Escape from Butcher Bay is an action-heavy mix of shooter, sneaker and adventure-RPG. The combat isn't as crisp as in Call of Duty and the RPG elements are really light (just two health upgrades, and managing your cash), but the stealth is top notch. It's very believable and fluid, it doesn't artificially signify to the player when he's "safe" like the Thief games do. The combat might be a little clumsy at times as well, but it's got a ton of variety to it.
Each of the chapters plays very differently. The first escape attempt has Riddick using guard weapons, the second attempt is done mostly with nothing but a stun gun, and the last... well, I won't spoil it. Furthermore, there's a relatively sophisticated melee combat system that sees regular use. Riddick throws uppercuts, jabs, left and right hooks and can block. There are also weapons like shivs, screwdrivers, knuckledusters and a bat. Riddick can even melee with armed guards and turn their weapons around on them, though for the most part he can't use guard weapons. The themes aren't all-pervasive either, each chapter does a good job of mixing it up, though the stun gun part is rather long.
The level design is simple to navigate yet it doesn't feel as constricted as it might. It's not so much that there's an illusion of freedom, but the game does manage to obscure the railroad path rather well, for whatever reason. In fact, thanks to the fair amount of dialogue and bits of puzzle solving, it's noticeably less linear than Half-Life 2 or Doom 3. Certain small tasks and optional quests can be completed regardless of a specific order.
Chronicles of Riddick starts off fairly slow with an unintrusive 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.
There are two particularly pleasant features about the game. The first is rather simple: the difficulty levels. Easy is easy without being a cakewalk. Normal is like you'd expect, and hard is a challenge. It's difficult to believe how many games never get the difficulty balancing quite right, but Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay has it on the spot. The second feature, and completely unique as far as we're aware, is the commentary mode. This is by far the coolest unlockable in any game, ever. Once the player finishes the game, he can play through in commentary mode and activate cues which describe anything and everything - from something like the collectible packs of smokes, through monsters and all the way to level design. The commentary will pause if the player moves too far away, it can be stopped and restarted. Furthermore, it is quite in depth.
If we had any complaints, it's that the plot and dialogues rush along too quickly, and generally have little effect on the game. There could be a real story here, but it just never has time to develop. Once the initial parts of a chapter are over though, the action starts and you can quit worrying about what might have been.
Like I said earlier, this is the game Doom 3 should have been. Both have very similar technology, the difference being that developer Starbreeze Studios went to the effort of designing a varied gameplay experience. In fact, we didn't even mind the lack of a save option - the autosave is generous without spoiling the player.