Just in time for Halloween, Clive Barker, the modern master of the macabre horror leaps onto the Xbox 360 with Jericho. With the help of Codemasters and developer Mercury Steam. They hope to bring to life the very twisted imaginative world of Barker's devising in this squad based horror shooter.
The game follows the exploits of the Jericho Squad, part of the armies occult warfare division that have been fighting a secret war down through the ages against God's first creation, aptly titled: The Firstborn. This ancient evil has broken through into our world and ground zero for the event is the Middle Eastern city of Al-Khali. The game picks up with Captain Devin Ross' dream of a giant sandstorm out in the desert and a mysterious child like companion.
Soon the player is thrust first-person into the role of Devin Ross as the Jericho Squad are sent to investigate the city. You arrive during the prophesised sandstorm and the team are set down in Al-Khali whilst their transport beats a hasty retreat. Things aren't normal and fairly soon Devin Ross' group must face those horrors that only Barker could dream up.
The game is a squad-based first-person shooter that takes place in nightmarish environments deep within Al-Khali. The gameplay in Jericho might seem at first like a run of the mill shooter but if you preserve with it and continue to follow the story to the first major event you'll find that it drastically shifts and introduces new elements that expand the range of tactical options.
Unlike the GRAW style series of games you're able to switch from squad mate to squad mate (in a unique manner) when the team's leader - Devin Ross who has the power to heal by touch meets his untimely end in the first segment of the game. Unknown to Ross he can transfer his spirit from member to member and ride shotgun in their heads.
The squad command system is simple enough, the D-pad controls your orders and the game teaches you by doing, so any new ability or element is brought in carefully and presented so that you can apply an example of it to the current situation. Early on you'll learn about some of the characters and their psychic/magical abilities (they are all fairly unique and useful). Sometimes these are revealed as part of an in-engine cut scene or dialogue between the squad members.
There's no jump button to worry about and the A button controls all kinds of context sensitive actions. I actually found the control system to be a breeze to use and after around 10 minutes of play I'd mastered the basics of keeping my team mostly alive. You can die in Jericho and the game's difficulty ramps up the further in you go. Ross can heal fallen team members as long as you can get to them and tap A.
Father Paul Rawlings is the man you want to keep an eye on in combat, he can bring you back (as Ross early on) and other squad members back as well. Should the whole squad go down barring Rawlings you can use him to get everyone back on their feet fairly quickly - should you all go down then the flies take you and you've lost the battle against the Firstborn. Well, you'll go back to a checkpoint if you want to try again.
There are a lot of interesting mechanics to Jericho that you won't see if you get put off by the game, you'll miss the weapon customisation where most of the team members have hardware that can be set to different configurations. This goes beyond the usual set the gun to burst, single and automatic fire, to the configuration of dual pistols (such as Rawling's Faith and Destiny) where you can change the ammo type to fragmentation, explosive and so on.
Ross' ability to head-swap from member to member allows you to take control of a team-mate and execute a specific special ability when the going gets too tough. Frank Delgado (Pyromancer) has a fire shield, so it's useful to have control of him and let the other Jericho's dish out some major damage as you keep the power up by pressing the LB.
There's also Threading, where you can link powers but I'll let you find out about that yourself.
Jericho is a fine mix of gun and hand-to-hand where a lot of emphasis has been placed of giving the player toys and choice. You feel like you're in control of a bunch of warrior-witches who can kick some serious evil ass and take names. There's an incredible amount of detail gone into the design of these powers, the Jericho's themselves and even something as simple as opening the zoom mode of say, Simone Cole's character is significantly different to Abigail Black.
In Black's case you'll snap open a sniper scope. In Cole's case you are given a threat-assessment HUD that can mark weak-points and see through solid walls. It is touches like this that appeal to me regardless of the reviews the game's been getting elsewhere. I have to ask, just how much time did certain people spend on the game before they went back to say, *cough* Halo *cough* 3. There I said it. Point of note: I enjoyed Halo 3 but it's not the be-all-end-all-shooter.
