Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Mercury Steam/Alchemic Productions
Release Date: October 23, 2007
If you have an Xbox 360, you are probably neck-deep in Bungie's Halo 3 or have already completed the main storyline and seen how Master Chief's story ends. Halo 3 is undoubtedly the most anticipated game of this holiday season, so it's going to take a special kind of first-person shooter to draw attention away from Bungie's magnum opus. While it may not be the juggernaut that is Halo 3, Clive Barker and Codemaster's Jericho may be exactly what is needed to make hardcore gamers take a break from waging war against the Covenant.
Jericho puts you in control of Captain Devin Ross, the leader of the elite supernatural task force Jericho, which has been sent to Al Khali, a thriving city in the Middle East that has vanished behind a sandstorm. Jericho must find out what exactly happened to the city and its residents, but the truth is far grimmer than anyone had anticipated. The town has become Pyxis, or "The Box," home to a creature known as The Firstborn, God's first aborted attempt at creation. Unless the squad of supernaturally powered heroes steps in to destroy The Firstborn, nothing can stop it.
As one would expect from a story penned by horror scribe Clive Barker, the world of Jericho is not a pleasant place. Inside Pyxis, the world has quickly and terrifyingly been corrupted by The Firstborn's influence. The further you travel, the more foul and disgusting the worlds become. The first layer, Al Khali, seems almost normal, if you can ignore the insane mutilated cultists running around. Once the Jericho squad ventures deeper, it discovers horrors ranging from unlucky British soldiers trapped in an eternal war against a demon-possessed Nazi magician, to spoiled Roman bathhouses filled with feces, blood and vomit. It is, quite obviously, not a game for the weak of stomach.
The first few stages of Jericho seem like your average first-person shooter. Ross comes equipped with a machine gun/shotgun hybrid weapon, and most of the controls are introduced to you in simple tutorials. If you've played a recent console FPS, controlling Ross will be quite simple. The Jericho squad journeys with Ross at all times, and while he can issue orders to them, they generally go where they're needed. The biggest twist comes in the form of Ross' supernatural Psychic Healing ability, which allows him to bring back a wounded ally from the brink of death, although it doesn't work on himself.
When you haven't trekked too far into the first area, a traitorous former member of Jericho reveals himself as the one attempting to free The Firstborn and appears before them as a flying demon. Before Jericho can even react, Ross is grabbed by the demon and quickly and brutally murdered. That's right; your main character dies not an hour into the game. However, inside The Box, death is not the end, especially when you're a member of Jericho.
Although Ross is killed, he isn't out of the game just yet. In his dying moments, Ross discovers a final power that he had never before unlocked: He can transfer his soul into a willing ally's body. Ross takes control of the ally's, much to the displeasure of the possessed. While this may sound unpleasant, there are a few advantages to this. Ross can jump from ally to ally instantly, meaning that if he comes up with a combat plan, he can have it implemented in less time than it would take to shout out the orders. Another plus is that Ross' Psychic Healing ability comes with him. As long as he possesses a member of his squad, that squad member can heal allies just as Ross had. While Ross was a fairly average human with the exception of his healing ability, the same can't be said for the surviving members of Jericho, and in order to fully take advantage of his new ability, he needs to get to know his team a little better.
Sgt. Frank Delgado is the team's heavy weapons expert and the biggest gun they have. Notably larger than the other members of the team, Delgado's great strength allows him to dual-wield an arm-mounted heavy chaingun and a powerful customized magnum, giving him unsurpassed firepower. As an accomplished shaman, Delgado made a pact with the fire demon Ababinili; he can summon the demon at will, in exchange for giving it his right arm as a "home." Thus, Delgado's giant chaingun serves dual purposes; it's a powerful weapon, but it also serves as a shield, keeping Ababinili encased until Delgado is ready to let it come out and play. When the demon is released, it flies freely and hops from enemy to enemy, setting them ablaze without mercy. Delgado can also use this power to form a powerful barrier of flame around himself, briefly protecting him from harm.
Father Paul Rawlings is arguably the most important member of the team. Aside from the incorporeal Ross, Rawlings is the only member of the team capable of using psychic healing abilities, so he's the only character who can revive downed comrades when not under Ross' control. Furthermore, as a priest and the oldest surviving squad member, he has an unsurpassed ability of dealing with the supernatural. This, naturally, comes at a cost: Rawlings is undoubtedly the weakest member of the team. He can't take hits anywhere near as well as the other soldiers, and his weaponry is a simple pair of matching pistols. While his pistols can be configured with a few different types of ammo, Rawlings is a priest, not a fighter.
Billie Church is one of the odder members of the team. She is a "blood mage" who can cast spells by using her own blood, which comes in handy in a number of ways. She can dispel enchantments and cast magic spells to weaken or slay enemies, but her greatest strength (and greatest weakness) is her distaste for guns. Church's primary weapon of choice is the katana, and while it's a weapon of unsurpassed lethality, the katana requires being up close and personal with enemies, which is not often a good idea when facing supernatural horrors from beyond time and space. However, if Church can surpass the challenge of getting within range, she can tear foes apart without any trouble. She carries a small sub-machine gun, but it's merely a concession to the army's reluctance to send a soldier onto the field armed only with a blade, and it's perhaps the weakest weapon available to Jericho.
