Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Mercury Steam/Alchemic Productions
Release Date: October 23, 2007
Jericho revolves around the elite Jericho squad, a covert branch of the U.S. Chaplains who specialize in supernatural and occult warfare. Led by Captain Devin Ross, Jericho has a reputation for being the "witches with guns" who are capable of handling any situation that comes up. Their latest mission may be too much for even Jericho Squad to handle.
When Arnold Leach, a former Jericho operative-turned-traitor and his cult take over a small Middle Eastern town called Al Khali, it is revealed that they are attempting to revive a being known as The Firstborn. According to legend, that is the first being created by God, and it has such amazing power that it had to be sealed away. Throughout the centuries, various dark magicians have attempted to awaken The Firstborn and use its power for their own, and each time, they have been stopped by a previous incarnation of the Jericho squad.
Things quickly go sour for the current Jericho squad as it enters Al Khali, which has become The Firstborn's personal lair, or "The Box." Before the team even passes the threshold, Leach attacks and murders Ross, whose soul is then thrust into the body of one of his comrades. Now down a man and trapped inside The Box, Jericho must find a way to stop The Firstborn before it breaks free and dooms all of humanity.
Jericho's plot is interesting in theory but incredibly poor in execution. Things start out pretty well, with a well-rounded cast with a number of different, often-clashing personalities. The problem is that nothing comes of these characters and their quirks. You go from stage to stage with little to no explanation of where or why you're going there. You travel from pointless area to pointless area, with the game quickly growing more incoherent as you progress. The last area of the game is just completely nonsensical, and even the unlockable in-game files do little to clarify anything.
When the credits finally roll, you'll be left staring at the screen, wondering what on Earth has happened, and if that is really all that you earned for your hard work. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the game does attempt to have some character development; there are a few scenes dedicated to fleshing out a couple of characters, but nothing comes of them. You may be led to believe that these plot threads will pay off later, but they don't.
Jericho differs a bit from most first-person shooters in that there are no items at all in the game. There are no med kits, no new weapons, no ammo dropped by defeated foes — not even simple keycards. Instead, each member of the Jericho squad has a unique set of weapons, items, talents and magical abilities of which he or she can make use. Since Ross no longer has a body of his own, he uses his newfound power of possession to inhabit each Jericho member's body, granting him access to all of their weapons and abilities, as well as granting them his Psychic Healing ability. Not all members of Jericho are created equal, though.
All of the squad comes in armed with a weapon of choice. Most members carry a primary and secondary weapon, with the exception of Father Paul Rawlings, who carries twin pistols. While the modern weapons are useful, they're not very interesting, despite the game's attempts to brighten them up. You point, you shoot and enemies die. It's technically possible to do things like alter your weapon's rate of fire, but there is absolutely no reason for it. Ammo is abundant, and the alternate fire modes offer little benefit. There isn't anything wrong with any of the weapons; they're the same workman arms we see in every FPS on the market. With such a bizarre and unique setting, especially with the team being a techno-magic unit, it feels odd that they'd have such ordinary weapons. It's not bad — just boring.
Each member of Jericho is a witch or warlock who focuses on a specific discipline of supernatural powers. Abigail Black is telekinetic, Billie Church is a mage who uses blood in her arcane rituals, Simone Cole is a "reality hacker," Sgt. Frank Delgado is a pyromancer who made a contract with a flame demon, Xavier Jones is a seer, and Rawlings is a priest with powerful healing abilities. Learning to use each character's abilities to the fullest is really the key to success in Jericho. Guns and blades have their uses, but when you're up against a primordial evil, you need something a bit more mystical at your side. While most of the magic is fun to use and very powerful, there are a few abilities that seem tacked on or pointless. Delgado's Fire Shield, for example, grants him immunity to fire and a minor defense buff, but he can't attack while using it. The number of times this has potential to be useful during the game can be counted on one hand, with fingers to spare. Likewise, Rawlings' magical powers are great for support, but controlling him actually makes your team less effective, since you're cutting your number of healers in half for no real benefit.
While most of Jericho's abilities come in handy during combat, there are a few occasions when they're turned into puzzles. The problem is that despite the wide range of actions that the squad can take, each puzzle is shockingly simplistic. There's no interesting application of the powers; it's either, "possess this character" or "use a specific power," and the game isn't at all shy about telling you which power to use. The primary purpose of these puzzles appears to be switching to a specific character to ensure that you're in the "correct" body for a particular cut scene. The puzzles are rather frustrating because they're too easy to provide a challenge, but they still cause an unnatural break in the action.
