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Can Clive Barker raise hell on the next-gens with this time travelling first person shooter from one of the master horror writers of our times...
- Interesting squad system.
- Wide variety of weapons.
- Nicely integrated special powers.
- Dull FPS gameplay.
- Not enough suspense.
- Irritating interactive cut-scenes.
Cult (or should that be occult) horror writer Clive Barker has got a lot of notches on his belt when it comes to the film and book worlds. Perhaps most well known for writing and directing the film Hellraiser, as well as his work on Candyman (which was based on one of his short stories) as Executive Producer, Barker has also had considerable success with his novels. He continues to get well published with his latest book, Mister B. Gone, being given a near simultaneous release to Jericho. The world of games has been a less frequent stomping ground for Clive, though, with his only previous title being Clive Barker's Undying (six years ago). Nevertheless, the multi-talented writer, director, producer and artist has teamed up with Codemasters to bring his own unique brand of 'dark fantasy' to the videogame world once again with Jericho.
Set in the mystical Middle Eastern city of Al Khali that's steeped in a history of supernatural goings on, Jericho follows the path of the Jericho Squad. As members of the US government's Department of Occult Warfare, the Jericho Squad are a slightly oddball group of military witches. The government, of course, isn't particularly interested in admitting to the group's existence, but they will call on them to banish demons and sort out the things that go bump in the night. The Jericho Squad are being joined on this mission by Father Paul Rawlings, a Jericho veteran and bigwig in the US Army Chaplin's Core. Is it just me or are these government/military organisations slightly unconvincing?
Anyway, the squad moves into present day Jericho and sooner or later some hellish beasties with pustules, spiky things for arms and tentacles coming from their abdomens, soon appear and everything goes a bit Pete Tong. You play Captain Devin Ross, a sceptic on the whole supernatural thing, but an accomplished military leader. You are able to make basic squad commands with Ross (hold position, move out etc.) and he leads the squad into Al Khali where you start following the path of a small child swathed in black with bright white eyes, who wants you to help him/her/it. This little blighter is definitely a little bit eerie, as mysterious children in horror movies tend to be.
It's towards the end of this first section of the game that a significant plot twist takes place, so don't read the next couple of paragraphs if you want to avoid a potential spoiler. While taking on a load of harpy type beasts, the squad member you play as - Captain Ross - is killed. At this point he becomes a spiritual entity who is able to project himself into all the other members of the squad. So, you retain the squad commands (which are really quite rudimentary) and heal abilities of Captain Ross, but you also get the weapon and power variations of all the other characters as you gradually unlock them over the course of the next level or so.
I suppose it's a fairly interesting way of explaining how you can play as any of the squad members in-game, but it's also a little bit corny which makes the horror all seem a bit less convincing. The further you travel into the game, the more weapons and powers become available as more squad members allow you to 'possess' them. Sergeant Delgado, for example, is armed with a mini-gun, Lieutenant Black with a sniper rifle/grenade launcher, Church has a samurai sword sub-machine gun combo, while Jones has the shotgun come rifle 'Patrioteer'.
The weapons are varied enough to keep things interesting and certain situations will certainly play to one or two character's strong points, making for some fairly well balanced gunplay. Similarly, most of the characters have two special powers that are also required at certain junctures throughout the game. Rawlings and Ross are the only two players who can cure other squad members, which is something you'll have to do a lot in the latter parts of the game as they tend to die a lot. Black can telekinetically control her sniper bullets, Jones can posses other people via astral projection, while Church uses her blood magic for a number of tasks including fending off enemies and opening doors.
Overall, the squad format is what brings a bit of colour and variation to what is a fairly stagnant shooter. As you travel further into Al Khali you go through various time periods including the Second World War, Crusades and the 4th Millennium B.C. (Where the Biblically evil Firstborn - the thing you're trying to cast into an abyss - originated). Apparently, rulers throughout history have been drawn to the area for its occult power. As you travel further back in time, the levels become significantly harder but not through any intelligently designed set-pieces or particularly intelligent enemies.
The AI is passable, with different enemies requiring different styles of attack (e.g. the Second World War beasts with mini-guns will often diligently find cover to fire out of). However, the developers answer to increasing the difficulty levels is all too often limited to throwing wave after wave of the same enemy NPCs at players in order to stall their progress. Couple this with squad members who really can't defend themselves particularly well (requiring you to constantly revive them) and the gameplay can get quite frustrating in some of the denser areas.
Perhaps the most mediocre part of the game is the pretty uninspiring and confined environments. They leave players with the same old rinse and repeat FPS action, making for a shooter that rarely rises above 'mildly stimulated' on the excitement scale. While there are some slightly chilling elements to the story, the enemy NPCs are less liable to scare and more likely to irritate gamers. It's not like you cautiously walk down suspense filled corridors, fearing the gory attack of a demonic beast. On the contrary in fact; you walk into predictable set-pieces full of enemies that look like weirdly deformed hunchbacks and mummies. The resulting 'What is that?' reaction isn't one of fear, but one of slightly comic confusion.
Codemasters have employed the use of the in-vogue interactive cut-scene in Jericho. If you do them right, interactive cut-scenes can really draw you into the game world. If - like Jericho - you do them wrong, then it just adds to the multitude of other irritations in the game. The reactions required to press the right buttons in the right order are similar to those of a fighter pilot. For us mere mortals, that means it's usually a case of doing the cut-scene enough times to memorise the order of button pressing before you can progress. Strangely, I don't particularly like having my neck snapped by a wasted corpse seven times in succession while it tells me "Welcome to the path of souls. You will learn to give your faith, in time..." One upside is that there are usually two or three different end animations to a cut-scene, but it's not enough to save a lost cause unfortunately.
As for content, gamers will probably be beavering away for a good 10 to 15 hours before they sort out that pesky Firstborn. However, the lack of any multiplayer modes whatsoever definitely affects the long term appeal of Jericho. With such a small range of gameplay options available and a dull single player game on offer, just be sure you're obsessed with horror FPS titles or a Clive Barker-phile before you buy this game.
Graphically, the only time you tilt your head in visual appreciation is during the CG cut-scene sequences. In-game, the graphics really are sub-par on the next-gen consoles with the only highlight coming from a heat haze effect off the end of your gun barrel after taking a shot. Finally, the soundtrack is fairly average, with the only music worthy of note being a chilling choral track whenever the eerie child appears. Additionally, the voice acting is the usual dire affair for an FPS that struggles to achieve mediocrity.