Clive Barker's Jericho Review
Horror master Clive Barker is back at the helm of another game. His first one, the sleeper first person shooter Undying, is well-loved but hardly sold any copies. And now with Codemasters publishing and Spanish studio Mercury Steam developing, his new game has you taking control of a military squad of paranormal specialists who are sent into the North African desert to quell an evil that everyone has underestimated. It sounds good, but I can sum it up like this: sure, the squad action is interesting, but in the end, Clive Barker's Jericho is darker than DOOM 3 and not nearly as fun.
The game starts you off with plenty of bad impressions. From laughably bad voice acting in the first sequence to no tutorial or any kind of introduction to the seven guys on your team, you're sent into the ruins of the city of Al Khali, supposedly the oldest city on earth. Some kind of occultist bad guys have gone in and are probably doing something really bad with the "Firstborn", a creature that God made before humans. Apparently, God couldn't kill his first creation, so he just locked it up in this city and kinda forgot about it - but the Firstborn has been trying to free itself for quite a while now, and every hundred years or so some team has to go in and keep him locked in. Yep, this time it'll be you guys.
While Jericho starts out badly, it picks up the first time you run into an enemy. They're nasty-looking and very mean, but it's not long before you're sick of using squad leader Devin Ross' strange assault rifle (with shotgun built in as the alt-fire) since you have to unload a clip and a half into something to kill it. (Eventually, you realize that this problem plagues most of the guns.) For most of the introduction you'll be fighting the same two enemies in a very narrow array of boring corridors that are incredibly poorly lit, and even though your flashlight can be used at all times, you'll find it's still not nearly enough to be able to see. If you go down in combat one of your buddies will be able to revive you - at least, most of the time - and you can also revive them if they eat it, but the game only gives you sparing checkpoints here and there, so you might be expected to replay several minutes if you die.
The team and their unique abilities are probably the best part of Jericho. There's a sniper, an almost ninja-like chick, heavy weapons guy, an old Reverend with a pair of pistols, a soldier with a decent rifle, and and a sneaky little woman with grenades, a submachine gun, and the ability to slow down time. Yep, all of these characters have some kind of supernatural powers, ranging from Father Rawlings' ability to curse enemies and heal the squad to Sergeant Church's blood magic that puts area-effect "spells" at incoming enemies. Spelling all of these out here would really kind of ruin some of the fun of this game, as it's the most interesting part, but overall I did like having access to a range of characters with different attitudes, abilities, and weapons. The game also forces your group to split up in various configurations, so that you can't ever get dependent on any one or two tactics to do most of your killing for you.
As far as the horror element goes, Jericho relies mostly on weak gross-outs and cheap scares to try and unnerve you. From walking on a path made entirely of human bodies to seeing a ton of gore here and there, the game is pretty hit and miss, and their attempts to put together truly disturbing imagery have mostly fallen flat. Maybe it's just that after the recent M-rating scandals that publishers are scared to push it, or it could just be that they didn't have the imagination to come up with something more potent, but the end result is that Jericho simply isn't that scary. Sure, there are cheap scares, like how almost every time a fight starts after a lull in the action and that loud noise pops up - you know that kind of noise, the one that's solely there to make you jump, one that is just a part of the soundtrack. They rely on it a lot, too, going to show that at least in some ways, for the developers to fall back on these so much, there had to have been something lost in the translation from Clive Barker's brain to a video game.
It's not long before the extremely dimly-lit corridors and endless, twisting, dull underground passageways will start to get to you. Between that and the scripted sequences that make you tap buttons, God of War-style (except here you need even better timing, but the game does at least give you a checkpoint before every one of these bits), you'll start to feel like maybe Mercury Bytes ran out of time to innovate anything beyond their squad systems and just referred to their "Guide To Action Game Stereotypes" books for level design and combat. Yep, there's even a sewer level, and the developers actually had the gall to make that the level shown in the demo for the PC and 360. That demo also managed spoil the coolest part of the game without actually showing it to you, so I highly recommend that if you go in at all, do it blindly and without having tried the demo first.
The game's atmosphere is unique and original when you're not trudging through endless corridors, and the story of Al Khali is decent when you can pick up the pieces here and there. You see, some of the backstory is given to you right at the start, but other basic stuff is not explained until later. It makes for a disjointed type of exposition, one that closely mirrors the game's lack of tutorials or real character introductions. From a gameplay standpoint, though, you can wind up wandering around in the dark looking for the passage leads to the exit, or get you stuck in a room until you do the right ability with the right character at the right spot. None of this would really be that bad, but it stacks up with Jericho's other glaring flaws to make for a frustrating experience that is constantly pulling you out of the immersion and reminding you that, yes, you are playing a decidedly average game.
With no replay value of any kind and no cooperative or multiplayer action at all, Jericho is practically begging me to tell my readers that this game is only worth a rental. Many games at least make an attempt to add some kind of lasting value so you might just buy it anyway, and many fail miserably; with this game, the developers didn't even make the slightest effort. Yes, the action is halfway decent sometimes and that imaginative mind of Clive Barker does come through here and there. The ability to switch between squad members to get access to many different types of weaponry and supernatural abilities is great. But the amateurish level design, cheap attempts at a scare, and weak weapons stack up together to really turn off players who have seen more than a few shooters in their time. If you've just come off excellent first-person gameplay experiences like BioShock, Halo 3 and The Orange Box, then this might even seem worse than it actually is. Jericho is a decent game when it's doing things right, but that doesn't happen nearly often enough during your eight-to-ten-hour experience. Rent it if you're willing to put up with some flaws, and if you're expecting something as good as BioShock, then just skip it altogether.