I laid out my titles for Halloween in front of me thinking I made some pretty decent choices for the season, some critically mediocre games with horror elements I can focus on as strengths. I’ve realized now that I have done myself a great disservice, most prominently shown in this weeks title, Clive Barker’s Jericho.
I’ll quickly get a story synopsis out of the way as it’s generally underwhelming anyways. You play as Captain Devin Ross of Jericho team, a special forces unit from the U.S. Millitary’s Department of Occult Warfare. Basically, you and your team of six other members fight the powers of the paranormal. There is a lost city that appears in the desert and Jericho is sent to investigate, only to discover it is actually the prison of an ancient evil known as the Firstborn. This was God’s original creation before human beings that he locked up because it was flawed and he couldn’t bring himself to kill it. Ever since it’s been angrily trying to escape, and it’s your job to jump through time and try keep it imprisoned, or take it out yourselves.
With that out of the way, level structure is as simplistic as you can imagine. Walk through linear environments which baddies spawn. Take them out, and the door will open so you can find more baddies and repeat the process. This may sound like the basic description to any sort of FPS of this era, but this isn’t just an overall synopsis, it’s the entirety of its depth. Often I would question if I was doing something wrong or if the game was glitched because it just wouldn’t progress. But nope, just keep eliminating the immense amount of walking targets until the game says you can keep going.
Enemy variety is laughable. You get grunts, suicide bombers, bullet sponges, the flying enemy, the other flying enemy, and then creatures contextual to the environment you find yourself in. There are no puzzles in the game, as puzzles would imply thought being necessary. However, occasionally there are moments contextual to a squad members specific ability that must be used to progress. This would be great if it wasn’t used ONCE per ability in most cases, but as it stands it just goes to show that they could have had better level design then they ultimately put in the effort to actually craft.
Speaking of these abilities, time to dig into the gameplay. This is no spoiler but early in the game, Ross kicks the bucket but his spirit is still alive and he is able to host the bodies of his remaining squad mates. This turns the game into a “squad based” First Person Shooter, in which jumping between the bodies of your other six team members will grant you access to their own unique weapons and set of abilities. Allow me to quickly round them out:
- Black: Sniper chick with grenade launcher, Telekinesis, and remote control bullet
- Rawlings: Priest with dual pistols, the ability to resuscitate injured comrades and drain health from enemies.
- Church: Lady with a sword and Uzi that uses blood magic to incapacitate enemies or light them on fire.
- Cole: Techy girl with assault rifle and grenades, plus the ability to slow time and boost team firepower at the cost of her own health.
- Jones: Generic dude with assault rifle and underbarrel shotgun that also can possess nearby enemies.
- Delgado: Tank like guy with Gatling gun, magnum, and a fire demon at his call to light up enemies.
This is the ONE interesting gameplay mechanic that Jericho has to offer, but is unfortunately weighed down by the tremendous amount of flaws in the rest of the title.
Earlier I cynically labelled this as a squad based with titles, but considering the control you have over your squads actions are basic at best, it’s hardly to be considered tactical in any fashion. Tell them to stop, move forward, or have half the team directed to go here or there. You will ultimately never use these controls, save for one “puzzle” moment, as there is no cover to take anyways. The AI is also incompetent on their own, getting themselves killed to the suicide bombers over and over. Managing your team is more like managing your health, making sure enough people are still standing to switch over to when you get hit by a cheap bomber yourself.
Nothing else is really worth going over in detail. Characters are forgettable. Quick time events are some of the worst I’ve seen. Destructible objects fall to piece when you slowly walk into them. Dialog is generic and quickly becomes repetitious. Loading screens upon each death with lengthy text to watch slowly type out like a typewriter. Top it off with a broken tutorial and you’ve got one of the worst FPS games I’ve laid my hands on. In fact, APPARENTLY there is an extra gameplay mechanic called “tethering”, where you can combine the effects of two team members magical powers for a more powerful ability. Sounds cool, right? Extra layer of depth to the gameplay perhaps. Too bad the game NEVER taught me how to do this or involved it in level design in any way whatsoever. I only heard about it afterwards doing more research on the game before writing my review.
