Clive Barker's Jericho ReviewJoe Shaffer
Pyxis Prime is a prison. It doesn't contain rapists, murderers, or thieves but was meant to hold a single inmate whose only crime was birth. This being is referred to as the Firstborn, a creature that was God's initial creation. Displeased with his first life form, God decided to lock it away in a Purgatory-like dimension. However, the Firstborn didn't appreciate its incarceration, and thus tried to escape numerous times. Each attempt, though, was thwarted by a septet of warriors versed in magic, psychic powers, and witchcraft--an elite squad known as Jericho.
Clive Barker's Jericho delves into a modern day Jericho team, comprised of a motley crew with skeletons in their closets. Following a breach in Pyxis Prime's "security," Jericho assemble to deal with those responsible for the breach and reseal the Firstborn. You first take the role of Capt. Devin Ross, a psychic healer. Through him you catch glimpses of the life that each member leads. However, the significant bits of the story don't get rolling until after Devin dies, murdered by his winged, mutated archnemesis Arnold Leach. However, Devin's role does not end because of his death. Rather, he takes on a spiritual form and can possess his teammates, thereby allowing you to switch between characters at will.
Shifting from one teammate to another works in Jericho's favor, both in terms of narrative and gameplay. Through this feature, we uncover the cast's shady pasts and even come to empathize for them all the more as the game advances. For instance, we discover that Billie Church was raped by her father, but has pulled her life together enough that she doesn't allow her traumatic past dictate the kind of person she is in the present. There's also Father Paul Rawlings, a priest who hasn't exactly been the most virtuous person in accordance to his beliefs. We learn that the man has a weakness for drink, which has led to his inability to maintain his vow of celibacy. Before you can call him a hypocrite, though, the man says something completely expected but nonetheless valid: "I'm only human." Each member of the game's squad is "only human," which is what makes all of them prime candidates for horror story characters. Having a cast audiences can identify with and root for usually makes for more terrifying situations, especially when each combatant is thrust into grim circumstances.
Changing teammates also allows you to experiment with each character's spells and weaponry. I'll admit that it's pretty damn neat, at first, to see what your squad is capable of. Billie Church, for instance, carries a nodachi that's perfect for stealth kills. She also uses blood magic that can immobilize or immolate her victims. Of course, if you're more into sheer power, you can assume the role of Frank Delgado. Frank comes equipped with a super-powered minigun and carries a semi-automatic pistol on the side. For times when his firepower isn't enough, he can also summon a dragon-like fire elemental to reduce the opposition to cinders.
If you couldn't tell, I've been scraping for positive things to say for this game. With what's listed above, the game seems to promise an awesome story loaded with action. While it almost delivers on the narrative front (for the most part), Jericho falters on the gameplay.
For starters, the game isn't scary whatsoever, mainly because it relies too heavily on enemy design to drive its fear factor. The problem is that the monsters are cool-looking, decked out with horribly deformed bodies, blades for arms, gaping sores aplenty, and even tentacle-like fingers. There are even some fiends covered in pustules that explode after taking a certain amount of much damage. Unfortunately, I find myself admiring the monster designs more often than trembling at the sight of them. What's worse is that none of the situations involving these creatures play out in terrifying ways. The monsters usually burst onto the scene and the members of your team regard them as standard targets and commence gunning them down. That your teammates are so cool and calm as they're ripping these demons to shreds with clouds of bullets doesn't tell me I should panic whenever evil rears its head. Rather, it makes me quite confident that my team will survive another round and not suffer a grisly fate. Without the fear of failure and the prospect of winding up some grotesque monster's lunch, there's really nothing to fear.
Having a multitude of fiends could have bolstered the experience, but sadly you fight the same enemies ad nauseam. This is especially so about the bladed enemies and the pustule-covered menaces. Nearly every fight in the game involves gunning down slews of these two, as well as whatever era-specific monsters that happen to populate the chapter you're currently in. At very few points will you find yourself altering your strategy or needing to step up your game in order to pass, as the developers basically rehashed the same fights and situations throughout the campaign.
It also doesn't help that each level is fairly linear, despite sporting great environmental visuals. You'll tear your way through the gritty ruins of a Middle Eastern city, wade in waist-deep filth through abandoned Roman baths, blast foes to bits in the depths of a medieval keep, and match both wits and strength with undead priests in a Sumerian temple. Each setting is fittingly dingy and shadowy, and perfect for hiding vicious demons and fell beasts. They also seem to beckon you to explore more deeply, even though you cannot. Rather than providing branching pathways or convoluted corridors with hidden secrets and goodies, Jericho's interdimensional construct consists of a fairly tight rail with few opportunities to delve deeper.
What drives me absolutely nuts about Jericho is the game's idiotic squad AI. You may notice instances in which your teammates fail to run for cover when they should, allowing bladed freaks slice them to ribbons. Worse, they tend to gravitate in droves around the exploding puss-monsters, resulting in multiple deaths when the creatures detonate. Thankfully, death is not permanent in Jericho. Via magical healing, you can revive your fellow squad members an unlimited number of times. Unfortunately, since your teammates seem to have a propensity for getting killed, you will sometimes find yourself playing healer more often than front line warrior.
Clive Barker's Jericho is rife with fantastic ideas that are poorly executed. Worse than that, it's a great story with likeable characters attached to a mediocre first-person shooter. This goes to show that a game needs to do more than tell a good story. I think a great many of us enjoy gaming for its interactive elements. I don't know about any of you, but it wasn't a human story that got me through Super C or kept me playing Doom. Don't get me wrong; I won't dog effective storytelling in video games. It's just that interactive elements should be the primary concern of a project. Narrative can still play a pivotal role, but I tend to find a game's mechanics and interactive concepts are much more important.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.