Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, PC (reviewed here)
Rated M for Mature
Distributed by Codemasters
I’m baaaaaack…miss me?
I’m not the only return. Clive Barker has returned to the realm of gaming, and it’s about damn time. The first game Barker was involved in was Undying, possibly the most criminally overlooked and underrated PC game of all time. In an era where multiplayer shooters were all the rage, a game with a deep single-player plot but no multiplayer option just didn’t have a chance no matter how excellent it was.
Thankfully, gamers have wised up a bit since then, and Jericho will get its day in the sun to stand or fall on its own merits, rather than whether or not you can frag your buddy in Boise.
Jericho’s tale is a major departure from Barker’s usual storytelling stomping grounds. Jericho is the name of the military organization that the US government utilizes secretly to combat supernatural threats. This particular seven-person Jericho team is sent to the ancient African desert ruins of Al-Khali after a distress call from the permanent team guarding those ruins. This isn’t your average archaeological dig. Al-Khali is home to The Breach, and The Breach is opening again.
According to the mythos behind the story, God created a being before man that was sexless but too powerful and immortal. Realizing this, God banished The Firstborn to the Abyss … the gateway of which is located, you guessed it, right under the ancient city of Al-Khali.
For thousands of years, The Firstborn has tried to escape from its prison. Using evil mortal men, The Breach was created, and has been widened a bit in each attempt every few hundred years.
It’s under these conditions that the Jericho team enters Al-Khali and you are tasked with assaulting The Firstborn’s forces to once again close the breach and save the world.
Let’s pause a moment and clear the air a bit. The reviews out there on this title have been mixed, to say the least. The traditional gaming press has slammed the plot as being derivative, the writing as sub-par, and the voice acting as ‘community college level’.
I’ll be blunt here: these people wouldn’t know a good horror tale if it shoved a tentacle-like appendage up their ass and planted it’s unholy seed in their abdominal cavity.
Barker and the software team have taken the basic catch-all FPS plot (team of military experts go in to fight some unknown and nasty force to save the world) and plunged it into Barker’s trademark esoteric universe of old gods and twisted Judeo-Christian imagery. The story is original and compelling. The characters, unlike every single other FPS out there, have a great deal of depth which enhances the gameplay in every way. You don’t want to go heal your telekinetic because she may need to open a door, you want to go help Black, dammit, she’s down!
The cut-scenes (all in-engine) as well as banter during and between firefights show you that this is a group of broken people. Each of them have some supernatural ability, and each of them has paid a horrible price for that ability. Most, against their will.
The dialogue is sharp and realistic. The voice acting is phenomenal. The plot keeps you guessing and keeps on surprising you.
Okay, fine, the story is sound, how does the thing play?
The best way to describe the play of Jericho is as semi-squad-based first-person shooter. The mechanic here is inventive, and plot-motivated. You can swap between your various team members and control them, yet you only actually play as one character throughout the game. I’m not going to spoil why that is, but it’s ingenious and implemented very well. While each player may wind up having a favorite or two among the various Jericho soldiers and their weapon/ability combinations, the game forces you to switch from time to time to solve puzzles, or due to the team being separated. Each member is useful, and each member is playable, which leads to a high variety of play to fit every play style. I preferred the heavy gunner with his fire demon and the telekinetic with her sniper rifle and guided psychic ‘ghost bullets’, but that’s just me.
Having so many team members is a liability, however, and the one area where I agree with most other reviews I’ve read. Both your character and another teammate have resurrection/healing powers. You will use them often. A little too often. For being a crack military squad, these guys fall down a lot. An awful lot. I don’t believe the AI is to blame, I think it’s just a design cul-de-sac that they painted themselves into. If you have seven badass soldiers dumping almost unlimited amounts of ammo at an enemy, you have to make sure that enemy is formidable and capable of dishing out a lot of damage. That leads to snowballing situations where one or two key people go down and unless you’re Johnny-on-the-spot to bring them back, the rest of the team will drop like flies, and you along with them. You wind up running around playing medic more often than dishing out damage in many areas, and that’s just a bad design decision. The game should be difficult, but overusing one mechanic makes play a chore, not a delight.
My only other complaint regarding Jericho is another well-implemented play mechanic that is just too damn difficult for its own good. A few times throughout the game, you have to get through timed response sequences similar to scenes in Resident Evil 4, where you have to hit a series of moves on the directional pad/keys at just the right moment to get past a part of the action. These are visceral, intense, and really keep the game fresh…now if only they weren’t so unforgiving. The good news is that the game will allow you to keep trying until you get it right without penalty. The bad news is you’ll be trying each one quite a few times before you get past them, and will frequently be tired of trying before you succeed and continue on with the game.
Those gripes aside, this is a very strong shooter. Graphically, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The various levels each have a different look and feel, even though some of the enemy types are overused a bit. The controls on each character, even considering their vastly different weapons and powers, are intuitive and easy to switch between in the heat of battle. Enemies usually forsake intelligence for brute power or numbers, but due to the rather linear level design that makes sense and doesn’t detract from the game play. The plot supports the concept of dozens of critters charging you one after the other without end, so that’s what they do. There’s also a unique ammo-management system that doesn’t leave you with infinite ammo, but manages to avoid any sort of ‘must destroy crates to find ammo and health’ mechanic. That’s right, it’s an FPS with no power-ups, health, or ammo items. Period. And no crates. That gets bonus points, right there.
Fans of Barker who otherwise wouldn’t play a shooter may be intimidated by the difficulty, as the learning curve would be steep for someone inexperienced at FPS’s. Those familiar with the genre will take to it like a Cenobite to human suffering. Even if you don’t care about the plot at all, having so many ways to deal all sorts of nasty damage is a very good time.
I do have one final minor complaint. Jericho does fall victim to one of the worst temptations in gaming: multiple endings based on difficulty. Play the game on anything but the hardest level and you get a very short, abbreviated climax that might set up a sequel, but doesn’t really give you the closure you want to see on these characters. On the hardest level, you get a different, more complete ending. Or so I hear. I wouldn’t survive for three levels at that difficulty, and that’s the basis of my gripe. If you’re going to withhold the ‘real’ ending for a high difficulty, don’t make it so only the most hardcore will ever see it without YouTube.
All told, Jericho is an absolute must for fans of Barker and high-action shooters. If you’re one and not the other, it’s still highly recommended. If you don’t like intensely dark horror tales wrapped around creepy environs with copious amounts of gore and carnage at every turn…you’re on the wrong site. You’re looking for ‘imagiantwussyboy.com’, please move along, nothing to see here.
4 out of 5