Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Mercury Steam/Alchemic Productions
Release Date: October 23, 2007
If your idea of a good time involves vomit, blood, dismembered torsos and the mournful wailing of the tortured souls of the eternally damned, you're either in prison, or a fan of horror writer and filmmaker Clive Barker. In his latest return to the gaming world, he collaborates with developers Mercury Steam and Alchemic Productions to bring us Clive Barker's Jericho, a squad-based, first-person shooter which sees you taking on the hordes of hell as you fight to save mankind from God's first aborted attempt at creation.
The game's title refers to the name of your squad of psychic super-soldiers who are employees of the Department of Occult Warfare tasked with defending the United States from paranormal threats. Your crew consists of a colorful bunch of individuals, including a priest exorcist, a blood mage, a seer, a reality hacker and an alchemist/pyromancer.
Each crew member is gifted with two different psychic abilities that will help you in your unenviable task of taking out the sordid offspring of Barker's twisted imagination. Lieutenant Abigail Black is a sniper with telekinetic powers and a ghost bullet ability that lets you steer the rifle's bullet through the air toward its target. Sergeant Frank Delgado's entire right arm is possessed by a fire demon that can be unleashed to wreak burning havoc. Billie Church is a female ninja who can use her blood rites to hold enemies in position or set them alight. Perhaps most inventive of all is Xavier Jones' ability to telepathically possess the bodies of distant enemies to passively command them to trigger switches, or explode nearby combustibles pyro-kinetically. In total, there are six characters in your squad, and exploring the full range of their different abilities and fighting styles is not only a great deal of fun, but it should also add a lot to Jericho's replay value.
These psychic abilities set Jericho apart from being just another horror-themed FPS. At times, your very survival will depend on your ability to wield these powers effectively and at the right time. Another nice thing is that the game doesn't give you all these abilities to use from the outset; instead, it slowly introduces them throughout the course of the game, which keeps things fresh.
For reasons that become clear as you play the game, you are gifted with the ability to psychically jump from one character of your team to another, possessing their bodies and minds. Not only does this mean you'll be able to experience a variety of gameplay styles from stealth to full frontal warfare, but the game will also require you to use various psychic abilities at different junctures before you can advance, meaning an all-brawn-and-no-brains approach isn't going to get you very far. In addition, no one character is completely well balanced, so you'll have to rely on a combination of all of the characters' individual strengths and skills to get you through some sticky situations.
While a lot of the game sees you fighting in squads of three or six, some portions require you to go solo, and this can be a pant-wetting experience. When you're used to facing the half-severed re-animated corpses of dead children with a team, the same enemies take on an entirely new terror when you're alone in the dark.
Fortunately, in addition to psychic warfare, your team also believes in better living through superior firepower. Delgado wields a chain gun which spits out hot lead at a lethal rate. Church, the ninja character, is equipped with a katana for deadly melee assaults. Finally, sniper rifles, standard assault rifles, dual wield pistols and grenade launchers are also available to round out your options for maximum carnage.
Firefights are an integral part of the action and are, without exception, adrenaline-fueled, chaotic ballets of butchery which almost have a cinematic quality to them. You'll find yourself in the middle of flying blood, gore and exploding body parts. During a fight, your teammates seem to do a decent job of exercising their AI and even use their psychic abilities to good effect. They can, however, become incapacitated and will be out of action until you to approach them and tap the space bar to revive them. This makes some of the harder battles a juggling act of trying to wipe out the bad guys, while making sure your teammates are in working order. The game isn't truly over until you and all of your squadmates are dead, which is actually easier than it sounds, as the game's difficulty is pretty well tuned. In a nice touch, when the dust settles after a fight, swarms of flies arrive to carry away the corpses of the fresh dead.
As you might expect from the guy who introduced us to whole new dimensions of sado-masochistic horror, the creatures and architecture you encounter are built on entirely new definitions of human pain and suffering. There are suicide bombers with massive swollen yellow blisters who stagger slowly toward you with a sense of grim determination. Other enemies leap erratically in your direction with a violent dexterity. No matter what you're faced with, the enemy has a special ability to make you actually physically want to extinguish it.
In your time in Jericho, you'll walk on paths built from the souls of the damned, wade in bloody rivers dotted with the flotsam of human remains and fight your way through Roman baths filled with vomit, blood and excrement. And that's just the beginning. All in all, it's a gory treat for fans of horror as well as an intense thrill ride that lets you see what happens when military might meets occult terror.
All of these elements are realized with a brutal beauty in the highly polished graphics. The shadows, lighting, particle effects and liberal quantities of spilled blood are handled well by the graphics engine. It's the small things, like the way the light streams through a ceiling grate past the vaulted ceilings of a dank sewer, that add an authenticity the game needs to convince you that the horror might be more real than you'd like to think. Elsewhere, the bloodstains that drip down the game camera lens after you brutally slay a foe are icing on the cake — albeit a big bloody cake, made from decaying human body parts.
In between bouts of bloodshed, you'll notice the music and eerie sound effects. Whether it's barely audible whispering sounds, schizophrenic strings, melancholy children singing or thumping action symphonies, the music almost always builds on layers of ripe atmosphere. Add to this the sound of bullets ripping into flesh and rending body parts, and you've got the perfect gruesome soundtrack to Jericho's grisly action.
A lot of gameplay design elements work well to keep your attention focused on the game and nowhere else. As well as a minimalist HUD, and streamlined squad command interface, a save system based on checkpoints means you won't have one finger hovering nervously over the quicksave key. This also ramps up the difficulty because between checkpoints, you'll be playing to survive.
The action is mostly of the stop-start variety, with moments of mounting tension erupting suddenly into vicious firefights. Occasionally, however, so-called survival events arise, which require you to push the movement keys in a specific order as they appear on-screen in order to successfully progress. Whether you're trying to navigate your way across a narrow crumbling ledge or wrestling a skeleton as you plummet down a well shaft, you'll have to react quickly to pass these sequences or else restart from the beginning of the set piece.
Part of Jericho's strength is that Barker's literary creativity underlies much of the action, giving it substance and meaning, instead of it just being another shell of a shoot-em-up. The rest comes from the innovative squad-based psychic gameplay which will test both your dexterity and your brains. Clive Barker's Jericho looks set to be disgustingly deranged — in a good way; you want to look away, but it keeps you going back for more, like a morbid passerby at an accident scene. If you've ever wanted the starring role in a Clive Barker horror film, Jericho might give you the opportunity you've been waiting for next month.
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