Reviewed By Carl Lyon
Have you ever read a Reader?s Digest Condensed Book? Probably not, so here?s a quick explanation: Reader?s Digest, mainstay of doctor?s offices and your grandma?s bathroom, put out quarterly anthologies of 4 novels, heavily edited (i.e. butchered) for length and content. Having read through a couple (in both doctor?s offices and my grandma?s bathroom), I can tell you that they?re not particularly satisfying reads. Characterization becomes razor-thin, plot elements are stripped down or out completely, and the book in question usually becomes a mere shell of what it truly is. The worst part of it is that these edits aren?t 100% seamless, so a reader of moderate intelligence can see where the work was trimmed, which sours the experience. Clive Barker?s Jericho is the video game equivalent of one of these Condensed Books, albeit a damn good one, which certainly makes the experience a rather depressing one.
The story itself is Barker at his blasphemous best. Before creating Man, God had a prior attempt at life with The Firstborn, a being without gender, morals, or a soul. Realizing the horror that He had created, God locked his misbegotten child away in a dimension called the Pyxis, then made a try at Life 2.0 with humanity. The rest, they say, is history. Unfortunately, The Firstborn feels that it deserves its place on Earth that God had originally given it, and every few centuries, it manipulates the weak and the wicked into letting it back through. Every time, it has been driven back by a septet of powerful magicians, only to snatch a bit of that time period?s evil with it back into its prison.
This brings us to the Jericho Squad, a team of paranormal agents working for the Department of Occult Warfare. Sent out to the ancient city of Al-Khali to investigate the presence of a cult and their monstrous leader, they fall directly into the Firstborn?s latest attempt to break through into the earthly realm to claim what it believes is its birthright.
Sounds exciting, doesn?t it? Well, that?s about all the story you get. With a writer like Barker on board, I was anticipating, at the very least, a nice meaty plot to accentuate all the action. Instead, we?re given the basic skin of a story, with occasional flirtations with character development. After the truly inspired first act, with its fantastic dialogue and awesome introduction into the squad mechanic, the game falls into a painfully linear pattern of your squad running a serpentine path through the level, taking out a wave of enemies, running around until the next wave, repeat ad nauseum. Adding insult to injury, you can unlock bonus content by completing certain achievements, like exploding a certain number of enemy heads. The bonuses? The back story that should have been in the damn game in the first place!
Don?t take my review thus far as saying that I hate Jericho. Far from it! As stated before, the squad mechanic is a work of morbid genius. You spend the first act in the boots of Jericho?s leader Cpt. Ross, only to be killed by the winged wraith Arnold Leach. After that, you become a bodiless entity who can bounce back and forth between squad members to use their various abilities, like telekinetic sniper Abigail Black?s ability to steer bullets directly into the skulls of enemies, or Frank Delgado?s control over a Chickasaw flame spirit to immolate the opposition. Most of the Jericho members have some genuinely combat-useful abilities (with the exception of the rather pointless Xavier Jones), or abilities that help you solve the game?s puzzles. The game itself has some truly impressive graphical chops, at times reaching levels of photorealism, giving the completely disgusting monster designs extra stomach-churning power. The monster designs are certainly where Barker?s influence is the most noticeable, with plenty of little details to make you wince. The first time I took out the generic cannon-fodder cultist and realized that there was nothing but a sucking wound where his genitals should be, I squirmed in discomfort, and as you travel back through the time periods that the Firstborn has pulled into the Pyxis, there?s more horror waiting for you.
Which brings up a point I?ve heard other people make about Jericho: it?s not scary. Well, it most certainly isn?t scary in terms of cheap jumpy bits, or a Silent Hill type atmosphere, but Barker?s never really been about that. His horror has always been more about the flaws of man, and the idea that there is something huge and completely beyond our control just outside our scope of comprehension. When you enter the Roman era to confront the bloated Governor Cassus Vicus, he crows that he has ?found Elysium,? in that the purgatory of the Pyxis allows him to explore his hedonism and gluttony to excesses he could never dream of on Earth. That?s the ?scary? that Barker works in, not generic J-horror jumps.
Jericho, had it been given more time and fleshed out its plot a little more, could have honestly been a contender for game of the year. Instead, it comes across as a flawed prototype for sequels that a sure to come (Codemasters has stated that they would love for Barker to be their Tom Clancy). It?s an enjoyable experiment, certainly worth a rent on the 360 or PS3, or a bargain bin purchase for the PC, but not at full price.