Hands-On Preview: He has such sights to show you!
The very first few moments of Clive Barker's Jericho are enough to impress even the most jaded gamer. The just-released demo starts the player out in a dungeon-like room. The walls are suitably slimy and dirty while the corners of the room are suitably dark and dank. The atmosphere is hazy, as befits a corridor that has never seen the light of day. Behind the player is certain death in the form of a bottomless pit: there is no choice other than to press on. Ahead are the onion-like concentric circles of the city Al-Khali, and at their center, the evil Firstborn. The Firstborn was an imperfect attempt at creation prior to Adam. Though he was flawed, the Firstborn wasn't destroyed. Instead, he was imprisoned at Al-Kali, where he in turn imprisons others as he attempts to return to the world of humans. It is the unimaginable evil of the Firstborn that fuels the beast population of the game Jericho.
Fortunately, the player doesn't face this battle alone. He's a member of the Jericho Team, an elite squad trained to fight the supernatural enemies of humanity. In the past, Jericho members have come from the ranks of the samurai, the Knights Templar, and the Roman legions, just to name a few. Today, each Jericho commando is an expert with the weapons of conventional war in addition to having supernatural skills. The team is made up of six operatives, but the demo only gave us access to three of them. First there's the big guy with the big gun: Frank Delgado. He carries a three-barreled Gatling gun and has the ability to unleash a fire demon on attacking bad guys. He's also got a fire shield that protects him from fire attacks and reduces damage from other types of attacks.
The game also puts two female Jericho operatives under your control. There's Billie Church, whose two magical abilities often come in handy. She can cast a Blood Ward that freezes nearby bad guys in their tracks. It affects multiple enemies, making them easy prey for the knife she carries in her left hand or the machine pistol she carries in her right. She has another area spell called a Fire Ward?it creates a ring of flame around her that sets ablaze any bad guys that contact it. However, all of her magic starts with her own blood, and casting a spell injures her slightly.
The third team member is Abagail Black, who has a Telekinesis ability that can throw around objects and bad guys. She also carries a scoped sniper rifle, and she can control the flight path of its projectiles using her devastating Ghost Bullet ability. Using Ghost Bullet gives you a cool bullet's-eye-view effect that allows you to aim the projectile as it flies downrange. The bullets aren't completely controllable, but you can guide them around some gentle corners and into up to three enemy targets, one after the other. We witnessed these abilities in one tiny slice of the game from level six, and it looks like the abilities will expand and improve as the game progresses.
You'll play the game from a first-person point of view, and you have the choice of which character you want to control. The idea is that you're Ross, the team leader. You were killed in the first mission, and now you're able to possess other team members and control their actions. This little bit of supernatural explanation doesn't do much for what ends up being a pretty standard squad mechanic: you jump between characters as needed, and if you're killed, you jump to another and then heal the one who's down.
The game calls itself a ?story-driven horror FPS,? but from this short gameplay sample, it's hard to get the sense of any sort of story the game might have. There was a bit of banter between the team members, but there was no context given for the action. In the larger game it might make more sense that Ross jumps between minds. One interesting tidbit you do kind of experience in the demo is that many of the bad guys you'll face were once Jericho members like yourself. Each of them faced dangers like the ones you'll face, but they either failed or succumbed to the evil that is the Firstborn. The team members talk about it a bit, and it seems like the danger is something that hangs over their heads as they fight.
The demo does give a great look at the combat system, and it seems that the supernatural attacks will be generally more effective than the modern-day firearms. Many of the fights took place at close quarters, so it was natural for Church to lash out with her knife or for other team members to use a melee attack. If you're looking for fast action and a game that challenges your twitch skills, this one looks like it will fit the bill. There are plenty of dark corners and other hiding places for the bad guys. They came at us with a variety of attacks, from ranged weapons to bare fists to magical fireballs. As to be expected, it got a bit confusing at times as attacks came in from all directions. The close-quarters nature of the fight combined with the fact that much of the environment is pretty dark meant that it was easy to lose track of a foe as he dodged and we circled. Depending on your point of view that's either annoying or adrenaline-pumping. When you do succeed in doing away with an enemy, the game gives you some pretty nice ragdoll effects as the bodies fall over, go limp, or flip around as appropriate. The bodies don't lay around for long, though?they quickly return to the evil ether in a swarm of insects.
The one complaint I would lodge is that Jericho looks like it's going to be another FPS with only one path to success. In the short demo segment, there isn't any choice as to how to move through the level, and the bad guys showed up in exactly the same spots each time. Now some earlier games have done a great job with exactly that kind of setup, generally by disguising the pathiness with some other element. Half-Life 2 had a gravity gun. Call of Duty gave the player an overwhelming, immersive experience. Maybe with Jericho it will be the horror elements or the atmosphere, or perhaps the story. The only replay value in what we've seen so far is in the ability to switch between characters. The battles certainly do feel very different when played from the different perspectives.
In addition to the usual shoot-em-up and hand-to-hand combat, Jericho includes short ?survival? sequences that will have you mashing a lot of buttons on your controller. When you start into one of these sequences, you're locked in until it's done?you'll repeat it until you win it. In the demo, the sequence had Church grappling with what looked to be an ex-Crusader complete with chain mail armor. When the sequence began, the game took control of the camera, and all the player could do was hit the button corresponding to an on-screen arrow. You have to keep the button-pressing in time with the rate of the on-screen cues or you lose the fight in a satisfyingly gory death scene. This kind of sequence feels out of place in a modern shooter?it's a whole lot more Dragon's Lair than it is Ghost Recon?but it does serve to break up the action a bit. It also gives a close-up and personal view of the bad guy, complete with his rusty armor and decaying flesh.
Speaking of looks, Jericho is definitely up there with all the high-profile titles like BioShock or Unreal Tournament III. To picture the look of the game, imagine the grisliest torture elements of Saw or Hostel or Barker's own Hellraiser and ramp them up a couple of degrees of magnitude past ten. Even the welcome screen where you modify the game options is a panel of throbbing, tortured flesh. To give you an idea of the horrors of Jericho, censors in Germany refused to rate the game, effectively banning it from appearing in the country. You have to feel bad for them, because this is one good-looking game. It's full of all the latest and greatest ?wow? effects like dynamic light and shadow, motion blur, and depth of field. Depth of field really adds to the game's cinematic feel, since it makes faraway locations look out of focus, just like they would look on the movie screen. The dynamic light is pretty sharp, too?at one point, a swinging lamp casts moving spots of light on the walls of a room. The atmosphere is amazing, with plenty of volumetric light effects and fog and dust to really give the world the feeling of a real space.