I saw Pitch Black as soon as it was out on video, as they didn’t show it in theaters anywhere near where I lived, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t think Riddick was one of the coolest, most interesting characters to come out of science fiction in a while. The typical clichés of the anti-hero were balanced out by suggestions that his cutthroat, brutal nature were necessities of his environment. The end of the film saw him achieving a certain measure of redemption, but the universes, both real and fictional didn’t seem content to let him be.
If you’ve seen either of the Riddick-central films, you know that he spends much of his time avoiding capture by mercenaries hoping to collect the hefty bounty on his head. Unlike so many iconic characters who charge headlong into danger, Riddick often goes with a craftier route, striking from the shadows and winnowing his enemies down. The game controls easily; tapping moves Riddick about and directs him to take various actions while a few other gestures help examine the level layout and keep tabs on the patrolling mercs. Playing as Riddick is fun for a time. Sneaking about, pulling dispatched bodies into the shadows so as not to alert your still-ambulatory foes and executing quick counter attacks on guards who managed to spot you a second too late is satisfying, but the lack of variety in animations and the complete absence of any special abilities or upgrade system makes the experience repetitive.
With no cluttered HUD or similarly ubiquitous trappings of mobile video games a certain streamlining of the experience is achieved, but it soon becomes a major failing of the game. There are a total of sixteen stages in the game and few require much more than patience and luck. In an exercise in mobile game design du jour, each mission has three tiers of gameplay; one involves simply moving to an exit point. The second gives a specific target to eliminate before escaping. The third is a subtle nod to the events of Pitch Black and the newest film and forces you to obtain a “power node” and cart it to an escape point. As the most effective approach is always to annihilate everyone in your path, this attempt to add nuance only serves as source of tedium, particularly since to proceed to later levels you have to complete each goal for each level.
There were an alarming number of bugs as well; the guards seem to take semi-random paths but would frequently bump into each other awkwardly or get stuck on one another. More than once Riddick would jump forward several feet and dead mercenaries would get stuck in walls or inexplicably tumble over railings. While occasionally these flummoxes made for a decent bit of comedy, they definitely detracted from the immersiveness of the experience.
The best part about the game is the visuals. Everything adheres to the aesthetic set forth by the thin canon of the setting. If the new Star Trek movies are starship designs based on the iPod, everything in Riddickverse is based on the iconic AK-47. Things look rugged and capable of hundreds of years of operation despite their worn-in appearance. Aurally the sounds are fine, but there’s not a lot of variety. A few crunches and thuds for melee take-downs and the occasional burst of gunfire punctuate the decent but ignorable soundtrack. Riddick never actually speaks, despite the character’s love of clever lines and psychological harassment, which I assume is because paying for enough of Vin Diesel’s time to lay out a few canned quips would have depleted their budget.
The developer’s page promises more levels to come, but they need to add more than just additional maps to give this game the kind of heft that would make it a serious recommendation. If you’re a huge fan of Riddick, it’s not a terrible experience, but there is a serious question of length and depth of play. The game features some built-in stat tracking and can tell you just how long you’ve spent playing it. My total time after completing the entire game during my first play through? Twenty-four minutes. I did go back and play through many of the missions over as there is a score tracker, racking up a total play time of a couple hours, but there’s no incentive to do so. There are no badges, no unlockable content or rewards. I would have toiled ceaselessly at whatever task they presented if I could unlock the ornate Necromonger style armor from the Chronicles of Riddick for use while playing. Overall I came away with the sense that I had just concluded a rather enjoyable beta test. With the addition of difficulty modes, an upgrade tree and some truly substantive gameplay modes this could be a game that’d enter into fairly regular rotation for me, but as it stands I can’t recommend it.