Review: Riddick The Merc Files25 Sep 2013 0
Riddick might be the least successful movie criminal of all time. If we accept that the two habits of highly successful criminals are A) committing crimes and B) getting away with crimes, then ol' Richard B. is just awful. He's great at the former part (in Pitch Black and Chronicles of Himself he snaps necks like a hyperactive chicken farmer) but he's complete and utter rubbish at being on the lam.
Every time we see Riddick, he's either in some law enforcement figure's custody, or in jeopardy of becoming so imminently. Riddick even brags about how many prisons he's done time in, another way of saying "I have been caught so many times." This is clearly not guy you want as the Bonnie to your Clyde.
In Riddick's first iOS outing, The Merc Files by Swedish studio Gaming Corps, we find everyone's favourite nocturnal murderer on a desolate, abandoned world and -- surprise -- some mercenaries have arrived to bring him back to civilization, where can become the mayor of another prison on Foursquare. It's your job to help Riddick sneak his way out.
The Merc Files isn't Riddick's first venture into video gaming -- that would be the classic first-person stealth/beat-em-up/shooter Escape from Butcher Bay from almost ten years ago, a game that explored the anti-hero's backstory and motivations and revelled in the character's ethical complexities.
Merc Files has no such pretensions, for better or for worse. The game presumes that you already know Riddick, and that we all agree that the only good neck is a snapped one, and then sets you off on a linear campaign of 16 different levels. Each one is stocked with a set number of mercenaries, who patrol around the level keeping an eye out for interstellar fugitives.
Riddick is controlled from a third-person overhead view with simple contextual taps: he sneaks to where you tap on the screen (runs if you double-tap), attacks fellows that you tap on (secretly if he hasn't been noticed), picks up bodies and hides them where you tap. It's simple and generally agreeable -- the problems lies with the camera control.
While you can rotate the camera around Riddick, Merc Files offers no way to pan the camera across the map. You can pinch-to-zoom into a high-level view of each level (one that emulates Riddick's infrared-style Shinejob vision from the films), but that view is hard to manipulate and doesn't allow for movement at all. This makes moving around a battle against the interface as much as one against the mercs.
Riddick is unarmed, and while he can almost instantly kill any merc that he gets the drop on, the reverse is also true. Because of the claustrophobic camera set-up, mercs will get the drop on you quite a lot, spotting you from offscreen, charging in guns at the ready. Once that happens, things slow down and you get a cinematic violin screech and a prompt to restart the level -- in Merc Files, there's no panicked fights with guards that have spotted you, because being spotted means game over. The Riddick of this game feels less like an unstoppable murder machine and more like a timid child playing Marco Polo.
Once I was willing to accept this shy, retiring Riddick, the game started to grow on me. When you learn to stop fighting the camera and play around its limitations, you can fall into a rythym with Merc Files -- tightrope walking your way through a level and taking down guards from the shadows captures a bit of that vicarious badassery that we watch Riddick movies for.
Speaking of Richard, there's far too little of him in the game. A bit of Vin Diesel voice-acting and a cutscene or two would have gone a long way towards making the game more memorable. The setting isn't even a location from one of the films as far as I can tell -- it's just Abandoned Sci-Fi Facility No. 2. There's some admirably pretty lighting and and the presentation is more than adequate, but the whole thing lacks pizazz.
I'm willing to bet that Merc Files was pushed out into the daylight a little early to accompany the release of the latest Riddick film. The former Starbreeze devs at Gaming Corps who created Escape from Butcher Bay are clearly capable of making great games -- but Merc Files is not one of them, but it's far from bad. Maybe a few years in the slam will do it some good.