Nothing to fear.
Stephen King once wrote: “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” Reverse the priority of those goals, and you’ve got a pretty good approximation of Clive Barker’s modus operandi. Barker recognizes a good gross-out and as long as he’s got that going he doesn’t stoop to horror or terror. Who needs suspense when you can suspend a morbidly obese man from meathooks, depict his self-disembowlment, and then cover your audience in his projectile-like, poisonous entrails?
[image1]That precious moment is only one among many gross-outs in Jericho, Clive Barker’s second video game. Barker, whose best known films include the classic Hellraiser and the classless People Under the Stairs, is apparently responsible for everything in the game, from the script and the creatures on down to the minutia of how corpses disappear. That attention to detail and unity of vision makes Jericho, the story, a tad tidier than its low-budget production would portend. But as a game, Jericho can’t overcome bad level design, repetitive gameplay, and a short single-player campaign with no replay value.
Barker’s original premise is initially promising. Taking Biblical apocrypha as a source, Jericho invents the myth of the “First-Born”, God’s first creation which was incarcerated the desert of Al-Khali. The First-Born wants to escape and does so six times throughout human history. Each time it gets out, however, seven gifted human warriors entrap it again, but also trap a “time-slice” of their own epoch with it (I would have preferred “time-wedge” or “time-nugget”). The game begins with the seventh emergence, and with your team of “occult warfare” specialists sent in to stop it.
There are two neat benefits of the story. On one hand, the game takes place in specific historical milieus—from WWII to the crusades to the Roman Empire. On the other hand, you have seven different playable characters, which you can switch between at any point in the game. These features, and the endless ick of the monsters, are the only things to recommend what turns out to be a rather bland experience.
[image2]For one thing, not all of the characters are equal. Church can immobilize enemies by cutting herself (yup, she’s a cutter) and then dispatch them with her katana. A keeper. Jones can teleport himself into another person’s body but can’t control them or do much of anything else. Expendable. In general, a few of the characters are for battle, and the rest you keep around for the odd puzzle. Can’t get through a locked door? Jones, you’re in!
That wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to tend to your flock like a doting soccer mom. In battle, your teammates die off as quickly as their lack of intelligence will allow, and you often find yourself running from one corpse to another resurrecting them. Since you only lose when your whole team is dead at the same time, it doesn’t matter who you’re controlling—you will always be a tireless Florence Nightingale.
And even when you do get to participate in the combat, the experience is underwhelming. There are only a handful of different types of monsters in the game, and you’ll be seeing the same baddies on level five that you killed in level one. Some of the neater tricks include being able to guide a sniper bullet through multiple targets, but for the most part you take control of one of the bad-ass characters on your team and shoot away.
[image3]For all the detail put into the different characters and the few grotesque monsters, the levels themselves are austere and confining. There are no pick-ups in the game, nothing at all in the levels besides the ubiquitous, improbable crates and barrels. And the long corridor-like environments reuse textures often, making the third battle with a mutant demon seem a carbon copy of the first and second. Walking on a bed of human carcasses might be novel at first, but a few miles in and they might as well be mulch.
The boss battles, however, are where Jericho gets to show off its best features. The bosses themselves are grotesque, and the battles usually involve some light puzzle elements involving your characters’ special skills. They are also tough in the old-school way. Not only do you have to perform something very difficult to even hurt the boss, but you’ve got to do it oodles of times.
Given how much repetition is in the game, one would think it was much longer than its six to eight hour length. The lack of any kind of multiplayer hurts it further. And the final stake to the heart is the appallingly abrupt and inconclusive ending. Since Clive Barker is a seasoned writer, one would think that he wouldn’t need denoument defined for him. Just because the story is a horror story doesn’t mean it can be axe murdered in the final moments.
[image4]And you can tell that the game meant to be a horror story. There are frequent loading screens upon which long passages of Barker-esque prose appear. Although for the most part the script in the game is only as bad as a pulp horror movie, these text passages replace the fine English word “while” with the made-up, ostentatious “whilst”. That fact alone makes it hard to imagine a Clive Barker comeback in this timeslice.
But Clive Barker is not the only “celebrity” in the game. The main voice in the game is that of Spike from Cowboy Bebop. Overvoicing lines might work for anime, but it doesn’t work here. Still, this is nothing new for videogames, and most of the other audio is mediocre. The overbearing musical score disappears when the last enemy in an area is dead, performing the time-honored function of letting the player know when it’s time to move on.
Still, it’s hard not to like all the blood and gore. Germany rose to the occasion, banning the game from sale within its borders. And although it shouldn’t be censored for content (indeed, the gross content is about all it has going for it), Jericho won’t satisfy either those looking for a good scare or those looking for a good shooter.