The Hellbound Web
"Clive Barker's Jericho"
Review by Brian Dell

Review is based on PS3 Version.

If there is one genre in all of gaming that has come tantalizingly close to achieving greatness, it's horror. Sitting aloofly atop this category is Resident Evil, whose atmospheric and epic zombie legions keep finding deserved commercial success. However, even RE titles have their flaws: each game is marred by vaguely disjointed, similar plots, and characters who inevitably must solve unrealistic puzzle quests. The legacy of Myst continues to rear its ugly head.

Leave it to a horror veteran like Clive Barker to cut through the filler and get straight to the point. Off the heels of EA's Undying (2001) comes Clive Barker's second mainstream entry in the increasingly lucrative videogame market (oh, Demonik, we barely knew ye.) Like Undying, Jericho features a first-person blend of guns and magic, but is it an improvement on the formula? Well, yes and no.

The story revolves around a squad of fighters who, possessing incredible powers, have throughout history battled against God's abortive (pre-Adam) Firstborn. Now it is time to go into battle again, and the conflict rages through WWII battlegrounds, ancient gladiatorial coliseums, and all sorts of other caves, dungeons, and apocalyptic, blood-stained fields. At any time, you're able to swap between the different members of Jericho squad, and control their different abilities, ranging from fire demons to mind bullets and everything in between.

There are some very obvious reasons to play this game all the way through: Barker's vision is rendered beautifully (blu-ray gaming on an hdtv is ep1c w1n!) Jericho shows off his ideas in a way that Undying's technical limitations could only hint at, and which had never really been accomplished before. The scale is vast, the graphics are excellent, and the mood is thick enough to cut with a knife. If you are a fan of Barker, or just horror in general, you owe it to yourself to finish this game. You also get a lot of great Barker-ian themes and storyline, to boot.

At the same time, the story is problematic. Jericho did not sell well, and this was intended as the first chapter in a series of games. Whereas Undying took a story from point A to point B and wrapped everything up with a satisfying conclusion, the ending of Jericho is intentionally vague. So vague, in fact, that you never fight the game's antagonist, the ghoulish Arnold Leech. Now, with the Jericho series seemingly kaput, you likely never will. Undying featured a more engaging plot and series of villains, as well; Jericho feels comparatively like a mash-up of ideas Barker wrote down, but never fleshed out.

The real reason the game didn't sell is not the story though. Gameplay is simply too limited for those addicted to more advanced titles like Call of Duty, Unreal and the like. Jericho will not even let you jump, the strafing is flawed, some of the enemies get repetitive, and you spend too much time healing other characters. These flaws can likely all be blamed solely on the game's developer, Codemasters, whose most engaging title to date had been the Micro Machines racer. If Clive had continued in his relationship with EA or another major developer, things might have turned out much, much different for Jericho squad.

Since the time of its release, Jericho has dropped in price significantly, making it a great value, a visual treat, and lots of fun for its core audience. At the same time, it does little to reach the full potential of horror gaming- at best it could arguably be called the equal of Undying, and Jericho will never be mentioned in the same breath as Resident Evil 4, even if it is much more original. Surely there will be another Barker-adapted videogame at some point, and maybe next time the studio will be 100% on the mark. Until then, we'll always have Jericho.

- Brian Dell