Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Clive Barker's Jericho, Seven years on.

I am playing and enjoying a game that got dismal reviews when it came out in 2007. To be honest I can understand why Clive Barkers Jericho scored so badly in comparison to other AAA shooters that came out that year including Crysis and Call of Duty 4. Jericho is an on rails shooter with hordes of dumb opponents patrolling generic brown corridors and feels like a game from the late 1990s. Painkiller is perhaps the most flattering comparison but Painkiller was itself considered charmingly retro when it came out in 2004.

Happily the passage of time makes Jericho's datedness less relevant and allows one to enjoy the rather clever gameplay. This is squad shooter allowing you to switch on the fly between any one of six warrior mages. Each character wields two conventional weapons mapped to left and right mouse buttons and also has two magic powers. Some of the powers feel a bit redundant but there are gems like the lady who uses blood magic to create a ward which entangles nearby enemies allowing her to run around and chop them up with her sword. Combat against the hordes of enemies is fast and furious and selecting the best characters and powers for the situation makes for challenging and entertaining game-play.

One niggle I have about the game is the inclusion of several annoying quick time events of the "press D now to not die" variety. These crop up with disappointing regularity and never really fit with the rest of the game-play. Perhaps the most incongruous example is a particular mini boss that appears several times in the game and which can only be killed by destroying a number of glowing runes around its large bile spewing mouth. Once you figure this out it seems natural to use your sniper character to shoot these off one by one while peeking out from behind cover. This sniper strategy works perfectly the first few times you meet this monster but then you encounter one who refuses to die because the last rune remains firmly attached despite all your efforts with bomb and bullet. The whole scene is pretty chaotic with shooting and shouting and roaring and bloody bile spewing everywhere so I kept plinking away for quite some time thinking that I was having terrible luck to miss so many shots. Eventually I heard the voice of one of my team mates over the tumult suggesting that "Billy should handle this". Billy is the aforementioned sword wielding lady so it was far from clear what she was supposed to do to dislodge a rune stuck on top of a house sized monster's head but since nothing else was working I switched to Billy and ran directly at the beast.  This triggered a quick time event that saw Billy leap up the creature's face and slice the rune off with her blade, all providing of course I managed to press D at the appropriate instants to not die.

The most surprising thing about the game for me is the lacklustre story. I don't know what the extent of horror writer Clive Barker's involvement was but Jericho has a completely generic video game plot which sees you fight through layers of hell to prevent some terrible demon from escaping into the world. Been there, done that many times from Doom onwards. It has to be said that Clive's previous video game collaboration "Undying" from 2001 has a much richer and more original story. Indeed Undying is a better game all around with more variety of locations and monsters.

Looking at Steam Forums for Jericho suggests that some folk are having difficulty getting it running on modern hardware. I had no such troubles. It installed and ran first time for me on my admittedly not very up to date Windows 7-64 rig sporting an AMD graphics card.

Jericho is available for very little money from Gamergate (installs on Steam) while the older but better Undying can be got from Good Old Games.

Edit: Just finished the game, about 10 hours playing time including reloads and messing around. The ending is pretty much a non event sadly. It feels like a segue to a sequel which was never going to happen.

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