Review by Suprak the Stud
"Sometimes, Attaching Your Name to a Project isn't a Good Idea"
For some reason, I have always felt that the genre of horror is translated better in video games than any other medium. The whole experience tends to be more immersive, as you're not just watching a character on screen or reading about it in a book, and instead are in direct control of whether or not your character makes it to the end. Despite this advantage, the genre as a whole has been floundering pretty badly lately, and there haven't been too many legitimately frightening games since the early days of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame. While I had considered abandoning the genre entirely as in a lot of recent horror games I can only make it an hour in before my character dies of boredom, I always end up going back to this genre that has continued to mistreat me around Halloween time. This year, I ended up going with Clive Barker's Jericho, which Clive Barker apparently loved so much that he felt obligated to put his name in the title. I had never heard of Clive Barker, and after looking him up I was pleasantly surprised to find out he was the director of Hellraiser and some other popular horror movies. After playing through Jericho, I have come to the conclusion that he should probably stick to movies as while the game was entertaining at times, I've encountered pumpkins that were more frightening.
As the game opens, some terrorist organization has taken over a lot of desert ruins in a place called Al-Khali. While this might sound like a pretty crappy terrorist organization, spending their days occupying abandoned shopping malls and kicking over kids' sand castles, it turns out this abandoned desert is actually very important and hosts some sort of ancient evil. See, turns out man wasn't the first thing God created, and his initial attempts at creation were something akin to a sixth grade art student that just cobbled a bunch of clay together that latter exploded in the kiln. God wasn't as naturally talented as we would like to think and his first creation, The Firstborn, was so terrible that he tried to sweep in under the rug. However, it was so terrible that not even God could kill it (kind of like Paris Hilton), and the best He could do was seal it off there, at Al-Khali. But the thing as a propensity for escaping and running amok whenever things on Earth start getting too evil, and the terrorist organization has succeeded at breaching the seal in an attempt to free The Firstborn. As killing something that God couldn't kill doesn't fall into the training of most army members, the Jericho squad is summoned, which is a squad of soldiers with various psychic or metaphysical type powers that are useful for slaying all types of demons. These seven members are the only people to stop the Firstborn from freeing itself and taking out all of his neglected child issues out on humanity.
While this doesn't sound like anything that people will be confusing for thought provoking literature any time soon, I actually sort of like the basic premise behind the game. Squad based games have done well in the past, and by giving each member of the squad some sort of special power, it provides some nice diversity from simply shooting the hordes of demons attacking you. Members of your team each have some unique ability, ranging from Cole's capacity to slow down time, which allows you to run all over the area and shoot enemies before they have a chance to return fire, to Black's ability to control individual bullets from her sniper rifle and aim them through the heads of multiple enemies. Sure, a group of paranormal army soldiers using magical powers to stop an ultimate evil sounds like a concept that was originated by an uncreative fanfiction author, but it is almost works in terms of gameplay and some of these abilities are actually fun to use, even if they have been implemented in several other games already.
While there is nothing wrong with a squad based game, it does become somewhat problematic when the members of the squad are so unbalanced that it would be impossible for them to use a seesaw. Early into the game, you unlock the ability to rapidly switch between team members and use their special abilities as you see fit. As Black, you have the ability to mentally control your bullets, fire out explosive rounds to take out any of the large enemies in the game, or use a sort of force push that prevents most common enemies from getting close enough to attack you. However, as someone like Jones or Rawlings, you have the abilities to either shoot at the enemies with your colonial muskets or bring up the character control hub and switch to someone that isn't so useless. About half of your team is only useful during some mandatory puzzles that involve their specific talents, while the other half of your team is busy decimating Eastern Europe. While you technically have six members of your team, I spent almost all of my time using either Delgado, Black, or Cole, and began wishing I could change the AI of the other characters from attack to begin operation human shield.
The actual narrative here isn't anything spectacular, but there are some moments where the game actual almost develops into something interesting. There is a surprising amount of lore that went into the creation of Jericho, and by completing certain in game objective you unlock profiles of the squad and of the various villains. These are surprisingly detailed and a lot are actually fairly interesting to read through, especially the villains. Jericho has you progress through the past into each time period that The Firstborn has previously been released in, and as it is only released when people do something particularly evil, the times you go to are filled with some truly despicable people. Along the way you meet a Roman governor that would give Caligula a run in terms of debauchery, weighing in at over a ton are having a penchant for taking part in bloody orgies, a Nazi psychic commander that uses her powers to convince people to eat their own children, and a Catholic Bishop that willingly led thousands of children to their deaths in the Children's Crusade. All in all, there is a good assortment of villains here and the profiles actually set up a nice foundation for the story.
