Jericho’s Walls Come Tumbling Down

By Kieron Gillen on September 28th, 2007 at 9:13 am.

In a year when great FPS aren’t exactly as rare as ammunition in a survival horror game, Clive Barker’s Jericho has kind of slipped through the cracks. Now with its 1.06Gb 1 level demo released, it’s time for it to get a little more attention. Barker’s been involved in games before, of course, most notably Clive Barker’s Undying (Which always sounded like a warning more than a game title to me – i.e. “Do not fight Clive Barker – your blows with slide from his skin like gentle rain!”) as well acting as gaming’s brave knight riding forth against the the dragonish Ebert. Jericho is at once Very Clive Barker and also Very Videogame. That means you have things like this looming out of your screen at you. Growls!

Sexy!

The oddest thing about Jericho is what it reminds me of.

Daikatana. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Step past that mass of preconceptions. I’m not going to try and and critically reappraise John Romeo’s famous folly – though it’s worth noting in passing that if the number of people who slag it off had actually played it, Ion Storm would have been worth every penny Eidos invested into them – but note that ideas and execution are different things. The idea of Daikatana, fundamentally, was you, with a couple of computer controlled friends, making your way through a series of horrific environments drawn from across all time. Your computer-chums were to be broadly-drawn characters, who you’ll gain affection for as you progress, and would fight in their own distinctive way. The idea was to join a narrative thrust, a wide selection of environments and a real sense of personality. Forget the actuality. That was the idea.

And, that’s what Jericho is trying to do. You’re the head of the seven-strong Jericho squad, an anti-supernatural SWAT-team trying to stop evil things doing the evil things evil things like to do. Each member, as well as having a personal shopper who spends a lot of time in the S&M section of the kevlar boutique, has a supernatural ability. Blood Mage, Reality hacker, Pyromancer, Telekenetic, Seer, Exorcist and Healer. You play the Healer. Except you’ve been killed, and now only exist as a spirit possessing one of the other members of the squad, bouncing from one to one as the situation demands.

And this is where I start to gain a soft spot for Jericho. I’m an enormous fan of ludicrously complicated in-game justifications for game mechanics, from Prince of Persia’s voice-over noting that it didn’t actually happen like that when you die to Space Rangers 2 justifying its awful translation with a cheeky note claiming the game is written in a future English dialect. It just increased verisimilitude. I can live without it, sure, but I appreciate the effort. Some people can’t live without it. For example, comrade Walker has a constant aversion to squad-based shooters. He doesn’t understand who he “is”. Platformers, normal shooters, most games – he’s the character he’s controlling. Enormous strategy games – he’s the general or leader or whatever. But in your average soldier-sim, who exactly is he? Jericho understands Walker’s reservations and works out a way to subsume this mechanism into the fiction. And it kinda works, setting the tone for over-the-top violence with a none-too-subtle edge of camp.

The demo doesn’t appear to be an entire level and only features three of the full cast of six, but playing through, bouncing between characters and using their special abilities – the Telekinetic sniper which allows you to guide the bullet to create a row of headshots gets a round of applause – is so enormously full of potential. The writing is sharper than most games. Three characters throwing off their paranormal powers is a fair spectacle – you’d imagine with the six it could be genuinely impressive, like a group of 90s superheroes causing trouble in Hell. It even does something I’ve never seen done before, in the form of a Quick-time-event in first person. Not necessarily a good idea, of course, but it is agreeably impressive visually.

This could be, abstractly, very good indeed. The problem is while the character interactions and fiction are bang up to date, the linear, confined corridor structure and questionable AI are pure late-nineties. So while the Demo’s done its job, in it’s made me interested enough to want to play some more, I suspect when I do, I’ll just come away a little sad that it hasn’t capitilised upon the vision’s potential.

I dunno. What do you think?

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32 Comments »

  1. Gulag says:

    “Your computer-chums were to be broadly-drawn characters, who you’ll gain affection for as you progress, and would fight in their own distinctive way. The idea was to join a narrative thrust, a wide selection of environments and a real sense of personality.”

    Sounds like Republic Commando. Which I liked.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    Never played Republic Commando, but I suspect you’re right. But more so, as each one has really obvious weird-ass abilities. She’s the blood sorcerer who cuts herself! He’s got his arm on fire constantly, trapped in a metal shield!

    KG

  3. schizoslayer says:

    When I got to the bit where I had to be the Ninja girl (Which at no point did it tell me) and I had to go down the pipe I ended up quitting in frustration and anger at the horrible Dragons Lair bit.

    Shit game just because of that. Get it out of my sight.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    But Shenmue is one of the greatest games of all time. Rllmuk told me so.

    KG

  5. Grill says:

    Oops, Will just came over and pointed out the games not out yet. Any way I can get that enormous spoiler taken down?

  6. MisterBritish says:

    That quicktime/farenheit style ‘quickly push buttons in this sequence or we’ll beat you over the head and restart this whole crappy sequence’ was a massive downer – if you show me a pretty action sequence I want to actually be able to watch it, dammit.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    It’s gone, Mr Grill.

  8. Martin Coxall says:

    That quicktime/farenheit style ‘quickly push buttons in this sequence or we’ll beat you over the head and restart this whole crappy sequence’ was a massive downer

    When I am self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, releasing a game will be met with swift — yet arguably humane — reprisals.

  9. Alistair says:

    It is a bit like Republic Commando. However, you switch control between your guys at will, and have to if killed. It doesn’t have the cool Republic Commando idea of lying immobile on the ground, half seeing lasers flying, and screaming for one of your AI buddies to revive you though. You do revive them in much the same way though.

