Clive Barker’s Jericho

i really don’t understand why clive barker’s jericho is getting such diverse reviews. just look at the score differences at the following sites:

gamepro [9/10]
gameinformer [6/10]
1up [3/10]

one site rates it just one step below perfect while another condemns it as barely a step above the “pit of legendary awfulness?” zero punctuation’s video review even goes so far as to call it a “spunk-flavored lollipop.” colorful imagery aside, i simply can’t agree — clive barker’s jericho, while not perfect, is one of the better xbox 360 games — especially for horror fans.

years ago, clive barker’s undying was a creepy and impressive shooter, so when i first heard of jericho i was hopeful it’d live up to its predecessor. i must admit that after playing the first hour or so of the game, my impression was largely negative. this eventually changed further into the game for a number of reasons, but i think the negative reviews the game is getting are largely a result of several misconceptions. so instead of just reviewing the game, i’d like to critique a few of these preconceived notions.

the first is the expectation that because this game has clive barker’s name on it, it must be scary. after all — stephen king once called barker “the future of horror” and undying was a pretty scary game. while jericho certainly has an abundance of horrific elements, it is not particularly scary. and it doesn’t try to be. this isn’t a silent hill game aimed at scaring the player through slow building tension and generalized creepiness. this is a game you should put in when you’re thinking:

“you know what i wanna do tonite? i really wanna decapitate and/or explode a bunch of weird-ass monsters, some of whom wear their intestines on their head as a hat.”
the monsters themselves may be scary looking (see below) and are largely cut from the same visual cloth as the cenobites, but this game doesn’t really have a lot of “boo!” moments or scripted events meant to scare like those used so often in the resident evil series. this is an action game, and anyone expecting anything else will be disappointed.

another reason i think people are initially unimpressed with the game is that its most unique and fun feature is not initially available. you’re a member of a seven person team in the game and (spoiler alert) early on in the game you die. from that point on you are able to ‘possess’ the other six members of your team, but until that point (which is several levels in) the game seems rather unremarkable. yes, the creatures and levels are intriguing… but until you gain access to all the weapons and magical abilities of your team, i can see why someone would be unimpressed. unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil due to the story structure and (more importantly) the fact that the player needs to be comfortable with the core mechanics of the game before being eased into the squad functionality.

to the left you can see the members of your cyber-goth goof ball squad. each goof ball has a primary and secondary weapon, many with different options and ammo types. weapons range from sniper rifles to katanas to heavy machine guns. on top of that, each member has unique magical abilities. my favorites include ghost bullet (where you can pilot a bullet, hitting up to three targets) and reality hacking which slows down time, but the longer its used the more distorted reality becomes.

in most games you are stuck with a single character and even those that allow you to customize your character usually force you to pick one path and stick to it. apart from jericho, few games easily allow you to switch between completely different play styles at the press of a button. for example, i found myself most often using the uber-gothy sniper chick (ironically named ‘black’) and following behind my team, picking off enemies at a distance. but when i would tire of this, i could easily switch to the katana carrying, asian stereotype ninja girl, the dumb really big guy with the really big gun and a demon hand or any of the four other characters and experience the game in a vastly different way.

some reviews complain about the lack of cohesion between the levels, the linearity of the environments and the enemy spawn locations. i think these cease to be issues when you realize this game, while certainly using the control scheme of a game like halo, actually has a lot in common with rail shooters like house of the dead. there are no pickups or hidden items in this game, so you are not inclined to search every nook and cranny of the levels. you’re to get from point a to point b, killing everything in your way, and that’s it. you start with all the weapons you’ll ever have and you don’t even need to pick up ammunition… in a rather cool explanation for a simple time-saving game design decision, the reality-bending girl occasionally reaches back into time and retrieves the ammo you’ve already used, replenishing your weapons when you run low. while this may be disappointing if you’re expecting a more complicated experience, i actually found it refreshing to have no inventory management, item pickups or maps to deal with, leaving me able to focus on the shooting and problem solving.

the game also features “mini-games,” which some reviews have criticized. occasionally an enemy will grab hold of you and buttons begin appearing on the screen which have to be pressed quickly in order to block the monster’s attack. this same mechanic is also used when attempting certain feats, such as trying to scale a crumbling wall. i don’t understand the complaints about this aspect of the game, as i didn’t find them to be particularly difficult or tedious and quite enjoyed them. my favorite of these interactions is used when your forced to pull a ‘father karras’ on a particularly nasty nazi she-demon-thing (left) and a wrong key press leads to her biting off one of your fingers. this scene also features some of the strongest writing as the demon spews forth an impressive array of profanity, insults and secrets about the characters in an effort to shake them up. my first try, i actually missed a button press during the exorcism because of something she said, so i guess her plan actually works.

some reviews also complain about the game’s story, dialogue and characters. the story of the game is ridiculous, but since when is that a problem in video games? logic or realism has never been a big part of video game premises… unless you know a lot of plumbers that encounter killer turtles or magical mushrooms. the dialogue in jericho is often groan-worthy and so over-the-top as to border on self-parody, but this is the video game equivalent of a grindhouse action/zombie picture… its writing should reflect that. i mean, the characters are dressed in black leather from head to toe,one has a demonic spirit permanently attached to his hand inside a metal case and two of the female members appeared in playboy this month. does anyone really think this game is taking itself all that seriously? ultimately, i found myself interested in the story and the characters despite their lack of realism, much in the same way i cared about el wray and cherry darling in planet terror. realism isn’t a prerequisite for entertainment or empathy. i can honestly say i grew attached to a few of the squad members by the end of the game and was actually invested in their eventual fate and interested in their background — which is more than i can say for most other fps i’ve played (including half-life which, while well written, leaves the primary character completely mute and almost devoid of any background at all).

clive barker’s jericho is a simple, straight-forward fps with a really unique squad mechanic and beautiful art direction. the enemies are grotesque in typical clive barker fashion and the boss battles are well done. there are a few odd design choices along the way (e.g., the pillbox scene mentioned in zero punctuation’s review) and the load times are a bit excessive, but i found neither of these things particularly frustrating. the stack of games i own that i’ve finished is much smaller than those that i haven’t, as most can’t hold my attention long enough to get all the way through them. this one… i played through on normal and then replayed all the way through again on hard. it’s not going to win game of the year, but it certainly deserves more praise than it’s getting… and really — how bad can a game that turns exorcism into a rhythm game be?

ps. i’ve included my xbox live profile below, so feel free to add me as a friend or make fun of my gamer score. if you do the former, please drop me a message as well…

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