I've heard bad things about the action-button-God-of-War-style sequences that people complain pop-up without warning. I've had a few of those appear in combat as well as scripted events, they weren't particularly hard and perhaps I might have a Karate Kid style Mr. Miyagi lightning-fast chop-stick gamer reflex when it comes to things like this, but I thought the timing was just right.
I've heard that these button press sequences are bewildering to some, who claim the buttons make no sense. Y=head, A=feet, X=left hand/arm, B=right hand/arm. If you get too close to an enemy in combat they might decide to try some hand to hand, you can see this coming a mile away when you suddenly lose control of the character and the bad-guy drops the nut on you several times making the screen shake a little.
Usually it's a case of Y, X, B or Y, X, A, the game does like to pull different moves so don't try and counter with the same combo all the time. To me this system works perfectly and it adds to the simple gun-blasting combat that happens time and time in the game. I like going to hand to hand, I loved Riddick and Project Breakdown for that and Jericho delivers this in spades as far as I'm concerned. Especially with Church's custom sword and the general melee B-button attack too.
So lets sum up for those people who like to read down and down without reading the whole thing. Jericho has squad-based combat; you're not always in control of every member of the squad as some parts of the game split you up and have you going solo or in smaller groups. Each of the seven Jericho has two distinct powers and some serious hardware to back that up. Each Jericho is more unique than a dozen Master Chiefs (even though I love Master Chief) and the powers are actually useful not just a frivolous addition to make the game: COOL.
There are button-tapping God of War style action sequences that will result in you losing your head if you time them wrong.
Visually Jericho is appealing and to some (including me) it's not all that horrific, there were no times where I shouted loudly and jumped a foot off the chair (thank you Condemned!) - There were a couple of times I was heard to remark, ick, and: that's disturbing. It has a visual flair that could only come from the mind of Clive Barker in terms of level design, creatures and effects. These are all done without any slowdown and whilst the game isn't a fantastic looking one, it works for me.
The models and animations are all pretty decent; the Jericho squad look unique as well as having a wide range of actions that they can perform when you're not controlling them. They'll roll and dive as well as go into cover and duck behind available barricades. This leads me into the AI, now this is where I get irked with the game since it's a squad-based shooter and you need to keep certain members from going down during combat so you can keep the whole squad from ending up dead.
The AI on the enemy side does what it claims to do, it's vicious and it's not really concerned about its own safety - it charges in and tries to overwhelm you if it happens to be that kind of entity. If you're fighting a sneakier opponent then they'll take cover and attempt to flank the squad.
The team AI is for the most part again fairly decent, until there happens to be a detonating enemy and they all run over even though you've told them to stay put. They need a couple more days in the obedience school I think. I'm serious keep your squad back as much as you can and control Rawlings to make sure he doesn't run up to one of those suckers.
You can also get taken down by friendly fire at times if you're not careful, especially from Frank Delgado...who seems to be the game's asshole anyway.
The music is suitably dramatic and does a good job of working to heighten tension and provide suspense. It has a suitable horror-esque score combined with a military up-beat.
The sound design is solid enough and the various sounds in the game all come across well. The weapons all sound like they're actually realistic rather than some other FPS' weak 'paf-paf' this is supposed to be a piece of military-hardware and not a pop-gun effects.
The voice acting varies from good to medium, there are no truly awful performances and whilst some of the random chatter from the Jericho's can be repeated a little too much it never really got on my nerves. I'd say one of the highlights of the game is listening to some of the banter between the squad, which is oddly enough similar to listening to the Marine banter in Halo 3 - which I loved, especially when you activated the IWHBYD skull.
I don't think the Jericho banter is quite as good as the Halo 3 Marine banter but it's by no means shabby.
Jericho clocks in about 12 to 15 hours of play depending on your style and there's probably enough replay-ability in terms of squad member switching to make you want to go back and try again using different powers and playing in a different style.
It's not a brilliant shooter, but by no means is it one that you should give a miss to.