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The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

By Niloy

It is a well-known fact that movies based on games are pretty bad, and games based on movies are worse. Indeed, this has almost been a law, in the scientific sense. There are so few exceptions that most experienced gamers, by and large, ignore any products based off the alternate entertainment medium.

Interesting how things work out. Turns out that Chronicles of Riddick, the movie, wasn't so great, but Escape from Butcher Bay, the game based off the movie, was hot stuff - at least on the Xbox. But come on, what do Xbox developers know about making a first person shooter for the PC? A great deal, apparently. I'll say it now: this is the game Doom 3 should have been.

As the subtitle, "Escape from Butcher Bay" suggests, the game has the player trying to escape from a prison. Not once, not twice, but three times. The escape attempts are done in a logical, sensible fashion and each provides an excuse to change the scenery, as Riddick gets moved from maximum security, to double max, and finally triple max. Along the way, considering the damage Riddick does, one wonders why the warden Hoxie just doesn't do away with him, but thankfully for the story (and two movies), Riddick survives.

The Escape From Butcher Bay story lacks a concrete beginning or end, feeling more like a chapter in the saga of Richard B. Riddick, which I guess is fitting for a game that takes place as part of a chronicle. The only insight into Riddick's origin is provided by his renown among the Butcher Bay prisoners; even these dangerous prisoners fear the guy. But as tough as Riddick may seem, he's been captured by the bounty hunter Johns, and is being sold into incarceration for the cancellation of a debt owed to the Warden.

While Johns' ship is preparing to land, Riddick has a dream that acts as a subtle tutorial. In the dream, Riddick kills Johns and tries to escape from the prison. Throughout this short sequence, the player gets cues from Riddick and short explanations of his abilities. For example, as Riddick passes through a doorway into a dark area he'll say something along the lines of 'No one will see me now,' which is accompanied by a dialogue box explaining crouching/shadows and the general stealth mechanics of the game.

Even though formalities such as tutorials, dialogue boxes and life-bars are essential to video games, the developers did a great job emphasizing the cinematic qualities of Escape From Butcher Bay by getting rid of the HUD. What Riddick sees is what you see. If you look down, you see your legs and/or shadow. When you jump, you see your hands move to balance you. Riddick does have a life bar, although it's only visible during combat situations. The result is highly immersive.

Chronicles of Riddick starts off fairly slow with an simple tutorial, and the first escape attempt is very action-heavy, but the game really picks up the tempo and starts mixing in stealth-heavy elements when Riddick gets his "shine eyes". With the ability to see in the dark, our slightly disturbed protagonist becomes a veritable killing machine.

The killing isn't indiscriminate - in fact, in certain areas you're not allowed to - but it's certainly prolific enough. At times the action sequences are the familiar Zerg horde scenarios, but there is a fair bit of stealth combat thrown in. Every now and then the game will require the player to sneak by an enemy, but this is generally simple and not one of those typically frustrating stealth missions that other games have thrown in. Most of Riddick's appeal is in its seamless nature, it's not unlike Half-Life in that respect. There are technically only three levels. The player can backtrack many of his routes, though on occasion a retreat becomes blocked or is too high to reach.

The game itself, as the title suggests, is all about Riddick's escape from Butcher Bay, the highest security prison in the galaxy. Delivered to this dark and ugly hellhole at the start of the game by a slimy and objectionable bounty hunter, it's up to you to work out how to get out, and it's not going to be pretty. Spliced together from bits of our favourite genres, one minute you're creeping around in the dark snapping guards' necks, the next engaging in dialogue with fellow cons to work your way up the prison pecking order, and probably smashing their faces in shortly afterwards to show them who's boss.

For a game that at first glance looks like yet another dark and moody sci-fi shooter, you'll probably spend a decent portion of it wondering when you'll get to wield a gun for more than a few minutes, with most guns DNA-encoded to their owners and the source of a nasty electric shock should you try and use them. Hence, the game treats first-person shooting as a luxury, using it sparingly and making you use your wit and cunning to survive the rigours of Butcher Bay.

It's a harsh approach initially, but as a result spectacularly atmospheric. Every guard, every prisoner has a face, a personality, and rather than populate the game with a faceless succession of drones, much of your journey within Butcher Bay take place within believable confines against foes who you may well get the jump on eventually. Although the prison yard isn't the most exciting of environments, the sense of desperation is clear, the graffiti tells you all you need to know, and the route to the next task is never far away. Although The Chronicles Of Riddick isn't much of a challenge on the default settings, it's rarely dull or frustrating, keeps tasks clear yet involving, and is one of those games that doesn't waste your time. For a time-poor gamer who wants to see all there is to see and be entertained for ten hours and move on, this is almost perfectly designed around those constraints.

