Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by T. Blake Braddy, @blakebraddy
I remember avoiding Clive Barker’s Jericho as though opening the box might transport me to an alternate universe, wherein torture is an acceptable form of hospitality. The reviews weren’t very good – many were downright scathing – and not a single friend said, “You have got to play this game.” In a sea of first person shooters, even a single word-of-mouth recommendation goes a long way, so without any good feedback, it passed by with barely a “meh” into the back recesses of my mind.
In addition, the last few decades hadn’t been overly kind to Barker’s legacy. After his career-making film, Hellraiser, pushed genre tropes beyond the late 80s hackery of masked man-children chasing down teens with machetes, Barker’s influence on the genre cooled. A few flops and varying artistic interests had pushed him back mostly underground, to work independently beyond the shadow of Pinhead, so it was surprising to see a video game called Clive Barker’s anything on the shelves.
However, I have to say I didn’t have a bad time whatsoever. Barker’s obsession with leather-clad, deformed monsters remains firmly intact, and though the game is overly repetitive, parts of it could be considered really quite excellent, especially where it delineates from the more common video game tropes of the late 00s.
That said, Jericho is a weirdly apt document for gaming, circa 2007. (Remember when every game HAD to have QuickTime events?) It represents a minor transitional fossil in the evolution of first person shooters from mere point-and-fire bloodbaths to something else entirely, a hybridized FPS / RPG experience that we see in games like Borderlands and Fallout today. One does not pick up snacks or level-up or explore a vast, open world, so in that way this linear experience feels rather quaint by contrast, but it is still a decent game.
The plot to Jericho is simultaneously simplistic and the underlying myth labyrinthine, but here goes: When seven members of an elite group of (and I cannot underline enough that this is the actual phrase) “warrior magicians” uncover the existence of God’s original human-ish creation – The Firstborn – they quickly learn that it would be a good idea to prevent the creature’s attempts to leap into this world. To close all the portals, the team must travel back through time to fend off hordes of undead-ish creatures so that humanity may be once again set right. To simplify, it’s basically the plot of Ghostbusters with lots of torture.
Overall, despite Barker’s name, it is basically an action shooter, not a horror game. That everything looks like it was pulled from the devil’s backside does not make it any less like Call of Duty or Gears of War. Everything is melodrama and bombast, with very-little-to-no subtle horror elements, so don’t come in expecting a Clive Barker-helmed Silent Hill. Which, admittedly, would be kind of awesome.
As far as the team goes, each character has a different power. Telekinesis, spirit animals, and time expansion are all here. It’s a fairly generic list, but one interesting thing the game does is allow the player to “quick-jump” (via tele-something-or-another) into any teammate and play as that character. Though a bit clunky at times, it’s a refreshing way of giving the player different abilities without stringing them out as a leveling function throughout the game.
The designers try to incentivize the use of powers as a means for killing the inhuman monsters, but for players not adept with the abilities, enemies become annoying to kill. It takes full clips to bring some down completely, and though the player is never really ammo-starved – MAGIC! – there is SO much combat in the game that it becomes overly tedious. Enemies spawn almost endlessly during major battles, and blood sponge doesn’t even begin to describe them. It’s kind of like an Uncharted game designed by Clive Barker, in that way. Lots of locales. Lots of enemies. Lots of bullets.
Luckily for the player, the enemy AI is braindead, for the most part, so there is no need for combat tactics. I found myself, more often than not, standing in the middle of the firefight and unloading clip after clip into the beasts until they were all dead. Sometimes cover helps, but for the most part the enemies simply walk into the paths of bullets until they fall down or explode.
Repetition is by far the major fault of the game. Despite an attempt at enemy variation, based on the specific historical time slice, players end up fighting the same deformed creatures over and over. The fun, then, is not to be found in continually pumping bullets into the monsters, but experimenting with new and interesting ways of combining the special attacks, or using a character’s abilities to match a specific situation.
Despite the repetition, the second half of the game is much more interesting than the first, especially once the character-swapping begins. The fiction gets even more filled out, and, to the game’s credit, switching time slices does enliven combat. The giant creatures later on are actually a really fun change, even if they do all have a specific and Zelda-like flaw. In lieu of the thousands of creatures you’ve fought up to that point, it’s nice to be able to focus on a single entity in a given situation, which also makes the bosses a nice change.
However, the game seems to mistake level variety with a ramp-up in difficulty, so everything still comes off as unintentionally samey. It’s weird that each and every point in history is ruined to the same degree and brownish / yellowish color. Some things are black or gray, but mostly in an attempt to accentuate the brownness of it all.
And there is no change in the overall, big picture look of the game. Oh, you want to get away from desert ruins? How about World War II era ruins? (Couldn’t have a game without Ze Nazis, now could we?) Tired of that? How about you get transported to the Dark Ages amidst the brownish-grayish ruins of a castle that looks like it has been firebombed? And on and on.
Leading up to the concluding segments finds the players encountering increasingly bizarre, increasingly grotesque characters and situations. The villains are all basically just sacks of blood that you shoot down from hooks, especially in the Rome 38 A.D. section, but they represent a welcome change from the things you’ve been fighting since hour one. The game can’t help but drop entire pages of exposition via dialogue on the team through these characters, but even when it is ridiculous, the fiction is at least in-depth and somewhat entertaining, so I found myself less apt to skip the cut scenes. It’s a game for those who enjoy the most extreme of gross-out body horror, intentional blasphemy, and a science fiction-y, Lovecraftian mythos.
A series of end bosses that are somewhat fun to fight leads to one that isn’t, and that is sort of a shameful note to end on, but 2007 saw its share of anticlimactic final bosses, so it cannot be faulted too much with that. Even with an optimistic ending, whether or not the world is restored depends on how one reads into the story, so the ambiguity is also somewhat welcome.
The Final Word: Jericho isn’t without its flaws, and it definitely seems somewhat dated compared to the shooters of today, but some experimentation with mechanics makes the game worth picking up. Just because Clive Barker’s name is above the title doesn’t necessarily make it altogether different, but it’s different enough. However, to its credit, there is some replay value, if for no other reason than to muck around with the characters’ abilities in place of relying on heavy artillery.
The game is a distillation of the horror figure’s major tendencies. It takes many of his interests and lumps them all into a de rigueur (as of 2007) experience, heavily influenced by games like Gears of War or other war-based shooters. If you’re familiar at all with the works of Clive Barker, then you’ll at least clearly understand the visual and thematic threads that run through the game. If not, at least you’ll have lots (and lots and lots) of inhuman monsters to shoot at. It’s no Hellraiser, but neither are any of the sequels.
Clive Barker’s Jericho is available on the PS3, PC and Xbox 360 (reviewed).