to that point. It spawned a sequel called The Lost Age (also on the GBA) the very next year and then a third game Dark Dawn years later on the DS.

So I can already tell you I may do a lot of comparing of this game to Chrono Trigger, I can’t help it. That’s because they’re both 2.5D JRPGs from close to the same era and also are both JRPGs I’m playing for the first time. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really care much for Golden Sun at first. It was slow in both action and story, none of it interested me all that much. Maybe I was spoiled by recently playing Chrono Trigger for the first time, but I found the early game of Golden Sun overall to be unexciting. But as the game progressed I got more and more interested, especially as I learned the slight mechanics twists it uses and as the puzzles got more difficult. For example in Golden Sun your mana pool regenerates itself as you move about the environment instead of you worrying about having to make countless trips to shops for items when you’re grinding. This simple change would make me enjoy so many other JRPGs more and I personally wish they all would adopt it. The rate you regain it is slow so there’s not really much worry about it breaking the game by making it too easy. It greatly improved the fun of battles because I wasn’t scared to use my various mana abilities with my characters, I didn’t have to be frugal with my MP. I tossed out fun spells left and right even on normal mobs. I also liked that pretty much all party members felt useful, since in every other RPG there always seems to be one member who you would never take with you on an important battle. The story, while still not super interesting to me personally, did pick up and finish stronger. What impressed me the most out of everything though was as I ran into more and more variety in the game worlds and dungeons they all felt unique. Again, reminiscent of Chrono Trigger. Some areas were significantly different, like the desert area or ship area. Speaking of the ship it was probably my favorite part, and the kraken fight was probably my favorite battle. It was all just a nice change of pace after the many hours I had into Golden Sun at that point. On the technical side of things the game is ultra impressive for a handheld title. Its sprites, animations and soundtrack were on par with great SNES and Genesis classics like (once again) Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, etc. Actually it may be the best looking game on the Game Boy advance.

On the negative side, Golden Sun had far too many random encounters. This is a personal preference though, some gamers may like that. I think its also because I’ve been spoiled on modern JRPGs that have the ability to adjust your encounter rate. I also felt at times the game had far too much text and useless dialogue. Also, without spoiling anything, the final boss was pretty damn easy, which I personally don’t mind but I know a lot of hardcore JRPG fans will hate. A lot of you hardcore JRPG guys want your characters to have to be fully grinded out, max level, max equipment, max everything to be able to defeat a final boss. I think you’re crazy and that Golden Sun, while a touch on the easy side, was more in line with what I prefer. If I’ve put a decent chunk of hours into a game and thought into my character builds and strategies I should be able to beat the game without grinding for another 100 hours.

Golden Sun ended with a pretty obviously open ending, making the player assume there would be sequels, which there were. After finishing this blog I will be adding those sequels to my Games To Play list for sure, at least the GBA sequel. Any self respecting handheld collector or RPG collector should own Golden Sun. Its technical quality was pretty much unheard for its time and platform, it was a bit ahead of its generation and definitely deserves recognition for that. Kudos to Camelot Software for that.

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