Clive Barker's Jericho
How did Codies' supernatural horror FPS turn out?
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Codemasters have put out some excellent sports titles this year, so I it was with an excited sinister grin that I snaffled Clive Barker's Jericho away and slot it into the 360 to play. Hellraiser is one of my favourite films; I've read a few Barker's books and for those not in the know, my Live gamer tag is based on his Cthullian inspired monstrosities lying in wait on the other side of the veil to swallow humanity whole and make little remembrance poppy pins for their jackets with our dismembered infants.
Jericho offer's up a rather generic formula for which to set a storyline by Britain's finest horror writer - the squad based FPS. If you care to imagine Ghost Recon meeting Condemned on Halloween, throw in an extra helping of, well, Clive Barker's demons, and you'd be nearly there. Except for the part that Jericho completely fails to live up to either GRAW in terms of gameplay or Condemned in trouser soiling scares.
It's always difficult to balance a mix between scares in a game and shoot-em-up sections. Condemned managed this amicably with a fair selection of melee weapons, and few guns lying around. Of course, when you found the shotgun you felt invincible, and that's where Jericho really falls down. The Jericho team are a secret squad of 7 tactical magician warriors who have been sent out to Al-Khali to track down and destroy an evil power trying to destroy the world. It seems even the mighty Clive Barker struggles to come up with anything original in the face of a cheque for his name on a computer game.
This evil power is the unborn, the first creature created by God. Having never had a mother, the unborn became a proper little ASBO delinquent and a powerful one at that. God realised the unborn was going to be a problem, so he locked it away and created man, a universe for him and forgot about the unborn. Since then the unborn has lured human puppets to do it's bidding, hoping to open a portal to our world where it can invade. Every time this happens (and it has happened lots of times over the centuries) a Jericho group, or their equivalent, have been sent in to put the Unborn's electronic tag back on him.
The squad are a black leather and PVC clad bunch, who quickly lose their squad leader in the game. In the Unborn's portal death does not exist, so this allows Ross to possess other members of the team. The player takes on the role of Ross, and thereby any team member he posses through the course of the campaign. Ross can heal downed members of the team (as long as the person he possesses is alive) and each team member has their own weapons and powers.
Not long into the game you'll start to see some of the major flaws. Gameplay itself, isn't a problem, and shooting and using your powers are controlled well. What you will discover is that your team mates are pathetic at trying to stay alive (and as they can't really die here, why should they?). My favourite character, the priest, also heals the dead so if you play as him only you can revive mauled squad mates. Level design is particularly banal, with most levels seeming to consist of a few u-bend corridors before arriving at a monster-spewing room.
Invariably the levels in a classic boss fight, one of the best things the game has to offer. Zombie Nazi succubus, a heathen hedonist roman and a warped blasphemous priest and his choir of undead children were all highly memorable. Many of the demons the game throws at you are a frightful sight to behold as well. A common (and particularly annoying) one is a walking suicide bomber, who will explode himself near the team, showering you all in gloopy pus and killing anyone next to him straight away. You need to take careful aim and shoot out each gigantic zit on this demon's body to effectively take them down. Very unsanitary.
The voice acting in the game is mediocre; you really won't care too much who lives and dies from your team at the end of the game, especially as they will have died about 20 times each before this. Infinite ammo is simply part of the game and the fact that you can bring you team mates back to life also makes you invincible, although you need to spend that time healing squad mates. I failed to find one boss' weak point and spent an hour shooting and the infinite ogres it spawned without being reduced to Game Over simply because there was no way the enemies could defeat me. Weapons are all a bit tame too, and while changeable ammo for some guns is welcome, it makes no real difference in terms of gameplay. Attempts to spice things up with the now mandatory timed button press action sequence are dire, and go far too quickly for any player to realistically get right first time. Instead, it becomes a case of die and try again.
Overall it seems Jericho didn't set it sights very high, and failed to hit them. Having a squad based shooter won't work when your squad are incompetent morons. Having any real scares in a game won't work when you have infinite ammo and a Gatling gun. Filling the game with some of the nastiest, most disturbing monsters I've seen certainly gains some bonus credentials. Where Jericho really flops is as a vehicle for some real storytelling - which recent 360 games Orange Box, BioShock and Mass Effect have done incredibly well. Hiring Mr Barker to write a non-existent storyline about special ops in alternate dimensions is a waste of his, Codemasters and most of all our time.