Posted – 1.4.2008
Clive Barker’s FPS, Undying, took us on a quick trip into the 1920’s where occult excesses surrounding the Victorian family of a friend in need blend together revolvers and runes in a struggle to save not only yourself but the world. It was a fantastic game because of the atmospheric visuals, the included “diary” that pulled you deeper into the story, and the unique gameplay turning you into an early precursor of the Ghostbusters. Now Codemasters hopes to do the same thing with Jericho as Clive Barker takes up his pen as a consultant to chill the blood of players everywhere.
Jericho is the codename for a special ops team created by the US government during WW2, an organization that continues to exist to the present day. Consisting of seven skilled members who can shoot a weapon as well as use abilities such as telekinesis, astral body projection, and an angry fire spirit trapped in flesh, they head into the ancient ruins of a city called Al-Khali located deep in the African desert. There, they discover that an old acquaintance that the organization had thought was long dead has returned to open a sealed doorway hidden beneath the sands to the forgotten prison of the Firstborn…a being said to be the first creature created by God, later abandoned and imprisoned where the city would later be built. It has tried to escape many times since then but champions have always arrived to send it back. Every time it would be forced from our world, it would drag a piece with it creating layers of reality between the outside and where it now dwells. WW2 bunkers and Roman palaces lie between the Jericho team and the Firstborn and to save the world, they’ll have to get through it all and face the horrors that lie in wait.
The premise of government sanctioned ghostbusters wielding occult powers and packing heat while fighting the forces of darkness sounds like a great concept to wrap gameplay around, much like how Tri Tac’s Bureau 13 or Terminal Reality’s “Spookhouse” in Nocturne had done. But while the setup can easily hook you in, the actual gameplay swamps some of the fun that you might otherwise have with its reliance on “weak point” kills, zombie rushes, and a Gothic team that believes slinky black leather is a great substitute for teflon. Basic FPS controls are all there making it easy to get in and start shooting the walking dead aside from being able to actually jump over obstacles or mantle over barriers that come up to your knees.
“Survival” moments where you are forced to hit the right sequence of buttons in a poor attempt to lend interactivity to certain scenes are peppered into the action. Other titles, such as God of War, manage to make similar moments fun in giving the player enough time to follow along with actually feeling intuitive. In Jericho, the game crudely attempts to connect what is happening onscreen with the face buttons and instead of feeling as if you are guiding the action, it feels as if the game wants you to play Simon Says. By giving you a split second to follow the right buttons ensuring that if you miss one, you get to start over again until you get it right.
If you’re grabbed by monsters, Simon Says will get you out. Fall down a pit, Simon Says you can climb down according to these buttons. Have to crawl along a wall, Simon Says will lead the way. Nothing broke the flow of the game more than this, although other elements certainly tried. There was a moment where I had to kill several giant beasts with weak points. I destroyed one by nailing all of the points, but couldn’t kill the second one until I realized that I had to go through another Simon Says moment with one of my team to win. Really? Two hundred rounds of lead a minute won’t do squat on that tiny weak point until I play Simon Says?
Much of the action revolves around shooting most of the same wire wrapped, twisted bags of flesh that run blindly at you, or in shooting yet another pustule covered golem lumbering in. Jericho produces both of these monsters in mass quantities, especially the pustule golem where you have shoot the pustules to make it detonate before it gets too close, and their tactics consist of simply coming in at you. Most of these are also bags of hit points as a minigun can often feel as effective as a spitball when its uranium depleted rounds glance off of rusty metal knives instead of tearing through.
There are other creatures, such as the bosses and ghostly child Crusaders that evoke the kind of twisted horror that Clive Barker is known for, but it doesn’t help when you’re late in the game and are facing much of the same thing that you did at the start…only with more of them to worry about. Despite the occasionally atmospheric wonder that the nightmarish world of Al-Khali can sometimes pull from the carnage, the repetitive action quickly reminds you of how mediocre the rest of it is.
Everyone in the team carries two weapons and each weapon has an additional, secondary, function such as launching grenades to help with crowd control or allowing you to swap out ammunition or something with a little more punch. In addition to these weapons, they’ve also got a special ‘talent’ whether it is being able to use a fire spirit to burn your foes, fire and guide a sniper’s bullet by telekinesis, or resurrect fallen comrades with a touch. As the main character, you’ll eventually gain the ability to possess any member of your team and take advantage of their abilities along with raising them from the dead with a psychic jolt.