The Jericho squad may be an elite fighting force, but they're not very bright. Unless you're actively controlling the squad members, they'll either not attack, attack wildly or fail to do anything sensible. It's frustrating to watch an ally die simply because he decided it would be a good idea to run up and hug a suicide bomber. Thankfully, getting them back on their feet isn't difficult, but it means that against anything that requires focus to fight, your team members become distractions rather than dependable allies. A few AI-controlled allies are seemingly unable to utilize a majority of their powers. Church and Delgado will occasionally use their attack spells, and Rawlings is quite useful as a support character, but otherwise, they may as well be generic soldiers.
The enemies in Jericho start off being fairly interesting. They attack in huge numbers, are heavily armed and can sustain a massive amount of damage ... in the first stage. Once you can switch enemy bodies, the enemy difficulty takes a sharp downturn. Enemies suddenly lose almost all of their ranged combat ability, and most of the new enemies are a piece of cake to take down. The squad's abilities give you such a wide variety of options, but as the team gains new powers, enemies only grow weaker. By the end of the game, enemies are being mowed down like wheat before a thresher, turning the last few areas into a boring slog.
Even the boss enemies in Jericho provide a minimal threat. Each has a weakness you must discover, but the problem is they all have the same general fighting style; there's an invincible barrier which can be weakened by either waiting it out or shooting something. Once you do this, the bosses will quickly fall. They can dish out a lot of damage and probably take down a few of the AI members of your squad, but unless you're still trying to figure out the boss' specific weakness, there's little to no risk to whomever the player is controlling at the time. This culminates in the final boss battle, which is both insultingly easy and incredibly unsatisfying after the stages of buildup. I went through the final boss fight expecting an extra surprise, but instead, it died in four hits.
There's no two ways about it: Jericho is short, and dedicated gamers can probably finish the title in a day. It consists of a number of stages set through five different time periods, but each stage is so short that the game doesn't offer in-level saves, and the only way to record your progress is to finish the stage. Jericho's short length is almost unforgivable for a $60 price tag and only made worse by the near-complete lack of replay value.
Jericho has no multiplayer portion — no leaderboards, no downloadable content, no co-op gameplay, nothing. Once you've finished, all you can do is return to old stages to replay them on a different difficulty mode. To be fair, you can unlock bonus content in the form of some artwork and backstory for various characters and monsters, but it's poor compensation. The backstories do little to address the convoluted mess into which Jericho's plot devolves by the end of the game, and it's hard to justify going through the trouble of unlocking it. At $60, it's impossible not to expect more for your gaming dollar, and Jericho utterly fails to deliver.
Graphically, Jericho is fairly nice, but not stunning. The characters and enemies are modeled quite well, and the monsters effectively translate the concept art into "living" creatures. The same can't be said of the stage design; some parts of the levels are well conceived, but they're mostly awkward and uncomfortable to explore. Jericho is filled to the brim with invisible walls. No matter how likely it seems that you should be able to enter an area, duck under some debris or even simply jump down a small cliff, you can't do it. There is one predestinated route on which the squad must travel, and any attempts to deviate from that path are punished. You can't even jump in Jericho, so the only time you can interact with your environment is when the game expects it. Jericho's wide-open stages would be far more interesting if they had any depth to them, but instead, the title becomes a cramped-corridor shooter disguised as something more.
Jericho's voicing team does a mostly solid job. With the exception of a couple of minor scenes (particularly involving Cole), they handle the material excellently, and their voices really do well. There are, however, a few bizarre sound mixing problems. Occasionally, characters who are shouting into the wind will suddenly sound absolutely normal, or a speaker will sound far away and then close again. These moments really jolt you out of the gaming experience. Other than the voice acting, Jericho doesn't do much to impress audio-wise. The little music that exists is the most bland and generic imaginable, and does little to improve the atmosphere. Even the "creepy music" that appears in a few scenes does more to make one think of Halo than of supernatural horror.
Jericho is a title with great ideas. The squad-switching mechanic works very well, the various magic abilities are mostly sound and the plot is potentially very interesting. However, great ideas don't make up for shoddy execution, and Jericho just isn't a $60 game. It's far too short and easy, and the complete lack of any post-game content is almost unforgivable. The much-hyped Clive Barker storyline does little to save the game, devolving into cliché and unsatisfying incoherence so quickly that your head will spin. There's simply not enough content here when compared to similar titles on the market, especially in the wake of the content-filled Halo 3, which is selling at the same price. Unless you're desperate for an FPS fix, Jericho's secrets may be some that are just better left buried.
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