Clive Barker's Jericho Review
Clive Barker is best known for his twisted and visceral depictions of hellish evil, be it in books or movies. So why should we expect anything different from his video game? Clive Barker’s Jericho is a FPS with the creepy atmosphere of a Resident Evil, which sounds extraordinarily intriguing. We all remember how good The Darkness was earlier this year – which was similar but embraced different concepts – so we had to admit, we were looking forward to playing Jericho. Unfortunately, we were already tired of the repetitive, frustrating adventure before the first hour was up, and it never got any better. Everyone will soon notice the poor AI, badly implemented (and mostly useless) squad tactics, outrageously repetitive combat and generic and clichéd characters. Yes, the appropriate atmosphere is here as the environment is almost always intimidating, but it just never comes together into a polished, cohesive package. With all the great FPSs on store shelves right now, there’s no way we can recommend this one for purchase; there are far better options out there.
We start with the graphics, and thankfully, they’re the best part of Jericho. That’s not saying much, but at least there are a few technically solid cut-scenes, which blend nicely with some classic, Barker-esque enemy design. The environments vary from dark, desert landscapes littered with the remains of an ancient city to even darker, more futuristic indoor areas. In short, there’s a lot of dark, which makes sense. Unfortunately, while the enemies and characters boast some pretty impressive detail, MercurySteam doesn’t give the same attention to the backdrops. The contrast is readily apparent throughout the game, and you’ll soon find yourself wishing you could fight these enemies in a more accomplished environment. But even though the graphics aren’t exactly the epitome of next-gen quality, they do suffice, and they’re the only part of this game that’s significantly better than average. You won’t be spending a lot of time gawking, but that’s okay, because the action rarely slows for very long.
The sound suffers from weak combat effects and a soundtrack that fails to envelop us in the gunfights. With so many weapons and so many abilities being utilized at once, you’d figure the game would erupt in a diverse explosion of sound. Sadly, the gun retorts aren’t anywhere near forceful enough (what am I carrying, a pop gun?), and many of the different effects get jumbled and even lost in the battle insanity. The voices aren’t terrible but they sound forced, and you’ll never once notice the accompanying music, which could’ve helped to solidify the dark and foreboding atmosphere. This is the type of game that could've soared to new heights with the addition of fantastic sound, but the developers just didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. What we get is okay, but not once does the sound help to elevate Jericho to another level. It’s a wasted chance, because while the soundtrack does sound fitting (at times) and several of the character voices are decent, we feel very much like we’re playing a video game.
Know what else makes us feel like we’re playing a video game? Or, should we say, a mediocre video game? A loss of focus. When we got the game, we knew what it was…or at least, we thought we knew. We had assumed this was a first-person shooter, but we didn’t realize MercurySteam was attempting to add in squad tactics (ala Rainbow Six, although nowhere near as complex), some ill-advised puzzles, and a system reminiscent of God of War context sensitive button-pressing. Unfortunately, none of these really come out right, and the entire production feels thrown together, disjointed, repetitive, and oftentimes, downright boring. It’s as if they had this vision in their heads, started on the project, then about halfway through, realized they wouldn’t hit their goal. Then they just shrugged their shoulders and pushed forward, not caring one jot about the kinks and drawbacks. Clive Barker’s Jericho isn’t unentertaining, per se, but without a solid foundation, we’re constantly encountering little problems.
Some of them aren’t so little, either. For example, we won’t even really bother talking about the squad tactics all that much, primarily because they’re borderline useless. You can have the team follow you, hold their positions, or even direct them to cover certain parts of the map, but none of that turns out to be an effective gameplay approach. The issue here centers squarely on the combat, which springs up frequently and violently at almost every turn throughout the adventure. This wouldn’t be so bad if the ally AI was good, but it’s not, and you spend way too much resurrecting fallen comrades, which means sending out orders is usually counterproductive. It’s almost always best to keep the team close by, because they’re really not capable of surviving on their own. Yes, we did say “resurrect” back there; the main character (Captain Ross) has the ability to bring back fallen allies; you simply have to stand next to the victim and press X. Voila! A restored Jericho teammate. One other teammate has this ability as well, but she almost never uses it, so that’s another strike on the squad tactics and AI. There is a silver lining here, though, and it revolves around each character’s unique skills. Not only are some of ‘em pretty darn cool lookin’, but using them is surprisingly fun, too.
See, not long after you start, you’ll be able to switch between squad members and try out each of the different Jericho classes. We’ve got things like Black’s Ghost Bullet, Cole’s super-sweet Infinite Loop (slow time, baby!), and Delgado’s Ababinili flame spirit, which whips around like a flame-headed dragon and nails multiple enemies. The challenge isn’t very high due to low-IQ enemies – they’ll just lumber at you with a few exceptions – and it’s usually good fun to tear apart the baddies with your handful of potentially devastating abilities. But because every battle is almost identical, you’ll find you’ll be using the same skills and fighting style throughout the entire game. You may have to switch around between teammates to solve puzzles, and there are portions where you’re forced to control somebody other than Capt. Ross, but that’s about it. For a game that was supposed to combine the survival/horror and FPS genres, it doesn’t really get either set of elements correct. Sure, it’s fitfully creepy from time to time, but the fear factor only works if you’re absorbed in what’s going on in front of you…for this game, you’ll be distracted by the flaws long before you can become frightented.
The control is okay, and we actually enjoyed the somewhat innovative scheme: just like in real life, you can’t strafe or move backwards as quickly as you can walk forward, which is something we’ve been wanting to see in games for quite a while. This is the lone feather in Jericho’s cap, because the rest of the gameplay is as ho-hum as it gets. You can turn off the aiming assist if you like, but due to the stupidity of the enemy and ally AI, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Lastly, we have to mention that this game can get extremely frustrating, primarily because it operates off a checkpoint saving system. This sounds perfectly normal, but because you can die at the drop of a hat (usually due to those endless exploding enemies) and battles can last forever, you’ll be repeating a lot of lengthy firefights. Some of the most frustrating moments for us came when we died on the last enemy after a flood of nasties, which meant we had to play through the entire silly battle all over again. It’s about here where we started to lose any semblance of interest. Or enjoyment.
Clive Barker’s Jericho does a few things well and a lot of things poorly. In no way can it compare to the other awesome FPSs available now (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, for example), and when you spend more time healing than fighting, there’s something seriously wrong. There’s noticeable Barker flair, but it’s lost amidst the depressing shuffle of inconsistent and generally useless features, crappy AI on both sides, and some of the most repetitive and linear gameplay we’ve ever seen. The different abilities add much-needed appeal and the style is appropriate, but that’s about where the good ends. The campaign is short with zero reason to play again, and the story is semi-interesting at first but never really seems to get going. The rest is just one heaping pile of “meh.”
12/5/2007 Ben Dutka