by Marty Demarest

Yes, another Riddick product. In case you missed the announcement from Universal Studios, 2004 is the Year of Riddick, or something like that. The practical upshot of this is that we get a good video game. While it's true that most movie-based video games are ridiculously bad attempts to cash in on a franchise, a good game is excellent entertainment, regardless of what franchise is slapped on it. Escape from Butcher Bay (rated Mature for Xbox and PC) is not only a good video game, it's a great way to extend the entire Riddick mythos.

Wait a second -- something more than passive entertainment from a movie franchise -- is that possible? Consider the case of Star Wars. What George Lucas did with his fictional universe was create an entire line of interactive advertising devices -- called toys -- and used them to both promote and enhance his films. The action figures were the tools by which any child could step into the Star Wars universe and take the destiny of the characters in their own hands. They were detailed enough to provide insights into the figures that were glimpsed only briefly on the movie screen. And they could be made to do anything.

Butcher Bay isn't quite as free as a tabletop of toys, but it's much less embarrassing for an adult to play with. In fact, it looks remarkable for a video game. The game tells a relatively brief episode in the life of Riddick, the intergalactic anti-hero with superhuman killing powers, when he escaped from a maximum-security prison before the events in Pitch Black. The prison is rendered in astonishing detail, with lifelike character models (except for when they talk). Security cameras follow the characters, their shadows on the wall moving appropriately. Trash receptacles sport clouds of randomly flying insects, complete with wings and legs. In terms of gameplay, Butcher Bay is a nice combination of stealth (Riddick can hide in the dark) and shooting, with an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat that's so often the weak point in many action games.

Is this the great Xbox game we've been waiting for? No. But it's a very good game, and the lull that gamers endure in the summer makes it seem even better. Plus, it's the way you find out -- indeed, make happen -- how Riddick got his funky eyes. Let non-gamers sit still and passively consume their entertainment at the cineplex. Gamers, meanwhile, are taking this franchise into their own hands.

Publication date: 07/01/04

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