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!
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.