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“Clive Barker’s Jericho” review

by on Mar.23, 2010, under PC Game Reviews

Game: Clive Barker’s Jericho
Developer: Mercury Steam

The new definition of horror?

With so many video games being released each year, it’s vitally important to have your product stand out from its competitive brethren. One of the more successful (and perhaps cynical) ploys is to insert a relevant luminary’s name within the title of your beloved creation to generate media attention and increase its profile. Developer Mercury Steam is well aware of this marketing gimmick and has leveraged gaming and writing luminaries in the past to increase their product profile. Their latest endeavour, Clive Barker’s Jericho, is presumably an attempt to both harness the renowned horror author’s credentials (he is credited with writing the back-story) and push yet another FPS into an already crowded marketplace. Unfortunately for all parties concerned, the melding of these creative talents has resulted in a less than stellar gaming experience.

The story focuses on the Department of Occult Warfare (DOW), an elite Special Forces unit specializing in supernatural shenanigans and otherworldly threats. As Captain Devin Ross, you are tasked with guiding the seven members of Jericho squad throughout five periods of Earth history to confront, quite literally, THE ultimate personification of evil. While Clive Barker has put some effort into creating the plot and background for the game, the slow and convoluted revelation of these facts invariably ends with the player being totally ignorant of key events throughout much of the game. Regular in-game cut scenes provide insight into each character’s murky past and disturbed psyche but you really can’t relate to this band of borderline psychotics with any conviction. More importantly, I sincerely hope that Clive isn’t responsible for the dialogue, because it’s poorly written and features just about every minority stereotype imaginable.

I was also hoping that any game bearing the name of a talented horror author would contain game elements designed to generate fear, terror and perhaps a touch of apprehension. Alas, these assumptions were totally erroneous. Clive Barker’s Jericho engenders about as much horror as a fluffy kitten savaging a ball of wool. The reason for this has probably more to do with poor game design decisions than the esteemed author’s lack of talent for scaring the pants of his readers. The game is full of frenetic gun-play against repeatedly re-spawning enemies, with little variation from this theme. If this were your average FPS, that wouldn’t be a major issue but incessant carnage is not conducive to the quiet dread and suspense necessary to generate terror. Instead, the developer has resorted to horror movie shock tactics by draping the game in more blood and gore than your likely to see in a B grade horror flick. Clive Barker aficionado’s and horror game fans will be equally disappointed with the end result and frankly, if you’re looking for true horror, you’ll get a more immersive experience by cranking up the volume and playing Microsoft Minesweeper instead.

Game play is plagued with a number of unfortunate faux pas that just shouldn’t be found in this latest generation of shooters. The Jericho team is split into two fire teams with rudimentary commands provided to have each group halt, advance or move to a specific position as required. I can guarantee that you will only need to use these commands a total of two (2) times during the entire game to solve some overly simplistic platform puzzles. Using these commands at any other stage serves no purpose other than to provide you with the illusion that you are in complete control of your comrades in arms.

The irony of this is soon made self-evident when you see just how pathetic the friendly A.I. routines are. Your squad members have an annoying habit of standing still in the open whilst exchanging fire with malevolent beings that are, obviously, tougher than they are. It’s not unusual to see several of your team-mates becoming incapacitated within a few seconds of the commencement of an intense fire fight. Fortunately for us, the developers provided an excellent solution to this problem by allowing you to heal your troops by running up to them and tapping them lightly on their shoulder. All well and good … except that it takes several seconds to resuscitate your witless associate and during this time there is a very good chance that the character you are controlling will also meet an untimely demise at the hands of kamikaze demons or the explosive lobbing malcontents that frequent each and every level! The end result is a game that bogs down into a turgid mix of death and reincarnation repeated ad-nauseum as you madly run hither and yon, reviving your troops and occasionally getting a shot in at your opponents. Toss in the standard checkpoint save system that all PC/Console games seem to favour nowadays and you’ll rapidly lose interest in the game as you repeat combat sequences over and over again.

Each character has some unique skills that will be needed to progress throughout the game however several individual’s abilities are so overpowered that you’ll spend most of the time using them exclusively. The rest of the cast are restricted to cameo appearances, mainly in special solo levels that appear to be inserted to justify their presence in game. There is very little variety in the bestiary either and the combat generally consists of repetitive waves of enemies spawning out of thin air in front of you. On those occasions when you get involved in a potentially challenging boss fight, you are invariably tasked to defeat them by shooting vulnerable pustules or extremities conveniently located on their bodies. You don’t need to worry about fire discipline either as one of your team members can replenish your ammunition at will by reversing time to a point when your magazines were full.

The level designs consist almost entirely of ruined castles that are dull and uninspiring. The designers even managed to emphasize the complete linearity of each level by having your comrades advising you that you’re going the wrong way every time you reach a dead end. They also managed to avoid issues of team members falling to their death by putting invisible barriers at the edges of precipices and removing your alter-ego’s ability to jump! There are no tactically challenging environments to navigate with the exception of some irritating timed button press sequences that will result in your character meeting an untimely demise if you fail. Of course, there are absolutely no consequences to failing as you will just restart the sequence at the beginning … which kind of makes you wonder why they are in the game at all. Perhaps they originally intended to put in an achievement when you fail the same sequence 250 times in a row.

The game maps have also been hit by some harsh sanctions by the visible colour spectrum; unless you’re into black, brown and red you’re not going to be too impressed with the game’s bland colour scheme. I haven’t been this disappointed with game visuals since the late 1990’s when I purchased a high end video card in order to play Quake 2 in all its 16,384 different shades of brown.

There’s also no excuse for the game’s conclusion, which is so unsatisfying that you’ll wonder why you’ve just wasted eight hours of your life playing this short and tedious game. That’s 8 hours TOTAL game time (including those sections you repeated due to your team getting wiped out) to be presented with an undulating orange sea and the end credits. If that’s Clive Barker’s idea of interactive storytelling then I want no part of it.

It should be pointed out that technically the game is well polished both visually and aurally. The textures and character/monster models are nicely rendered and detailed (despite the limited colours,) and the sound effects are sufficiently spooky and ominous. There are no glaring bugs and the user interface is quite intuitive. It’s just unfortunate that nobody decided to put anything resembling a game in with the rest of these qualities. Those of you wanting to experience a respectable horror video game, would be well advised to steer clear of this “alleged” game. You’ll be better served checking out Clive Barker’s Undying instead, which is a far superior product, despite its age and will at least give you a better idea of what Mr Barker is capable of.

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