Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review: Despite good action, "Jericho" falls flat

Maybe the "Master of Horror" Clive Barker should just stick to films. Games? Not so much.

The Codemasters release, "Clive Barker's Jericho," is a squad-based FPS with tons of action and a touch of paranormal. Clive Barker teamed with Codemasters to pen "Jericho's" storyline.

The game, named after a U.S. Army Special Forces unit, Jericho Squad, puts gamers in the lead role of commander. "Jericho" starts out in the Iraqi town of Al-Khali, a town built on top of ancient ruins. Jericho Squad is sent in to investigate why the citizens of the town aren't responding to calls from the outside world. As commander of the squad, you soon realize that a great *evil* has broken into the world and threatens to taint the entire earth with its disease. Your squad is the ONLY thing keeping the evil at bay against the human race.

This is where Jericho Squad comes in. Each member of the seven-soldier squad is an expert in urban warfare and each member specializes in a parapsychological discipline. Some of the "talents" include clairvoyance, alchemy, blood magic, exorcisms and body possession. The last one? More on that later ...

The game starts with gamers entering Al-Khali searching for clues. Gamers will find themselves in some pretty intense firefights with some nasty baddies as they progress door-to-door, block by block through the town. There's never a dull moment - the enemy AI is clueless at times, but rather relentless. Don't expect to go for a sip of water and leave the game going. Even if you are Rambo, your squad can't get the job done without you being vigilant.

The weapons in the game are sweet, but it's the psychic talents you will most definitely be relying on to beat this game.

The squad is a colorful cast as well. You initially start "Jericho" as Capt. Devin Ross. He's the commander of the squad and a psychic. There's Lt. Abigail Black, a sniper who can control bullets in flight (she's a telekineses expert). Sgt. Billie Church is a blood mage, Capt. Xavier Jones can astral project himself and Cpl. SImone Cole, who can teleport supplies and personnel. The squad has strengths, but the best characters are Sgt. Frank Delgado and Father Paul Rawling. Sgt. Delgado, the heavy machine gunner in the game, totes a vicious fire demon that can sniff out baddies - launches from his arm in the form of a snake and takes the life out of enemies. Arguably the coolest team member, IMHO, is Father Rawlings. Not only does this guy pack dual .44 silver-plated Magnums (the pistols), but you can hear him "praying" throughout the game.

Now, this is my kind of game where a character has some major heat, quotes the Scripture 'Peace be Steel' and busts caps ... Nice.

Probably the one of the sweetest concepts in the game is the multiple planes of existence. True, the game starts in modern day, but as you progress, you will be fighting enemies during the Crusades, WWII, as well as the Roman Empire. Talk about mixing video gaming with a small history lesson. First lesson? Al-Khali is NOT a real city.

Back to the review ... as you progress, you will be able to *jump* back and forth between members. Yes, you read it right. You will be able to use their bodies during gameplay. If you wanted to try your hand at body possession, this is your game. How that happens during the game is another story ...

It's a cool feature to have, especially if you are pinned down. You can also have Jericho squad members to combine their powers for very strong attacks against enemies.

The graphics are so-so - nothing really jumped out during gameplay. The town looks good, but your squad's movement is sometimes choppy and stiff. Fluid movements would really aid the game big time.

The sounds are good - the voice acting is ok, and soundtrack is good. Of course, you really won't be very surprised during fights because the music's tempo changes, and you know a fight is right around the corner.

Here's where it starts to get ugly. The controls can be awkward at times. Especially when you are teleporting between squad members during an intense battle, you can find the character you are jumping to is looking down or not in the direction of the fight. Maybe I am wrong, but during a gunbattle, every member of the squad should be in the direction of the fight, right? Those precious seconds could cost a teammate his/her life and put you at a severe disadvantage.

Another sore spot is your team. They can fight, but not very good. You'll find yourself trying to revive your teammates who are trying to be heroes. Here's a word of advice: According to a business article I read in a newspaper years ago, during a hostage situation, if you want to be the hero, you have a -25 percent chance of being gunned down or killed. Someone should tell your team those stats.

Common sense tells me if you can hear bullets whizzing past you to take cover and blind fire. Basically, your goal is to find cover and not be exposed. Apparently, Jericho Squad didn't learn that in basic training. Some will take cover, but others will run into the fray and blast. Then, you'll see them down and you will have to revive them. After a few times, you will seriously consider letting them sit there and slip into the underworld ...

Did I mention the game is as bloody as an open-heart surgery? This game is not for the faint at heart ...

If that's not enough of a challenge for you, just wait until you have a few minigames. The first time I saw one was during "Tomb Raider: Legend" where Lara Croft has to duck, dodge and dive through an ancient ruins obstacle course. Ha ha, I am not a fan of this. No more than five minutes into the game, you will have to play one or it will keep replaying until you get it. You'll also have to play a few more with a couple paranormal baddies. Don't get frustrated - just know your controller.

The weapon schemes take some getting used to as well. If you die, no worries. Just restart from the last save point.

And cheat codes? Ha ha ... don't even try it. Apparently, Codemasters has unique codes for EVERY copy of the game. You can *call* a number to get some, but they aren't free. So, if you like to go to Web sites, snag a few codes, you are out of luck with this game.

I can see the cool direction this game was going in, but just like the Wall of Jericho in the Bible, this game falls flat.

Why should I care: If battling hordes of paranormal baddies in an urban Mid Eastern environment interests you, give "Jericho" some serious thought

The good: Ability to use psychic powers against paranormal enemies - battling across time to conquer evil - intense enemy AI - Clive Barker storyline

The bad: Your *Special* Force squad is rather *special* and needs to learn that gunbattles are won by effectively using cover - not John Wayne shootouts - paying for cheat codes - teleporting between teammates, while cool at times, can leave some gamers disoriented - Clive Barker storyline

The ugly: No doubt: Having to revive teammates so many times, you'll feel like you're Bishop T.D. Jakes

Overall: 6 (out of 10): There are so many things "Jericho" does and attempts to do that rock. However, the execution is off and it may leave gamers with a 'why am I playing this blood-bath FPS?' The concept is a good one but it's not the kind of title that screams 'high replay value' either. Definitely rent it and see if you are ready to battle the paranormal. Make sure you take your holy water with you.

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