Others that wish to indulge in epics that have you sweating on tiny portions of the game just to move on might find it all a bit simplistic, but you can't please everyone. Having indulged in both recently, I can say both have their plusses and minuses; in a sense you can't really ever have both, but if you're hankering after bite-sized entertainment that's consistently rich throughout then there's few games that have ever been designed as tightly as Riddick.

There are very few games I recommend outright to anyone without hesitation. So let me just qualify: if you have any interest in first-person shooters, go get Riddick. Now.

DragonBall Z

By Le Chupacabra

Son Goku is Earth's greatest hero and has always emerged victorious in every fight he's been. On a peaceful day gone bad (get used to it…) his son Gohan is kidnapped by an opponent of otherworldly power who threatens to destroy the planet unless Goku joins him! And it so happens that this guy is a space alien and he's Goku's brother! For the first time ever, Goku and his arch-nemesis Piccolo form a temporary alliance to take this guy out. The alien proves to be more than a match for the duo…
DragonBall Z is one of the most popular anime series' of all time. And with good reason too. It presents a world with some crazy yet personable characters, lots of super powers which we utterly can't do without, an abundance of wacky hairstyles and some really exciting Martial Arts fighting. Not traditional Martial Arts, of course; it isn't but it's undeniable that the fighting is fun to watch. And let's not forget the absolutely pointless-yet-indispensable yelling of the special attack names! By all means, it is over-the-top, eccentric and silly at times (the powering up may cause you to recall a bad bout of constipation) but that's what makes it so fun! And everybody loves the naturally crazy Super Saiyans and their even crazier hairstyles!

The characters are great, too. While the main protagonist Goku generally remains unchanged (despite getting really, really strong) quite a lot of them develop throughout the course of the series. And considering there being 276 episodes, they had better damn develop! It's sort of like one of those soap operas or Hindi serials but without the corniness or the incessant backstabbing. So you'll find your fair share of likeable/dislikeable/why's-he-even-here? characters. From main protagonist Goku to the obligatory pushover best friend Krillin to the cocky in-your-face Vegeta; and the hilariously pompous Mr. Satan, everyone manages to be entertaining. Even the rather pathetic Yamcha serves good purpose as stress relief, being conveniently yell-at-able throughout the show.

The artwork is solid but not amazing. However the epilepsy-inducing blast attacks and the hyperactive yet fluid fighting both manage to look great, given that this show is rather old. The character models are very unique and generally not too harsh on the eyes. Most of them being non-human does help!

The voice acting fits the characters really well, though I hope the actors are well paid for constant screaming they have to do. Hand them a bunch of throat drops FUNimation! But jokes aside, the emotions aren't wasted since these people know how to make it sound good. The music was redone and while different from Japanese version, it's actually pretty nice. It manages to set the mood appropriately, which albeit isn't too hard given the constant action.

There are infinitely deeper and more meaningful anime out there, with more intricate plots, and better artwork, and so on. But for sheer fun and heart, DBZ is one of my most favourite ones. So take it from me: this is a series that will find a special place in your heart and after you've spent all your time doing other things and watching other anime, you'll always be drawn back to the world of DragonBall Z.

Review by Gokhra

If you have seen "National Velvet" and "Babe" then you know what is coming up. This is a movie with talking animals and generally talking animals are cute (even annoying talking animals like Donkey in "Shrek"). All the animals are real only their mouths have been modified with CGI to lip synch with the human stars. In the end you hear familiar voices coiming out of their furry mouths

The plot:
Horse trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) live in a farm that overlooks a racetrack and is situated beside a railrioad track. All this links together in a linking sort of way. Nolan is a widower whose wife died in a horse riding accident. He withdrew from the training scene and of course forbade his daughter from ever joining in the competitive sport riding a horse. So its no problem when one night as a circus train is passing by a crate falls off and out jumps a zebra.

The father and daughter find the orphan and Nolan wants to trace its owners. But Channing of course falls in love with it and wants it for a pet. So the zebra is named Stripes with the quavering voice supplied by Frankie Muniz of Malcolm in the Middle fame. In the meantime no one from the circus comes looking for the zebra and no one really seems to care.

The animals in the movie are all real animals, except for the animated flies (voices by Steve Harvey and David Spade). Computer effects are used, however, to sync their mouths with the dialogue.

There's all kinds of quirky characters on the farm. Dustin Hoffman plays a short-tempered Shetland, Joe Pantoliano is a pelican named Goose who seems to be hiding out from the mob, Whoopi Goldberg is a goat and Mandy Moore is a mare who falls in love with Stripes. Then there's an awfully sleepy bloodhound (Snoop Dog). The cast is full of Grammy, Oscar and MTV Movie Award winners.

