Just when you thought life was as weird as it could get, it just got a whole lot weirder. You see God, way back when, made a bit of a mess of the whole creating life thing, and like anyone who messes up at work he buried his mistake down the bottom of the skip bin, and hoped nobody would notice. However, as you can guess, the mistake got out of the box. Now a specialist band of loyal soldiers have to give up their lives to battle the Firstborn and return it to its cosmic prison. The Jericho team are God’s soldiers, you are their leader, and all kinds of depraved and deformed monstrosities are waiting to tear your soul apart and swallow the world.
If you are talking about monstrosities, and the end of the world, then you are clearly in Clive Barker territory. Barker has been knocking out tales of horror and fantasy since the early eighties. There have also been a number of films based on his work, such as Hellraiser and The Candyman, and these have been packed with classic horror movie moments. It is a shame then that Jericho lacks most of what makes Clive Barker’s fiction so good: innovation, imagination and horror. Sure, there’s a warped story that weaves history, religion and mythology around some truly gross images but, at heart, Clive Barker’s Jericho is a stock standard first person shooter. Although the opening movie promises a journey filled with twists and shocks, it is here where most of the game’s originality begins and ends as any atmosphere and scares are lost in what feels like an unending shower of bullets.
In the beginning you are introduced to the Jericho team as they are dropped into the game’s first mission. The seven-strong squad is a mixture of heavy duty firepower and top-flight combat training. Each member also possesses a unique supernatural ability. For example, not only does Delgardo carry a high-powered mini-gun but he can also control a demonic flame which can be used to create a shield or incinerate enemies. There is also Billie Church who wields a machine pistol in one hand and a Katana in the other. Church can not only trap enemies with a blood ward, immobilising them for the rest of the team to blast to oblivion, but she can also use her power to unlock magically sealed doors. Initially you take the part of Devin Ross, the team’s leader, a skeptic who is given command of the team after he gains the ability to inhabit other people’s minds. With a simple press of the button you can switch between squad members, controlling them and their powers. Switching between characters, taking on their abilities and learning their strengths and weaknesses, is by far the most satisfying and engaging part of the game, while controlling the team is ultimately problematic and frustrating.
While there is a need for tactics and planning, it is in the squad elements where many of the game’s problems crop up. To begin with the A.I. is poor. By pressing on the directional pad you can order your squad to hold their position or follow. So, you might expect that if you tell your squad to hold their position, they might stay put, right? The problem is that often they don’t. As soon as you engage the enemy, they come running. Usually headfirst into an ambush that knocks out most of them before you get a clear picture of the enemy’s numbers or position. This often leaves you running around, controlling whoever you have left, desperately trying to heal your team mates before everyone is taken out and you have to start the level again.
Restarting levels is another frustrating, and somewhat dated, part of the game. Each new area is preceded with a rather intrusive load screen and an accompanying checkpoint. If you die then you have to restart from there. This was never fun in the old days, and is even less enjoyable now, especially with a few long and difficult areas leading to some relatively tough bosses. You will be retracing your steps a few times. Or, more accurately, you will be retracing your ‘exact’ steps. This is because the game provides you with a single path to follow and the same enemies, spawning at the same spots, every time. Also the enemies look pretty much the same throughout the game. The different areas of the game, despite being spread over thousands of years and multiple locations, look pretty similar as well. This coupled with no multi-player, average voice acting and only around ten hours of playing time, make the game’s faults significantly outweigh its promise.
Ultimately, Clive Barker’s Jericho is a disappointment. For those who are familiar with his early collection of shorts stories (complete with his own demented illustrations) the let down may be insurmountable. In Jericho there was the potential for an atmospheric game packed with terror, wonder and invention. Unfortunately, all we get is a very standard shooter with a number of annoying failings, sitting atop an undoubtedly original premise.