by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Clive Barker's Jericho & r & Rated Mature; XBox 360, PS3, Windows PC & r & 3 Stars & r & & r & In Clive Barker's Jericho, horror writer/filmmaker Clive Barker seems to have been involved less in the design of the game and more in the story surrounding it. Jericho is a squad-based game, which means that I'm in charge of an entire occult-based special ops team sent to a Middle Eastern city that has for centuries hosted the regular arrivals of the Firstborn -- a being created in error by God before he lowered his standards and made man. The Firstborn has spent centuries sucking parts of the world into its own private hell, building a series of levels -- just like a videogame -- out of different times and places.
But the real struggle in Jericho isn't between the forces of good and evil -- it's between the standard videogame shooter model and some innovative gameplay mechanics. Early in the game, the main character is killed and gains the ability to possess any one of his six comrades, allowing me to jump around an entire gang of people, using their personal firearms and special powers such as telekinesis and astral projection.
Switching between bodies is accompanied by a swooshing camera fly-through from one character to another that can be fatally disorienting during a battle, and can turn an attack from a single monster into a chaotic bloodbath, with the creature illuminated by strobes of gunfire as I struggle to retain command of my squad and my own sense of videogame prowess.
Composed in rusty reds and various degrees of black, most of Jericho's levels are standard tumbling-walled passages punctuated by cloudy-sky-covered arenas. Likewise, the monsters populating the city are nothing that hasn't been seen in other videogames -- usually black-clad, bloody-faced humanoids or house-sized lumbering ziggurats. For the most part they're not scary, except that most of them are given very specific areas on their bodies that must be blasted or they proceed almost unstoppably. It's relentless and devious programming, not design, that makes Jericho intimidating.
THE GOOD: Clive Barker's premise allows Jericho to transcend the simple "just because" logic of videogames and draw me into a setting where gun battles against raging demons make a demented sort of sense. Giving a shooter a strong scenario made BioShock so satisfying earlier this year. But while that game revealed its setup to me piecemeal, Barker's story in Jericho is told didactically, often in typed-out descriptions. A bit more mystery would have heightened the tension, but even used straight-up, Barker's prose elevates Jericho far above most other shooters on the power of its storytelling alone.
THE BAD: My squad of psychics and elite pyromancers doesn't possess much intelligence unless I possess them. They repeatedly move when told to stay, and when left to their own devices -- as five of them usually are -- they tend to run directly into the line of fire and fall down dead. Then I need to break my own position in order to rescue them. This undermines the tactical side of squad-based combat, often creating a continual devolution towards straight-ahead gunfights.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Clive Barker's Jericho is more supernatural than scary, using the digital freedom of videogames to offer different ways of doing battle rather than new ways to terrify.