Clive Barker might be well respected but he’s not had the best of track records with his movies. Other than Hellraiser and Candyman the horror legend has struggled to reach greatness, so this could be why he’s decided to work on a video game. Jericho sees Barker collaborating with Mercury Steam on a horror FPS, which was promised to be sickening, bloody and scary. Sadly it falls a little short on all three.
Things start off promisingly enough, with special forces squad Jericho taking a helicopter ride to a disturbance in the ruined city of Al Khalid. In turns out that the Firstborn (God’s first creation that he banished to the abyss) is wreaking havoc, taking pieces of earth back to its domain, and it’s up to the seven-strong team of supernatural soldiers to hunt it down. Of course, it’s not just the Firstborn that you need to contend with, with numerous Barker-inspired creatures also running amok.
With the storyline out of the way you’re left with what appears to be a fairly run of the mill first-person shooter, albeit one that tries its hardest to immerse you into the game. The first thing you’ll notice is the rather exaggerated bobbing when walking. It certainly looks impressive and gives a real sensation of being a person, not just an arm holding a gun, but it’s not best suited to a shooter that throws plenty of fast moving enemies at you.
Team Jericho is formed of seven members (both male and female), although leader Ross is killed early on, becoming some kind of roaming spirit. What this means in terms of gameplay is that you can teleport from character to character as you see fit, becoming them and using their special abilities and weapons. Each of the six playable soldiers has a primary and secondary weapon, plus two special ‘magical’ abilities – not all are available from the off, but they are introduced as the game progresses.
It truth it’s the character swapping that makes the game such a confusing mess, at least initially. The first problem stems from the high number of enemies that the game throws at you and their nippy speed. In a confined space (much of the game takes place in dimly lit corridors) you often find yourself teleported into a character who’s facing a wall, which is both odd and a sure-fire way to die. On death you can quickly choose to switch to another player or the game will switch for you. In the middle of a frenzied fire-fight that’s taking place in near darkness you’ll find yourself jumping from one host to another, dying over and over again.
The next problem centres on the game’s revival system. As long as one character is alive you are too, so it’s essential you keep them on their feet. Thankfully you have the ability to revive comrades no matter which character you’re playing as – as does Jericho team member Father Rawlings, but he tends to be slow to use his abilities. You’ll find that you can get rather too focussed on making sure the team is healthy and forget about killing enemies, which means you enter a vicious circle where you’re not really making progresses, instead just surviving and relying on the AI characters to slowly wipe out the enemies.
In an ideal world each of the six characters would offer something useful to proceedings, but I definitely found myself sticking to two: Church and Delgado. Despite Church’s outfit that displays a little too much of her skin for a battle situation and Delgado’s macho-man bad attitude, their combination of enemy immobilising abilities and brute force make them a potent killing combo. After a while I adopted the tactic of telling my squad to hold firm while I ventured off alone, preventing the whole team from being slaughtered by one wave of enemies. This worked quite well, but at times the squad simply refused to obey orders, following me into traps over and over again.
Complete death wouldn’t have been a huge problem had it not been for the game’s dreadful checkpoint system. On numerous occasions I encountered sections that were simply too long for one checkpoint, forcing me to replay tricky encounters until my patience had worn thin. It forces you to play in a very negative fashion, which hurts the game as it’s at its best when the whole team is unleashing hell on the hordes of oncoming enemies.
This is all a huge shame as Jericho had tonnes of potential. The characters on the whole are interesting, with at least three of them having clever special abilities, but I found myself struggling to remember who a few of them were, especially when the characters decided to use first names to talk to each other instead of the surnames that are listed on the character selection menu.
Whether it’s down to an awkward partnership between a writer and game developer or not is unknown, but there are so many areas that could have been far better. The atmosphere at times is incredibly creepy, but soon enough the game reverts to bog-standard spawning enemies, often overdoing it in the process. The game would have really benefited from fewer enemy encounters, instead of the room after room of fire-fights that you have to endure. The chill-factor is lost after about an hour as you know what to expect. Less if often more, especially with horror.
The squad control is also a huge wasted opportunity. You can command Alpha and Bravo team individually, giving them points to move to, but it’s largely a useless feature. Enemies can spawn from anywhere, so a safe position one second can be a metre from an approaching exploding monster the next – which wouldn’t be so bad if the squad didn’t have some kind of death wish, almost gathering around the explosion time after time.
Rarely have I been so frequently annoyed by a game, but I still found myself enjoying Jericho, eager to move on to the next section. Part of this no doubt is down to the game’s look, which while not stunning is attractive in its own way. The audio work is also solid, although not as spectacular as it could have been given the various settings and time periods you’ll play through. Achievement points in the Xbox 360 game aren’t even that well dished out, and the odd Quick Time Event caused more than a few expletives as I failed repeatedly.
It’s also worth pointing out that the PlayStation S3 game looks considerably worse than the 360 and PC versions of the game, in both crispness and frame rate. On PlayStation 3 the action is always fairly sluggish and this becomes worse during large fire-fights, and it simply looks rougher than the Xbox 360 version. Online functionality of each system isn’t worth considering as there’s no multiplayer on offer, although downloadable content is mentioned on the Xbox 360 game case. Lengthy load times are present in all versions of the game, and these crop up far too regularly, especially early on. The game tries to hide this by displaying some slowly typed text on the screen, but it doesn’t disguise being regularly ripped out of the game experience.
Clive Barker’s Jericho is something of an oddity. On one hand it’s a near-broken video game, packed full of so many gaming no-nos that it ought never to be spoken about again, but on the other it’s original, atmospheric and sickeningly good fun. Many people will understandably lose interest after a few hours, but the game’s many problems hide a game that deserves to be played through to completion.