Now the zebra has high ambitions and probably a bit of a personality disorder cause he thinks like a horse. He is probably thinking he IS a horse in just a funky striped suit. The racetrack is run by a snobbish and cruelly evil Clara Dalrymple. Her own horse, Trenton's Pride, is favored to win the derby, and she doesn't see any point in letting a zebra enter the race. In a way, she has logic on her side. It's a horse race after all.

Verdict: Racing Stripes in the end is an underdog or rather under-equestrian story where the outsider(zebra) wins against all odds and the father and daughter reconcile their fears and angst. Everyone wins and it's a happy, happy world. Its an endearing but predictable joke-packed yakking animal movie. Funny and sweet which a few jaded viewers might find a bit annoying.

Sites Unseen

By Niloy

The next consoles, Playstation 3 and Xbox 2 have been announced, with much hype and anticipation. The companies are blabbering on and on about how powerful the consoles will be and how gorgeous and movie-like graphics they would render. Well, they said all that before PS2 and Xbox came out, so mostly they are hype. Still the few released screenshots and gameplay footage are absolutely awesome. They are extremely beautiful and looks real in an odd uncanny way.

Take a look: this happens to be the next Need for Speed game. http://tinyurl.com/6nlw3 ... Look at the car. Just look at it! Is this supposed to be a video game? Here's another one: http://tinyurl.com/5hmkl ... A rugby game? Look at the shadows, the grass, the players… You can almost feel the excitement of it! More in this site: http://tinyurl.com/4f43r... and Dark Sector has some footage www.darksector.com... Also here's another game that looks superb: http://www.elderscrolls.com/

Looks like that the consoles are only planning for better graphics… and that is sad. I guess we won't be able to jack into the game-world anytime soon.

And in other news: TotalGames.net is quoting MCV on reporting that Rockstar Games is already hard at work planning the next entry in the GTA series for the PS3. The interesting part is that they (Rockstar) is looking for locations outside of the US...with Europe being a "strong contender".

And if you want a Gmail account, mail me with your first and last name.

The links are available at my blog, niloywrites.blogspot.com, so that you don't have to type them up.

The usual greatness:
Swank Signs: Dedicated to the art of mocking public works

Ever stopped by a sign in the road that was so hard to make out it can only have been meant to be understood by aliens? That's the idea behind this gallery of graphic mysteries and confusing primitive writings. "Dedicated to the art of mocking public works," the site invites you to submit photos of signs that are utterly incomprehensible, frankly menacing, narrative-ly burdened , plainly insulting, creepily suggestive, and, finally, strangely reminiscent of human-robot hybrid science fiction. Signs from all over the world, including Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam add to the mix. Don't forget to check out the suggested meanings at the bottom of each page.

The Red book of Westmarch
A wonderful site dedicated to the works and worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien. You can find all kinds of resources about Middle Earth here. And http://www.geocities.com/palmtolkien/ has pictures from the books, music, fonts, screensavers and programs. Tolkein fans should check them out.

These researchers sent all kinds of weird stuff over mail
Now that's a good way of testing a postal system. And funny too.

The Box Doodle Project
Artist David Hoffman presents this fantastic scrolling gallery of cardboard art. The only requirement? The art must come on a box -- which he generously supplies as well as the tools to create your own doodles. Dozens of talented illustrators have contributed flattened-box creations that range from the amusing to the slightly creepy. Most, however, fall firmly in the whimsical category. If a particular box doodle catches your eye, it's probably linked to a great individual artist site. Try the super nifty Box Doodle Tool: Pick any of three boxes, a colour, and a pen and start drawing. It's more fun than you might think

An atlas of the universe
This web page is designed to give everyone an idea of what our universe actually looks like.

A guy smokes 800 cigarettes in 6 minutes
One smoke, and you have lungs cancer. Lovely!

Thank you, Japan, for inspiring a seemingly endless supply of goofy web sites! This highly entertaining blog celebrates the infinite wonder of Japanese processed foods. This is a virtual horn o' plenty of bizarre Nipponese edibles. There's some really strange stuff called Chicken Dust, which is actually kind of muddy and is supposed to be poured over rice. A brave foray into the bewildering world of ramen features some real doozies, including one labeled "Soy Sauce Flavor."

And introduce yourself to an entirely new take on the bachelor's favorite edible genre: "Boil in the Bag." According to the package for beef curry, it has "good taste and nice flavor." But Jon Cockle disagrees and finds that, unlike other cultures that "tend to improve original recipes...Japan has perfected the art of making them crap." Dig in, gaijin!

You can visit my blog at niloywrites.blogspot.com or email me atnn niloy.me@gmail.com



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