This was originally meant to be an HD remastering of 2004's excellent Xbox FPS The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - with an extra tacked-on level.
Thankfully, developer Starbreeze saw sense and decided to develop a whole new ten-hour campaign - Assault on Dark Athena - to headline the package. Let's get the Butcher Bay content out of the way first. Suffice to say, most of the notable changes to the original game are cosmetic, with the HD makeover adequate if rarely eye-popping.
Otherwise, proceedings remain pretty much unchanged. You play as Vin Diesel's slap-headed Furyan Richard B Riddick - star of movies Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick - who must escape the eponymous prison. Butcher Bay is a concoction of shootouts, hand-to-hand slugfests and passages of stealth, though a very slight bias towards action keeps proceedings moving at a decent pace.
In Dark Athena, Riddick finds himself stranded on a mercenary ship captained by a leather chap-wearing super-bitch with an arse you could park a Harley in, who just happens to have unfinished business with him. What are the chances?
So ensues a game of cat and mouse as her minions hunt you, while you use the shadows to sneak up behind and cut them new smiles. All in a day's work for the galaxy's most wanted man.
While there's action aplenty in Dark Athena, stealth plays an even more prominent role than in its predecessor, and you'll need to rely heavily on your Eye Shine ability (or night vision, as it's known) if you're to successfully negotiate the campaign's series of dimly lit levels dotted with myriad vents and hiding places.
The first half of the campaign features few firearms, forcing you to get in close for the kill. Alternatively you can drag dead enemies around and use their weapons - which are attached to their arms - though this severely restricts your movement. Thankfully, slicing up foes is supremely entertaining thanks to a melee system that provides excellent control over counter-attacks and finishing moves.
Juxtaposing the stealth is a smattering of fun if predictable action set pieces, though decent AI makes for some elusive targets, while a hybrid medkit/regeneration health system keeps you on your toes. It's just a shame there's no integrated cover system to speak of and, ultimately, it's Dark Athena's stealth passages that steal the show, demanding timing, patience and dexterity as you befriend the dark, scale obstacles and avoid the searching lights of your adversaries.
Before you can escape the ship, you need to find help. This comes in the form of a collection of distinctive NPC prisoners who've been incarcerated by the mercs. Of course these captives don't just help you for free, demanding that you complete favours for them before they aid you with your escape plans.
These range from finding a specific tool to pummelling a hated crew member to death and bringing back his gold tooth as a trophy. It's a great way of introducing new mission goals in a subtle way, and also helps increase characterisation on what is ostensibly a ship full of drones and blustery guards.
There's plenty to be getting excited about, despite a slight lack of originality and visual finesse. Make no mistake, Dark Athena is a first class stealth/ action game with a double dose of top-notch entertainment that competently unites elements of Mirror's Edge and the Splinter Cell series.
Butcher Bay fans should definitely take interest in the new Dark Athena content, while anyone with a penchant for creeping and mass slaughter shouldn't hesitate to buy.
Two quality games, one price
- Great stealth sections
- Superb acting
- Not the most impressive visuals
- Some set pieces lack imagination