Several situations in the game will rely on how to use the talents of your team, whether it’s pushing aside boulders with a wave of your hand, astrally projecting to an enemy to trigger a lever, calling in ammunition by bending time and space, or using their agility to climb into dangerous places. You can also order your team, broken up into Alpha and Omega squads, to take position at a certain location or follow along. Occasionally, you’ll get separated from the others as part of the team heads off somewhere else, forcing you to use the characters available to you which can make things a little more challenging. This mix of martial and mystical goodness should make for some compelling gameplay which isn’t the case thanks to the boring repetition that quickly sets in thanks to the linear feel of the game itself. And no matter who is with you, your team will do things that will make you wish that you were solo on this job.
Telling your team to simply stay put doesn’t always work as they may tag along anyway, or simply ignore your commands to head forward or even move to the other side of a room to get out of the way of danger. If you’ve played Rainbow Six: Vegas, GRAW 1 or 2, Gears of War, or even Freedom Fighters from several years back, Jericho’s squad mechanics will seem as if it hadn’t taken any of their lessons to heart when it provides you with an illusion of control. If you’re expecting them to take cover around that corner that they’ve moved to or behind a fallen column that they’ve lined up behind, don’t be surprised when they don’t. Most of their strategy consists of standing around and simply shooting at the enemy, often while clustered together creating a nice target for particularly powerful monsters to wipe many of them out at once.
Jericho should have carried the subtitle “The Resurrected” since most of your team will be die often enough to make the whole ‘raising from the dead’ thing seem like an extended Monty Python skit with the only thing missing being you running around and yelling “Resurrection!”. It’s not a coincidence that there’s another member of the team that can also revive the fallen. Much of the game will revolve around your ability to resurrect your team members as they die since they’re apparently too dense to realize that cover actually provides some protection, or that it might be a wise move to run away and reposition themselves instead of pretending to be invincible by standing in the crotch of a giant monster that has walked up on top of them.
Pathfinding can also be an issue. One scripted trigger that was supposed to start the next part of a mission didn’t go off making me think that I might have missed something or that I have to use a special power to keep going. After spending nearly half an hour trying out various characters and scouring the end of the level thinking I missed a passage, I discovered that I was one Jericho member short. Since I didn’t see a little skull that told me that they were dead, I began to backtrack until I found them stuck between a wall and a piece of rubble. After showing up, the pathfinding apparently homed in on me and nudged them out from where they were, allowing me to actually finish the level.
Little of the essence that made Undying such a remarkable game is here, especially with the characters. The weak dialogue that your team often spouts sounds is as repetitive as the resurrections and the monster mash that you’ll be shooting through. Most of the characterizations in the game consist of cheesy reactions to what is going on around them and there’s little that is actually terrifying in this title. The lush, gore filled visuals and glistening, blood stained props that fill each world within Jericho underlie the promise of what the title could have offered. The blasted battlefields of WW2, desecrated Roman temples filled with a vomitarium of undead refuse, the dark, twisted bosses that taunt and plead with you evoke possibilities that are snuffed out by the dead weight that the gameplay forces you to work with.
The checkpoint system that the game uses to save your progress also has its own share of issues as it can usually be spaced far enough apart to frustrate you into reaping your way through the same throngs of blade armed clone zombies. When you finally make it to the end, you’ll get an ending consummate with the gameplay which means that you get nothing but the credits. There aren’t that many unlockables other than achievements and files that you can read over detailing some of the bosses and characters in the game, but not much else. And instead of hiding cheat codes in the game depending on your performance or by giving you something at the end other than an ending that doesn’t exist, you’ll need to call into one of the pay numbers that are advertised in the game instead.
I was excited when I first heard of Jericho. Then I played the demo. And now that I’ve finally played through the game itself, have only disappointment to take away from the experience. Fans of EA’s Undying will wonder what Codemasters had done with Clive Barker’s magic in Jericho. The clot covered venues and occult heavy storyline provided by the horror scribe are buried within a casket of sloppily executed gameplay ideas and numbingly repetitive action delivering one of the worst endings to any title making it barely worth a rental even for Clive Barker fans. If you’re hoping for the same occult magic that Undying brought with it, or are simply looking to scratch that scab on your trigger finger, be prepared to chew through some of the rubbery prosthetics in this dance with the dead to discover the few juicy bits that it barely delivers.
– World 1-1