I feel a little sorry for Codemasters. They’ve given themselves the impossible task of trying to release a niche FPS in between Halo 3, Valve’s Orange Box and Call of Duty 4. A game which was essentially dreamt up by Clive Barker, a popular horror author for those of you that don’t read much, it’s one of those games that would have been a great stop gap during the summer slow period. Regrettably, the game has turned out as an average FPS with a horror theme, which won’t cut it these days.
Upon first glance, the game looks like your standard First-Person Shooter fare. You’re part of an elite government special forces unit (admittedly with magical super powers) that has gone to explore a disturbance in some desert. As the leader of the squad, you battle through a level, directing your team members and emptying a few tons of lead into flesh. Then you die. From then on the game begins to heat up, as your character can now hop between all the members of the squad to take control of them.
This is definitely the best part of the game by far. Each member of your squad, from the lesbian sniper Black, to the badass priest Rawlings, each squad member has a couple of specialised skills and weapons at their disposal. While these are mostly offensive, such as fire demons and a fly-by-wire bullet, you can also use them to heal and defend your party depending on the situation. As you progress through the game, the magic skills are unlocked one by one, generally when your squad is required to use them in ‘puzzles’. Aside from these scripted sections, you can switch between your party at anytime, seamlessly, which allows you to dispatch the numerous enemies you encounter with ease. Some skills can also be used in combination, for example a blood ward will trap a monster with crazy tentacles, you can then either slowdown time or set the fiend on fire to dispatch them. Generally using the skills will end up in some spectacular fountain of gore heading towards your face, which is always appreciated.
Unfortunately you can only control one squad member at a time, leaving the rest of them to fend for themselves using their ‘Artificial Intelligence’. If they were people in real life, they’d be sectioned. Even though you have squad commands, your team-mates decide to run around like headless chickens, using their skills with abandon and holding no real formation. This is fine early on, but as you encounter certain enemies it all falls apart. For example, one type of foe explodes when it is killed. Logic says stay the hell away from them but Jericho squad members kill them at point blank range and just chill out for a bit…then die. Fortunately you can revive them with any character by running up and tapping A, but they’ll often die so spectacularly that you’ll be trying to do this while facing a whole army of monsters. Having said this, the game is ridiculously easy. It’s bad enough that the game has very few levels, but the fact you can resurrect your squad allows you to go on suicidal runs into enemies frequently, with bosses being an exercise of keeping everyone alive long enough for the AI to finish the job. So unless you really suck at the game, it’s not going to last more than 14 hours.
The story is meant to be an integral part of the game, which you’ll probably find unsurprising due to Barker’s pedigree. Because of this there are plenty of cut-scenes strewn around the game, some of which use the Quick Timer Event (QTE) system pioneered by games such as Die Hard Arcade, Shenmue and Fahrenheit. QTE works by flashing up button prompts during a seemingly un-interactive cut-scene. The player then has to mash the button in time or the player will generally end up less than alive. Fortunately for those of you that don’t have the fastest reaction times, you can retry them an unlimited amount of times. The story is rather interesting, and is one of the major driving forces for the player to continue with the game; the main problem comes with the fact that the game has no conclusion, leaving you with the same dissatisfaction as playing Halo 2.
Visually, the game isn’t much to look at. Most of the levels are very bland, dingy and dark and sport little detail. There are some nice effects around, with decent light refraction from pools of blood and the particle effects from the numerous explosions around. The one saving grace is probably the lighting, which is sufficiently gloomy, and using the torch in dark corridors gives the game some atmosphere. The character design is also rather repetitive, with man types of enemies only just running into double figures, and those that do exist vary little from the S&M-inspired grunts that you first encounter. Quite possibly the worst offence though is the lip-sync. During the game the characters will often chat to each other and the audio barely matches their flapping mouths. Now a lot of the time you won’t notice this as it’s over radio, but in cut-scenes it’s ridiculously bad.
As we touched upon earlier, the plot is an integral part of the game and the voice acting is, of course, an incredibly vital part of the storytelling. In Jericho it’s a mixture of good and bad. Most of the squad members are reasonably believable in their performances, if not a bit stereotypical. The big letdown is the narrator voices, it’s meant to be imposing and powerful but just comes out forced and rather irritating. The atmospheric sounds and music are also of a similar quality, and while suited to the game, it fails to build any real sense of atmosphere. One saving grace from the audio standpoint is the variety and efficacy of the sound effects–the splattering sound when an enemy’s head is splintered by lead is particularly satisfying.
Overall, Jericho is a game that really did have potential. It has a decent plot, and the whole squad system is involving and innovative. Unfortunately the game has both come out at the wrong time, presumably due to the marketing department at Codemasters wanting to exploit the Halloween season. If the developers had given this game another six to eight months in development, the game could have been a solid shooter; unfortunately it ends up just being an average one.
Originally Written By: Ali Owen