The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay

Format: Xbox

Publisher: Vivendi Universal

Price: £39.99

BASING a game on a movie franchise is usually the kiss of death but The Chronicles of Riddick marks a fine exception to that rule.

The first movie in this series, 1999's Pitch Black, was something of an unexpected hit. Otherwise the dark tale of space explorers under siege by giant insectoid locusts was perfect material for an interactive game. So it was pretty much inevitable the sequel would be a first person action adventure game.

Set before the events of both movies, the game tells the story of Riddick's dramatic escape from the previously inescapable triple max security slammer Butcher Bay. This sci-fi vision of Alcatraz houses the most violent prisoners in the galaxy - so Riddick needs to watch his back both for prison guards and fellow lags.

It doesn't matter too much if you aren't a fan of Pitch Black - although aficionados will appreciate the moments mentioned in the movie that actually take place in this game. It also explains how Riddick came to get his eyes "shined", as seen in the first movie.

Vin Diesel agreed to lend his voice acting talents to the game. He's not going to be in the frame for an Oscar but his menacing tones certainly give the game an air of authenticity. Ron Perlman and Michael Rooker were also used on the soundtrack.

Given the plot, you'd be forgiven for believing Escape From Butcher Bay is just another Doom clone. Yes, there is plenty of prowling about dingy prison corridors, but there's far more to be enjoyed despite the relatively short running time of ten hours.

Chronicles of Riddick takes all the best bits from Metal Gear, Splinter Cell, Goldeneye, Halo and any number of Doom clones, tosses them into the air and rearranges the pieces into one very satisfying whole.

You start your adventure unarmed and must explore the prison with only guile and brute force as your tools. You can't just kill a prison guard and nick his weapon. Every rifle is genetically fingerprinted to its owner. Stealing one just delivers electric shocks to your character. Nor is there a sniper gun with which to pick off enemies from afar. This is a game that requires up close and personal combat.

Pretty soon you'll realise that Butcher Bay isn't your trad shoot 'em up where you pick up more and more powerful weapons to destroy bigger and more fearsome enemies. You can execute different punches by moving the left analogue stick about. Combo moves are possible and pressing the left trigger makes Riddick enter defensive mode. Ducking down out of the line of fire helps replenish your health - and you'll need all your strength for the later levels when Riddick really is fighting for his life against enemies with a frighteningly high level of artificial intelligence (and a nice line in cruel taunts).

Graphically, it looks magnificent. This is a true third generation Xbox game and it really maxes out the hardware. It's great to see a game making such good use of the extra horsepower Microsoft built into its console. The lighting effects, in particular, would be impossible to achieve on a PS2.

Xbox has been looking for another classic game ever since Halo. No one, including me, expected Chronicles of Riddick to be that saviour, but I'm happy to admit I was wrong. Is it worth buying an Xbox just to play? If you love action-adventures or enjoyed the original Pitch Black then I'd have to ask, what are you waiting for?

Should we slap a ban on Manhunt?


Publisher: Rockstar

Format: PS2.

LAST week's mid-market tabloids were in no doubt. Video games are evil junk that corrupt young minds. They seized upon the tragic death of Stefan Pakeerah, who was battered and stabbed by 17-year-old Warren LeBlanc, because his killer used to play Manhunt, an 18-rated video game.

Manhunt casts you in the role of a death-row inmate who is saved from the electric chair to take part in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Lawyer Jack Thompson, who is campaigning against the sale of violent video games to children, has described Manhunt as a "murder simulator" and repeated his calls for a ban. Police said the motive for the attack was robbery.

The next day, The Daily Mail's front page read: "Ban These Evil Games", adding "Don't let children simulate murder" on inside pages. Not to be outdone, The Daily Express joined in with an article entitled: "Why we must ban these murderous video games". The good old Daily Star seemed somewhat confused, referring to Manhunt as a "horror video" as though it were a film.

We've been here before. In 1981, The Sunday Times ran a story about the fad for horror videos that led to the video nasty craze. Police raided bemused video shops. Anything with a vaguely horrific title was seized. Examples included The Big Red One, a mediocre war movie that police thought was a pornographic film. No one bothered to check.

Manhunt isn't a particularly good game. What it most certainly is, however, is a piece of adult entertainment. Manhunt is not for children. That's why it carries an 18-rating. Warren LeBlanc should not have been addicted to it - he shouldn't even have played it.

Manhunt reminded me of a nasty little up-date of Richard Connell's classic tale The Most Dangerous Game, a novel that has provided the inspiration for scores of film-makers from The Hounds of Zaroff to The Running Man. It is violent but personally I found it no more distasteful than someone who says they only watch Formula One "for the crashes" or boxing "for the knockouts".

It certainly isn't the sort of game I enjoy playing. Nor is it my idea of entertainment but I would always defend an adult's right to try the game for themselves. Freedom of choice is a basic tenet of a democratic society.