Abigail Black is the team's sniper and telekinetic, which, as one would imagine, makes for a supremely lethal combo. Black's sniper rifle is powerful on its own, capable of firing lethal, high-caliber sniper rounds or long-distance, miniature grenades with unbelievable accuracy. What makes her a truly lethal sniper is her ability to move objects with her mind — including bullets. Abigail can fire a sniper round and then guide it with her mind to pierce a number of targets with a single shot. She can also use her telekinetic powers in a more forceful manner by throwing objects at enemies, and later on, she gains the ability to set objects ablaze during their trajectories.
Simone Cole is the team hacker. Although she is capable of hacking computers, she is a "reality hacker," meaning she can actively alter time and space. She can bend time to recover deleted data from a computer, discover anomalies in the space-time continuum and even create new weaponry out of thin air. She can slow the passage of time for everyone but herself, allowing her to speed across the battlefield and blow enemies to pieces before they even realize she's there. Cole's got a specific weakness, though: Her monkeying with reality had caused her to become disconnected from it, so if she spends too much time hacking reality, she begins to lose touch with it. Every piece of equipment is designed with emergency overrides to bring her back to her right state of mind; this means she can only spend a brief period of time in altered reality, and the longer she spends shifting the universe, the longer the required recharge time before she can do it again.
Xavier Jones is technically the team leader after the death of Ross, although Ross' incorporeal state means that the team still defers to its deceased captain. Jones is also the team seer, so he isn't combat-oriented, he can sense supernatural danger and glimpse hints of future danger. Jones can temporarily abandon his body and enter an astral form, which allows him to possess an enemy and see through his eyes, or "thread" other characters' abilities through a possessed enemy, so his allies can hit elusive foes. While this ability is quite useful in combat, its primary use is in solving unique puzzles that involve jumping from enemy to enemy until you're in the correct position to use the Jericho squad's power to bypass the obstacle in your path.
The interplay between the different members of Jericho is the difference between victory and defeat. Each has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, both physically and mentally, and leaning how to combine abilities for the best effect can be the key to winning some of Jericho's more difficult battles. Cole, for example, is not a hard hitter, but her reality hacking ability allows her to scan enemies for weak points. Players can then switch over to Black, and, using her high-powered sniper rifle and telekinetic bullets, guide a shot right into the enemy's weak spot. Likewise, Delgado's fire shield prevents the heavily armed marine from attacking but allows him to draw fire to himself, turning him into a "tank" while the other soldiers pour weapons fire onto distracted foes. It's a rather unique setup, allowing the player control of the entire squad, while at the same time ensuring that each member has a unique and important role to play on the team.
Rather than human foes, you face a demon-zombie hybrid in Jericho. While inside "The Box," any human who dies is not granted the release of death; instead, the corpse is devoured by flies and becomes an unwilling servant of The Firstborn. A soldier in life may become a walking gun-equipped monstrosity in death. The Firstborn's monsters are far tougher than your usual first-person shooter foes. Even the weakest monsters can survive uninterrupted machine gun fire from multiple characters for a long time, and the heavier foes can simply shrug off entire clips. They can dish out damage just as well as they sustain it, and letting an enemy break through Jericho's defensive line will mean that the team starts dropping fast. The only way to survive the firefights is to learn how to use the team's powers creatively.
While Jericho may not quite be up to the standards of Bioshock, it's still a rather nice-looking game — as nice as a game can look when it's set in multiple blood-soaked hellish locations. The stages are set during different time periods, each having been brought into The Box by The Firstborn during one of its previous failed escape attempts. Thus, the Jericho squad will travel from modern-day Middle Eastern cities to ancient castles and blood-soaked crucifixion grounds, each growing more and more corrupted as the squad approaches the center of The Box. Everything from rivers of blood to unlucky souls crucified by The Firstborn's minions is rendered in vivid and graphic detail. Likewise, the audio work is quite well done, with a talented team of voice actors providing the speech for the Jericho squad. Most notable however, are the sounds made by The Firstborn's minions, which range from childlike laughter to unearthly screams; their sounds make the already-terrifying monsters into the stuff of which nightmares are made.
Jericho looks set to be a real sleeper hit. Coming out in the aftermath of a wave of big-name titles, it's one of those games that seems almost destined to be overlooked by an audience more enraptured by Halo 3. With a detailed storyline by horror writer Barker, a unique and interesting squad mechanic and a bonanza of twisted and supernatural worlds to explore, Jericho might be exactly what gamers are looking for after they've torn their way through Halo 3's Legendary mode. Even gamers who don't own a 360 can give Jericho a try, as it will also be available on the PlayStation 3 and PC. While the Jericho squad's adventure is going to have a difficult time going toe-to-toe with The Chief, dedicated shooter fans and those looking for a break from Halo 3 may want to give Jericho a shot when it hits in late October.
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