And with that said, everything else about the story is completely unremarkable. Sure, the profiles are nice to read through and the villains in the story are well thought out, but it doesn't make the in-game narrative any less dull. It's like Barker put all of his energy into developing these intricate profiles and then decided that nothing interesting actually had to happen during the actual story. The ending to Jericho is one of the worst in recent memory, punctuated by a sequence where you don't actually fight one of the main villains that the game has been building up and fizzling to an end with a dull, uninspired final boss fight. There is one of these awful endings that doesn't even wrap up everything, possibly in an effort to set up a sequel, but with how this game played out I wouldn't be interested enough to pick up a sequel if they ever released one. Although, maybe it is unfair to criticize Jericho for the lack of a proper climax as there was never any buildup during the rest of the game that should lead one to believe that the ending would be anything other than dull. There are some interesting sequences where you learn a little about the villains or the other people trapped in the abyss with you, but while a fairly nice job is done developing the backstories to these nonplayable characters, similar attention was never given to the story which is both linear and boring. It doesn't really help that most of the people on the squad are either void of any significant personality or entirely brash and unlikable. They're all dressed in what looks like black leather S&M gear, and spout out awful dialogue every couple of steps. Even the characters themselves don't seem to like each other, as they're pulling out their guns and pointing them at each other nearly every other cutscene. I can't say a blame them; if this was my traveling troupe I would have shot half of them before we even got off the plane.
Perhaps the worst part about the game is the atrocious level design. Jericho features the worst level design I've encountered in an FPS, both visually and schematically. Each level is essentially a straight line from beginning to end with enemies serving as your only decorative motif. Sure, they do throw in a turn here and there and stairs will change the elevation of the level at times, but this doesn't change the fact that you always only have one way to go. Exploration isn't discouraged, but that's sort of like saying teleportation isn't discouraged, because it's outright impossible. And, despite the fact that I only had one way to go, there were times I still wish I had a map. This was the first time I ever wished I had a map to navigate what is essentially a straight line, but everything in every level looks exactly the same. Each level is like one long perpetual stony gray castle corridor (or gray destroyed corridor or yellow corridor), and if you happen to get turned around at some point, you'll start backtracking without intentionally doing so. You've always got that nagging feeling that you're already been this way because this monotone corridor looks awfully familiar, and the only way you can really tell you're going in the correct direction is if you're being inundated with enemies. It's as if the level designer made one gray crumbling wall, and fell so in love with it that he or she decided to copy and paste the design repeatedly for the entire five stages. There is one part in the Roman level where I thought, Hey, this looks alright, but anytime I can count the number of parts of levels I thought were well designed not on my fingers, but on my torso, something has gone terribly wrong. The rest of the game looks alright, but the enemies look like nearly every other demon monster from video games ever and only the bosses look interesting enough to be memorable.
The back of the box advertises Jericho as a horror game, but at no point in the game was I ever moderately frightened (unless you count that constant nagging fear I had that I was accidentally backtracking). In fact, for someone who supposedly has a lot of experience in the horror genre, Clive Barker doesn't seem to have any sort of clue as to what passes for scary. Being chased by some sort of evil creature when I'm alone and unarmed would be frightening. Being chased by the same sort of creature when I'm with a friend and we have guns is considerably less so. And being chased by these creatures when I'm armed with an automatic weapon, a shotgun, a slew of magical powers, and six friends that also have guns and magic is no longer remotely frightening. In fact, at this point, I'm the one probably doing the chasing. The monsters should be fleeing in terror, because I can conjure flame demons, slow down time, and shoot three of them with a bullet I control from my sniper rifle a few hundred yards away. We're the kind of things that give little monsters night terrors. There are a lot of gross out type moments that some authors or moviemakers sometimes confuse for scary when they don't have enough good ideas to actually tell a frightening story, but there's nothing here that'll make you jump, which is due in part to that fact that you have enough firepower at your disposal to take out a medium sized country. This game has you traveling through the most evil places in history, including Nazi Germany, Roman rule under Caligula, and the site of the Children's Crusade, and yet somehow makes each location look bland and dull. How do you make Nazi Germany look anything other than terrifying?
This tameness is basically indicative of a larger problem, which is that the game is too easy. There never is much of a challenge in the game as the enemies are terribly designed. There are a total of five levels divided into different segments, and each level is really only comprised of two to three different enemy types. The enemies are specifically designed to represent the type of soldiers from that era, which is nice, but each enemy really only has one tactic that it uses ad nauseum. And whenever a little skirmish breaks out, fifteen or sixteen of the same enemy tends to appear in pairs or groups of three, and once one is defeated an exact replica will pop up and repeat exactly what the previous enemy did without bothering to change strategy. In one particularly apoplexy inducing stretch a series of twenty demon Roman soldier trudged around the corner, hid behind their shield, walked six steps, and slowly stuck their head above their shield to check their surroundings, at which point I shot their fragile skull from across the room using the sniper in the team. Literally, nothing changed about this process for ten minutes, and I was beginning to feel like the universe was broken and started skipping, forcing me to relive the same couple of minutes of my life over and over and I wished I was at least playing a more enjoyable game if this was how I was going to be trapped. You would think that after there was a pile of bodies about ten high at the same location, all with bullet holes in there head, the soldiers might change up there strategy slightly and not expose their tender little head to my mean old bullets (or at least take a different path as I'm sure it must have been hard to walk through the huge pile of bodies), but each one marched to their doom in the same location as if they were lemmings. This happens in nearly every level, and it would be nice if the enemies were programmed to not be so dumb.
