There's a big difference between stuff being horrible and being horrifying. Bioshock's creaking corridors and mumbling madmen are scary, Condemned's lonely close combat is terrifying, whilst Gears of War's gore is merely horrible. Jericho follows the latter down the charnel path and raises the question; can games get away with just being nasty any more?
Jericho follows the travails of the deceased Cap'n Devin Ross and his band of black ops psychics, sent to a desert ruin to deal with The Firstborn, an ultimate Evil mistakenly created by that interfering devil, God, before he made man (this is all gospel, honest). You have to fight your way back through the areas of history that make up his prison, flipping between the team's members using Devin's psychic MacGuffin.
Each team member has their own psychic powers and familiar weapon-set (each with configurable guns); Delgado has the chaingun and fire-demon, Black has the sniper rifle and telekinetic bullet-control, and so on; they're all satisfyingly solid to use. While the characters might be singularly well-designed, no-one could opine they're scary but the linear format of your progress through the ruined city of Al Khali and the immortality of the squad (having two chaps who can resurrect in the team at a time is very useful) means you'll never be scared.
Agreed, initially, you might be concerned by the speed at which your teammates get killed - but don't worry, as there's only two or three times where you'll really be challenged to keep them alive. Even the boss battles (impressive though the design is) are never tough as long as you concentrate on resurrecting people. In fact, the only really challenging bit (and we completed this, on the hardest difficulty, in about 9 hours) is when you have to take a solo mission, where resurrection is no longer available. Indeed, as a workmanlike exploration of the various magic/physic talents available to each of the six (seven?) characters Jericho is perfect. The levels vary between giving you a full team, splitting up into smaller groups of two or three people, or dropping you into the few solo missions.
However, despite its adventurous setting in five different time zones, Jericho is sold short by the homogeneity of the experience. Each of the time zones deploys the same tiny array of enemies, who move in similar ways, take similar amounts of damage and endlessly repeat throughout their areas, accompanied by the ubiquitous cultists. The themes of the timezones themselves are muddied by gore and the degradation of the design; they simply all look the same, except for stand-out moments like the Brandenburg Gate (why does this appear in the desert?!) or the Arena levels. It's also sad to relate that the Xbox 360 version doesn't look as good as either the PS3 or PC versions of the game - we're not sure why this is, but it's disappointing.
Jericho shows that it's simply not enough to just be nasty any more. Doom, Gears of War and endless horror films (many from Barker) himself have made us completely inured to this sort of overblown guts and gibbing, and a poorly-rendered pile of bodies can't match the brutal psychological impact of Hostel or the remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Several tricks of the trade are missing too; there's no low bass noise to set your guts atingle and your teeth on edge, no empty corridors to build tension, no worries over getting surprised as you'll just get up again. The plot is great, but feels like it's had the meat excised and the characters are paper-thin. Clive Barker's next development team is going to have to keep it nasty but watch some Japanese horror if it wants the next game to be a success.
Not nearly nasty enough; and not scary at all
- Solid, varied characters
- Enjoyable weapon sets
- Nicely-designed team division
- As scary as a car advert
- Ridiculously linear