The Chronicles of Riddick games—Escape from Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena—set a lot of high water marks when it came to licensed games. Their signature style of predatory stealth action, which encouraged silent kills over enemy avoidance, fit the Vin Diesel character perfectly while expanding on the mysterious and vague character and his sociopathic exploits. They were fun, respectful to the source material, and technologically impressive.
Riddick: The Merc Files is not.
While Vin Diesel’s game studio Tigon still has its fingers in this pie, the game becomes exactly what its predecessors weren’t: a cheap cash-in. Based on Riddick yet again (at least in theory), Riddick: The Merc Files has the murderous antihero traipsing through a series of top-down arenas with three different objectives: escaping to the exit, killing everyone on the map, or moving an item from one area to another. Except you’re not doing these different activities in level specially designed to take advantage of these play styles, you’re simply replaying the bite-sized levels in triplicate with the different objectives. It’s a horribly obnoxious way to extend playtime, and it feels as unnatural as it sounds.
Which is too bad, as the gameplay itself shows some promise, at least on a prototypical level. The touch-based controls are more than competent, and there was never any time that the tap-to-move scheme led my tiny avatar into harm’s way. Really, as far as interfaces go, you really couldn’t ask for more: it’s precise, it’s intuitive, and it’s responsive. Graphically it’s also quite nice for an iOS game, with some complex environments and some rich cel-shading that keep everything quite clear, which is important when you’re avoiding the roving eyes of the money-hungry mercenaries out for Riddick’s head.
Except, sadly, the AI for these mercs makes them the intergalactic bounty hunting equivalent of Roscoe P. Coltrane. They’re as dumb as a bag of hair, and sneaking up behind them to deliver a killing blow presents virtually no challenge. The escape and item-ferrying play modes, sadly, provide even less of a challenge, making seem less like a cunning badass and more like a man with the deck stacked completely in his favor.
While expectations for a portable phone game should always be lower than a full-budget console release, Riddick: The Merc Files completely falls below the standards set by other games in the franchise. It comes across almost like a port from the Game Boy Color days, when blockbuster franchises were given a stripped-down treatment in order to function on more limited hardware (anyone remember the dire Turok ports?) while keeping only a wisp of the console counterpart. As understanding as one should be regarding hardware limitations, Riddick is everything a tie-in shouldn’t be: a cheap, boring cash-in.