After fighting through the troves of demons and fighting a wave of bosses in the last hour of the game (which I’ll admit was actually a highlight), you are treated to one of the most unsatisfying endings that lacked any closure at all. How fitting. The game never even built up expectation for a payoff though my 8 or so hours with it and it still managed to disappoint. Oh, and I forgot to mention, there are NO COLLECTIBLE ITEMS in this game, not even health or ammo. There is NO reason to replay this game and explore its maps any farther. Unless you like completing challenges like “Get 50 Headshots” to unlock fucking character profiles. No thanks.
But perhaps the greatest crime, and my closing note, is that this game is never, ever, evererererer scary. For 2007, it was pretty enough in presentation, and the creature design can be quite neat and grotesque, but it fails to ever drape you in its atmosphere, and thus never makes you feel threatened or frightened. Its world and characters are so disconnected that moments are never tense, but almost certainly frustrating. Its not even an action-horror game. It is an action game, which was the biggest disappointment for me to discover in my month of HORROR. Nothing to see here. Moving on.
I disagree; the story is very original and has one of the most badass premises I’ve played, comparable to FEAR although worse in execution than this game, and has much more potential to make other games than the majority of the modern shooters. And there are charismatic characters, like Church or Cole.
It is true that the level design is very simple, but like most of the FPS. There is little variety of types of enemies, but again like most FPS. It is false that there is only one interesting mechanics of the game; there are six, because each member has unique abilities and offer variety in combat despite the scarcity of enemy classes. It is true that as a tactical squad game is poor, but like most FPS where an NPC follows you, at least in this game each member has a unique ability and some very interesting as bullet time or paralysis. Changing members in the midst of the battle roar to use their power while also using firearms is what makes this game stand out and is superior to other FPS that only offer firearms.
What I do dislike are the QTEs and that the game does not take fully advantage of the members’ powers, for example, for more puzzles. And it is a game of action and horror, because its atmosphere is horror, although it does not give fear, it is never that its intention, so it is not a bad thing.
Thank you for the constructive comment! Seriously, I super appreciate you criticizing my review without the need to criticize ME in the process.
As is evident, I don’t check this old blog all that much anymore, but it’s pretty awesome to come back and see some thoughtful difference of opinion posted. You make some valid points, for sure!
For what it’s worth, I will say that the game had potential. As you mentioned before, it has a solid premise and a cast of characters to work with. To that end, I think Clive Barker lived up to his role in the project.
But I think it falls short the most when it comes to design. It’s been a while now since I played, but my lasting impression of the game is linear corridors filled with pretty mindless enemies. Honestly, better level design would be a fix-all for many of the games issues. Creating environments and puzzles that better utilize the skill set of the squad members, like you mentioned above, would have kept me more engaged in the moment-to-moment action. As it was though, it ended up with lots of filler sections that lost my attention, leaving me to my wits to pick the game apart for other aspects that are more redundant or unfair to pick apart (such as enemy variety, which I would excuse in other games like the more recent Resident Evil 7).
On a positive note, I will also give credit to the art direction. MercurySteam has some absolutely incredible artists, something I heavily praise the Lord of Shadow games for, and it’s evident here as well. Once again, I think the level design detracted me from giving due credit to the effort gone into the environments and atmosphere, but for an early 7th Gen game, it conveyed a grotesque hell-on-Earth admirably.
I’ll end with a fair reminder that, like I said before, this was an early PS3/360 title that I decided to play in 2015 (nearly 2016!). My criticisms stem from somebody who was already charmed by the precedents set by landmark games of that time: the convincing characters and presentation of the Uncharted games, the intricate level design and artistic execution of Bloodborne, and the fidelity of countless modern shooters at the time. Hell, even back then, my concepts of what strong atmosphere can bring to the table was entirely revolutionized by the inescapable confinement of the USG Ishimura in Dead Space only a year later!
Maybe if I played it upon release I could have seen past its flaws and better appreciated the stronger qualities of the game. But I’m glad to hear that it doesn’t go entirely unappreciated with fans like yourself still making a case for the game over a decade later.