Clive Barker may be one of horror writing's most revered names, but he's had some trouble cracking the video game market. His first game, Undying, was met with almost complete apathy by the PC community in 2001, winning the dubious honour of GameSpot's "Best Game No One Played" the same year. His second attempt, Demonik, was set to offer players a starring role as the villain of the piece, but it was scrapped midway through development. Jericho, his latest attempt at cracking the formula, may prove "third time lucky" for Barker, thanks to a new collaboration with Spanish developer Mercury Steam and British publisher Codemasters. From what we've seen already, the game looks promising enough to match the critical acclaim of Undying, and as it's hitting the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, it also has the potential to reach a much wider audience.
Thanks to the timing of a recent visit to Codemasters' headquarters, we were lucky enough to be the first people in the world to see Jericho in action on the PC. The seeds of the game were planted by Barker, who came up with a story that fuses religion, government conspiracy, and superpowers. It was then fleshed out by Barker's frequent collaborator Brian Gomez, while developer Mercury Steam translated all these ideas into game form. The overarching plot is that before creating Adam and Eve, God's first attempt at a man was a complete disaster who was banished forever into a parallel universe referred to as "the box." Inevitably, this aggravated the young whippersnapper somewhat, and he makes frequent attempts to reclaim his place on Earth. Each time, a group of US supersoldiers called the Jericho squad are there to send him back to his immortal plane, and that's where you come into the story.
It was clear from the developers' explanation that they didn't want to give too much of the heavily scripted game away, but at the end of the day their enthusiasm for the project got the better of them. Basically, the game will see the Jericho squad travelling through time to the World War II, Crusade, Roman, and Sumerian eras, in addition to a final era that they definitely want to keep a secret. Each time, your squad will have to sacrifice itself in order to send the firstborn back to his box and restore peace on Earth.
The Jericho squad is a kick-ass team of supernatural soldiers that was formed during World War II to investigate the Nazi obsession with the occult. You play Captain Ross, the leader of this squad, who can inhabit the other members at will and take control of their bodies. There are six members in total, split into two subsections called the alpha and omega squads. Every member has two weapons and two supernatural abilities, as well as a mix of physical strengths and weaknesses. For example, Black is a blonde, lesbian sniper who can use telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers to move objects and set them on fire. She can also steer bullets with her mind, allowing her to take out multiple enemies from afar. Then you have Delgado, a thick-set Hispanic guy with a fire spirit encased in his arm, as well as Colt and rail guns in his arsenal. He can remotely set people on fire while using a fire shield to protect himself from incoming fire-based attacks. In what is potentially a headache of different characters all possessing each other, third member Jones can control of enemies, while Cole is the techie of the group who can, well, fix technical stuff. Probably the coolest member of the gang is Church, a half-naked female ninja who can either walk up to enemies and send them flying into the air with her sword, or stealthily walk past enemies without them even knowing.
As you'd expect, the puzzles and combat in Jericho all revolve around using the right characters in different situations. From what we could tell during the demo, Jones can help the team get past obstacles by using enemies to pull switches, while Black is the most useful person in a long-range firefight as she can take out multiple enemies with her bullet control. We saw one example in which Roman Centurions were moving in a series of 10 steps before popping their heads above their shields, which gives Black a perfect opportunity to take them all out at once. There are multiple ways of tackling these situations: Delgado can use his extreme physical strength to take out a bunch of enemies, while Church can move faster to avoid attack.
The squad may be split into two sections, but ordering them around seems simple enough. You can move between members simply by looking at them and pressing a button, while you can tell individual squads to hold their position or move forwards at the touch of the button. Thankfully, they're also intelligent enough to automatically provide assistance or take cover automatically, and if you happen to die as one character, the game will send you to the next available squad member in the safest position. Some levels will require you to juggle between all seven characters, while others will give you only one squad or even just Captain Ross on his own. Jericho also mixes things up with numerous quick-time events. These "survival events" will see enemies attack you while you use a series of button presses to shake them off.
Each of the three platforms is set to offer all the same features, which you'd expect given that Jericho will have no multiplayer options. It's quite a brave move for a first-person shooter not to offer some sort of online mode, but it's clear that Jericho's focus is on the single-player game. Likewise, the developers seem reticent to make any use of the Sixaxis' motion-sensitive features. Thankfully, though, there's good news in that there are plans to release one of the levels we saw as a demo in the run-up to release.
We'd not seen anything of Jericho until our recent viewing, so seeing it run in such an advanced state made quite an impact. The storyline features all the hallmarks of a Clive Barker classic, while the squad dynamic seems perfectly suited to a video game. We didn't get to have a hands-on or see many of the different levels just yet, but we hope this will change in the run-up to the game's release. Those who've already had their interest piqued will be pleased to know that the game is on schedule to arrive in Q3 2007 on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.