  10. Martin Coxall says:

    Um, I mean, that is to say, releasing a game with QUICK TIME EVENTS. They are a plague on gaming, and need to be firmly and lovingly stamped out.

  11. Kast says:

    I was pleasantly surprised when Church (or was it Black?) did the funky jumping up into the tunnel but. Much better than some sort of jumping game, just pulling yourself up or that god-awful quicktime event bit.

    It was fresh, interesting and attractive. Shame the the controls to start it were so unnatural. Tap space? When have I ever done that for anything but actually jumping?!

  12. SuperMatt says:

    The one thing which surprised me was how pretty it was but I managed to run it at full detail without any slow down!

  13. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    Nice atmosphere and graphics. Interesting mix of characters and enemies. Performance on my 7800gs was a little sub-par (felt leaden)…tried it on my 360 and silky smooth. However, don’t like the fact you can’t jump and it doesnt allow for you to jump off walls and just blocks you with an invisible barrier…lazy programming?

    Agreed the quick-time events are crap but are easier to get through using a controller.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    I meant to mention the lack of jump. A strange one.

    KG

  15. Martin Coxall says:

    I meant to mention the lack of jump.

    You jest, surely? You can’t JUMP?

  16. Kieron Gillen says:

    No, really.

    Well – you can climb stuff at the appropriate points with an interact button, including clambering up walls and whatever… but it’s only in the right bit. Otherwise, yes, you’re stuck to the floor.

    KG

  17. Andrew Mayer says:

    Hmmm. Usually the lack of a jump means that the developer didn’t want to spend the extra time testing and polishing an environment where the characters might be able to ascend or hang off every non vertical surface. It’s a trade off I’ve had to make myself.

    Hey, flaming arms in boxes don’t come for free!

  18. Mattt Enss says:

    I’d quite gladly give up jumping in an FPS for realistic climbing abilities. Unless you’re a professional athlete carrying little weight, it isn’t realistic to jump any significant height. But I’m sick of being stopped by barriers that appear to be waist high, such that in real life my mother could climb over them.

  19. Kast says:

    I honestly didn’t notice the lack of jump. I suppose it wasn’t really necessary at all. And for an awful lot of games, it isn’t. Merely used for clambering on boxes. But it can make for some tedious level design. Then again, an over reliance on the jump feature can result in a platformer.

  20. schizoslayer says:

    The jump thing is largely down to the fact that games without a jump will happily present you with a 2 foot high wall and not let you get over it. We clearly should be able to traverse the wall but without spending the best part of a year developing funky “climbing over walls” technology (and it is ALOT harder than you might think) the next best solution is to let you jump.

    Some good games don’t let you jump but those games make a point of never having the aforementioned two foot high walls.

    Then again years of playing online FPS games has left me with a habit of jumping everywhere. If I can’t jump it’s like I’m missing a leg.

  21. AK says:

    I’ve played quite a lot of this.

    It’s seriously one of the most relentlessly gloomy, tiresome games I’ve ever played.

    The combat feels weedy and imprecise and I don’t care about a SINGLE member of my squad ’cause the script and voice acting are so half-arsed.

    Clive Barker’s idea of ‘scary’ – oooh, a flaming baby! A man with a spike for a neck! – hasn’t been even remotely chilling since the mid ’90s.

    HATE.

  22. James Lyon says:

    Sounds a little like Project Eden, too, no?

  23. Richard says:

    FROM THE MIND OF VISIONARY CLIVE BARKER…

    THE ULTIMATE FACE OF EVIL

    A CREATIVE ODYSSEY, UNLIKE ANY YOU’VE EVER KNOWN

    But first, a Sewer Level!

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    AK: I’ll admit, I wasn’t thinking it was scary. Just enormously /schlocky/.

    Lyon: I think I once did a similar rant re: Daikatana with Eden too actually. Except I think this is closer. I mean, you could easily do the same thing with The Chaos Engine and reference a game that was actually good.

    KG

  25. Alec Meer says:

    Republic Commando (which I’ll pen a retrospective on at some point if I can track down a copy) was at least 3.5 times better than Jericho.

    As AK says, Jericho’s fun sadly subsides as the game wears on, though the dialogue and characters remain just the right kind of godawful to prompt regular bigLOLs.
    More in my PC Gamer review next month, top chums!

  26. David says:

    It reminded me of Brute Force. Remember Brute Force? Yeah…

  27. Alistair says:

    I wonder if the QTEs, thinking of the two in the demo, have the seeds of an interesting melee system. With more than one action at a time available, tied to various parts of the screen/opponent, I think that would fit well with a choose your blow/block style of combat. Much more chance for skill (imagine the fencing version) than the usual click to slash.

  28. Richard says:

    I’m trying to work out why a generic monster suddenly becomes a ‘one shot and you’re dead’ threat just because it’s in a QTE. Sure, falling down the big hole, that makes sense. But you can take loads of hits from those guys when they’re just trying to kill you normally.

  29. James Lyon says:

    “I mean, you could easily do the same thing with The Chaos Engine and reference a game that was actually good.”

    Or Lost Vikings, etc.

  30. Tom says:

    thought it was pants personally. the most entertaining part was the falling down tube, cracked head bit and the way my nasty disects you imo.

  31. LKM says:

    Played the demo on my PS3. Two reactions: Wow, this game is pretty. Wow, the framerate really sucks. Am I the only one getting constant