Pummelling bullets into flesh while splashing blood against walls in generous quantities is, most gamers will admit with a cringe, a fairly common part of our pastime. But before you meekly accept your desensitisation to brutal violence, consider this scene from midway through Clive Barker's Jericho, Codemasters' latest take on the horror genre, and try to convince yourself it isn't remotely shocking.
Your foe, a demented leader from Roman times, has grown obese through his insatiable taste for human flesh, and is an unforgivable pervert. When you meet him face to face, he is happily hanging above from chains, which are attached to him via large hooks that dig deep into his repulsive, wobbling body. You'd think he would make for an easy target in his current condition, but, aside from his 40-foot gladiatorial guardian, he also has a more biological weapon.
Tearing a deep trench in his own stomach that runs from his chest to his waist, he repeatedly thrusts his insides open, spraying you with gushes of intestinal fluid and blood, which are inexplicably painful from the moment they touch you.
Welcome to the world of Clive Barker, the man behind Hellraiser and a legendary horror writer with a fascination for the macabre and grotesque, who is creating a wholly original game from the darkest depths of his mind. If you don't know the work of Mr Barker, the worlds he creates stand at the opposite end of the horror spectrum to the current fashion for suspense that is epitomised by the Japanese films that work on the premise that what you can't see is most scary.
'... it takes a fireman's hose of gore and sprays it constantly in the face of your senses at point-blank range.'
Instead of leaving anything to your imagination or building you up for a shock that will make you leap from your skin, Jericho instead bombards you with a constant stream of terror. Imagine if you can, not being made to jump, but being in a constant state of having jumped. Though stylistically it is a world away, the game is something like the closing half of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in that it takes a fireman's hose of gore and sprays it constantly in the face of your senses at point-blank range.
Starting out in the game, if you had no warning, you might imagine you were embarking on a traditional team-based shooter. In the opening sequence a band of characters in oversized armour grasping enormous weapons dominate the scene. Butch men with gruff voices and slender women with furrowed brows fill the screen, suggesting Jericho is a hi-tech thriller in the same vein as Gears of War or Ghost Recon.
To a certain extent it is, as despite the that fact this is a first-person shooter, the focus is on rattling off high calibre bullets as you move in a group through battle damaged areas. But this band of mercenaries is something a little different. Codenamed Jericho, they are a collection of soldiers with paranormal powers who protect government interests on behalf of the Department of Occult Warfare.
Sent to the Middle Eastern city of Al-Khali to investigate rumours that the area has become a gateway for the start of a supernatural apocalypse, the team are quickly drawn into an adventure that, whilst set entirely in the city, takes them through several time zones, including World War II, Roman times, the Crusades, and eventually right back to battle the Firstborn, otherwise known as God's aborted earliest attempt at creating mankind.
Visually the game is looking very nice indeed and only occasionally dips its toe into too much cliché. Each pixel adds vibrantly to the gloriously monstrous enemies and the gore coated settings. The sound too is richly horrendous, dragging its fingers down the blackboard of your mind, but what of the gameplay that will define the title's success?
That is a question that is hard to answer, even after some time on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 version, which are relatively comparable. Like Project Eden on the PS2 many years ago, Jericho lets you leap between characters in-game, allowing you to take advantage of their various abilities, which include telekinetic powers that can steer bullets, or those of blood sages, who can control demons with the contents of their veins.
With seven playable characters available, who generally possess a couple of weapons and their own paranormal attributes, at anytime the choice on offer is a little overwhelming at best. For example, giving out orders while leaping between each player at the same time as battling the aforementioned dangling man-eater was rather bewildering.
The controls were in fact solid and consistent throughout the characters, and it is worth remembering that each team member gets added to the squad as you progress, making them something like added weapons in games like Metal Gear, that insist that you familiarise yourself with a vast array of murderous technology. For some this will take no time at all to pick-up, but less experienced gamers may feel a little beleaguered by such a range of options.
The other impact of the complexity of the single-player game is that there is no multiplayer at all. For traditional gamers who cut their teeth on the chunky consoles of the 8 and 16-bit era, this might be something of a refreshing change. The industry's current fascination with online and multiplayer game modes has meant that, in many cases, concessions have had to be made in the main, one-player game. Not so here. In preserving Clive Barker's vision, Codemasters have boldly turned a blind eye to the pressure to include even a simple deathmatch mode.
For others though, whose social life is largely dependent on off or online play with friends, the lack of a multiplayer mode may be confounding or even infuriating. Either way, you can't please everybody, and Barker's reputation as a visionary is not to be taken likely. This is his project, and he knows what he is doing for fans of his work. How gamers will react is yet to be seen, but for those disappointed by the banning of Manhunt 2, this bloody horror-FPS might become something of a saviour.