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Clive Barker's Jericho (Xbox 360) artwork

Clive Barker's Jericho (Xbox 360) review

"Clive Barker's Jericho is a tale of tremendous promise. This first-person shooter's storyline — penned by the author of Hellraiser and Candyman — follows the final voyage of seven futuristic warriors, seven warlocks and witches who comprise an elite commando squad armed with machine guns and magic missiles."

Clive Barker's Jericho is a tale of tremendous promise. This first-person shooter's storyline -- penned by the author of Hellraiser and Candyman -- follows the final voyage of seven futuristic warriors, seven warlocks and witches who comprise an elite commando squad armed with machine guns and magic missiles. Each member of the "Jericho" team wields their own projectile weapon (from grenades to dual handguns) and their own mystical powers (perhaps blood magic, reality hacking, or something else altogether), but they each have something more, something that sets them apart from the squadmates of other squad-based adventures: depth. Each techno-warrior could be the "main" character and, through an inventive psychic possession system, each one is the main character at some point or another.

At Jericho's foreboding but relatively calm beginning, the player controls Captain Devin Ross, an experienced warrior with a logical approach towards the unknown. His six companions stand beside him, sharing their fears and their heartbreak -- particularly painful was a glimpse into the lives of two star-crossed lovers, never to be together... not even in a future life. Such is the pathos of the Firstborn's world.

Ancient gnostic texts, excised from the Bible centuries ago, tell of a child of God who predated both Adam and Eve. This powerful being was so fundamentally flawed that God himself looked upon it in shame, casting it into a world of eternal abandonment. Driven mad by the torment of eternal solitude, the Firstborn assaulted the outer world six times, incorporating chunks of both history and humanity into his own lonely dimension. Everyone trapped inside the Firstborn's lair is condemned to repeat their sad, violent lives for the mad god's amusement.

Prophecy declares that the Firstborn's seventh attempt shall be its last; it shall either find death, or it shall find freedom and turn the Earth into a living hell. The Jericho team has no intentions of letting the Firstborn do the latter. Their final confrontation shall surely be nothing short of legendary.

The Firstborn's world is a city of labyrinthine steel walls, rocky crags, and crumbling arches. Populated by blade-wielding fiends and exploding zombies, their yellow pustules throbbing in the city's unending heat, this is a world of inescapable danger and palpable horror. One never knows when a corpse, trod upon by an uncaring trespasser's feet, may latch upon the defiler's ankle and pull him down into a sea of squirming undead bodies.

Sequences such as the ankle-latching above are enacted via Shenmue-style quick-time events, which require the player to perform a "Simon Says" routine with the quick-wittedness of the Flash himself. Upon failing the challenge (which will happen often), players are forced to immediately repeat it, over and over, again and again, until finally -- having memorized the button presses -- they overcome the cheap challenge. God of War's more forgiving button-tapping moments added to the game's urgent style; Jericho's inhumanly demanding shenanigans simply add annoyance. How many times do I want to hear a corpse utter the same hollow threat? Once, thank you. After five attempts and five failures, armed with the knowledge that death means instant reincarnation, how terrifying is this ordeal? Not very.

Such moments are thankfully infrequent. The more pressing danger is posed by the aforementioned blade-wielding fiends and exploding zombies. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough variety. After hacking the thousandth blade-wielding fiend to ribbons, or popping the hundredth pustule-laden exploding ghoul, the horrors of the unknown quickly become the tedium of the all too familiar. A powerfully frightening tale requires both the macabre and the unfamiliar to operate hand-in-hand. Jericho is not a powerfully frightening tale.

Even with repetitive inhabitants, some amusement could be gleaned from exploration of this oppressive city... if only the levels weren't so damn linear. Sidepaths are routinely blocked; there is usually but one single path to follow (even if that path is hard to see in the dim lighting). Instead of feeling like a terrifying venture into the unknown, Jericho feels like one long tutorial. It's a pity, because the visuals truly look like a living hell... but hand-holding does not match my mental image of a horror masterpiece.

Without a strong focus on variety or exploration, one might hope that the squad-based combat would redeem the package. The squad controls are simplistic and easy to manage -- players can send one of two teams to designated points within their line of vision -- but, once arrived at their target location, the Jericho team goes nuts and starts rushing explosive zombies head-on, only to be wiped out when the explosive zombie explodes just like the hundred other explosive zombies before it did. The best way to protect the Jericho team from such idiocy is to leave them behind and take on the army of the undead all alone.

Depth, strong personalities, and smart dialogue during cutscenes don't matter much when the characters act like brainless monkeys during the actual game. Fortunately, players can revive their squad members forever and ever, unless everyone (including the player) happens to die simultaneously. I must admit, that's a rather interesting way to compensate for stupid squad members -- make them all immortal!

Unfortunately, when I think "horror masterpiece", I don't also think "immortal". I instead think "fear of death".

Despite all of its production values and the intriguing premise, Jericho consistently disappoints. Even the final battle against the Firstborn -- a battle that should have been legendary -- ends up being far too easy. Clive Barker's Jericho is a tale of tremendous promise. Pity that it's a game, and not a book.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (November 21, 2007)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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