The problem with the difficulty is made worse by the fact that you basically have unlimited ammo and unlimited health. You usually have to put codes in for these kinds of options, but Jericho just gives these things away to you for free. Cole keeps on downloading ammo whenever you start running low and it is fully filled at any checkpoint, meaning there is no need to conserve your ammo and you don't even have to be bothered to go around the level and look for it. If you fall in battle, you have five other members of your squad that you are immediately teleported to, just to ensure that it is nearly impossible to die. And you can literally revive any of your fallen teammates by just tapping a button, just in case six lives and nearly infinite ammo didn't make the game easy enough.
There are a couple of other minor nagging issues, including the fact that your team never is nearly as competent as you are after you switch out of them, meaning you have to do most of the heavy lifting. The AI is competent most of the time, but prone to bouts of terrible dumbness that leaves you running around the field reviving them. There are enemies that explode if they get close to you, and in keeping with the terrible design of the game, they can only be stopped by shooting little portions of their body from far away before they get close enough to explode themselves (or you can just blow them up, but no one on your team seems smart enough to do that if you aren't controlling them). This is cheap enough, but worsened by the fact that the other members of your team are apparently very cold and always want to huddle together, ensuring an explosion will take out three of four members that are too dumb to scatter when they see a walking bomb heading towards them. Thus, you have to run across the screen to revive them, and you usually make it back to your cover spot just in time to turn around and see another one of these enemies blowing themselves up and killing the same group of your squad that still haven't figured out that explosions lead to death. You technically could just leave them until the battle is over, but the other living members of your team begin shouting that you need to help them, or at least they do until an enemy explodes on them and shuts them up. The exploding enemies are especially talented at popping up from the ground right next to your team in the middle of battle, ensuring that even if your teammates weren't totally incompetent at escaping explosions, they'd still die several times per level.
There are also some terrible quick time events, which occur at random instances without any warning and hide the buttons you need to press at the very side of the screen ensuring that the first couple of times it happens, you will die. This doesn't really count as difficulty or a challenge, as you can repeat this process as many times as you want without any negative penalty, and is once again more cheap than actually difficult. The game never really seems to understand difficulty, and instead is content at throwing random, cheap attacks at you that are more frustrating than they are difficult. The only battles that either aren't entirely repetitive or frustratingly random are the boss battles, which while on the easy side are well enough done to provide some satisfaction.
While I have complained about a lot of aspects of Jericho, it actually is not a terrible game and might be fairly enjoyable for someone just looking for a mindless FPS to pass a couple of days. There isn't a ton of content here, so it should probably only take ten hours or so to play through it and there isn't a lot of extra stuff to do except unlock all of the profiles for your viewing pleasure. There are a lot of things that Jericho almost does right, and the basic premise behind the game is not a bad one. However, there are so many stumbles along the way that if I was Clive Barker, this is not a project I would want my name attached to. In fact, the game seems determined to sabotage itself at every opportunity. The special abilities are fun to use and the shooting mechanics are pretty good, but the battles are all repetitive and half of your team is pretty much useless. A lot of time went in to developing a deep lore to the world of Jericho, but then no time was give to the actually story and there are only glimmers of interesting segments eventually punctuated by a terrible ending. Add in some cheap enemies, sketchy AI, and awfully implemented QTEs and you have a recipe for a disappointment. Now I'm beginning to remember why I tend to stay away from horror games, but I'm sure I'll forget again by next year.
now that's a concept that truly terrifies me.
Master of Horror (THE GOOD):
+Premise behind the story could have been quite good if properly developed
+Some surprisingly well done profiles that are interesting to read
+Memorable villains; some decent boss fights
+Some special abilities are fun to use in battle
+Squad based gameplay almost works and switching between your non-useless teammates to use their special abilities is pretty enjoyable
Master of Chores (THE BAD):
-Worst level design in a modern FPS; exploration impossible
-Poor story and character development
-Disappointing final boss fight
-Battles become repetitive because of poorly programmed enemies
-Some cheap tactics used to make game seem more difficult
-Too easy; nearly have unlimited ammo and infinite revives
-Some useless team members; playable cast of characters is fairly unlikable
Master of Bore (THE UGLY): Jericho actually offers a tip line in the game, and if you call a certain number you can buy certain cheats to make the game easier for you. The only problem with this strategy to earn an extra buck (other than the fact that tip lines haven't been employed since the early nineties when people found out about the Internet) is that if people are finding Jericho difficult, they most likely also find dialing a phone difficult and won't be able to call in.
THE VERDICT: 5.75/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/09/09
Game Release: Clive Barker's Jericho (US, 10/23/07)
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