Clive Barker--you might remember him from such films as Hellraiser, Candyman, and Nightbreed. But in addition to his movie and licensed toy lines with Todd McFarlane, Barker has also turned his hand to videogames. While his 2001 partnership with EA on title Undying was well-received landing 9.1 and an Editor's Choice award on GameSpot, Demonik, a videogame project in development to be launched alongside a feature film of the same name was canned in 2005. Fast-forward a year and Clive was back on the horse, announcing a partnership with Codemasters to develop Jericho, a next-generation horror-themed first-person tactical shooter.
We last saw the game in July but with the launch just over the hill we sat down with a more polished build of the game to explore some new game mechanics and give an updated impression on the way it's tracking.
Unlike previous builds of the game, our current preview code includes the intro cinematic, and starts at the beginning rather than a liberal sprinkling of disconnected levels as we saw in our July preview. This gave us a real feel for the universe, establishing location, defining what you're fighting and why you're there. In a nutshell you're part of a special ops unit, a mix of traditional military and occult-trained specialist agents tasked with stopping Arnold Leach, a religious fanatic and former gifted member of your own department from unleashing God's original creation, the Firstborn. To do this you'll need to enter Al Khalid and face pure evil.
Your team is made up of seven characters, each the top of their field, and after an event early on in the piece, you'll be given the ability to jump between and control your team from inside their bodies, taking full advantage of their special abilities. Environmental puzzles will keep you switching between players to complete goals such as using Cpl. Simone Cole's time-slowing ability to drop grenades into the rear hatches of machinegun pill-boxes, using Frank Delgado's fire shields to protect your team from taking damage, and Captain Xavier Jones's astral projection which can be used for reconnaissance, and to control enemies, using them to open gates or destroying targets your team can't reach because of physical boundaries.
The tactical control of your team is introduced steadily as you progress through the early part of the single-player campaign, with team controls allowing you to command two groups of units, one running point and the other covering your back. This is done by pressing up or on the D-pad to advance, or down to hold your position. AI in Jericho appears to be solid, with your team moving out of the way when nudged or given a command, and if left alone, they can hold covering fire long enough for someone to either brings you back from the dead, or for you switch to a live character.
The environment plays a huge role in Jericho, and in suitable horror-styling, you'll spend a lot of your time crawling around in the dark. Thankfully you have both a flashlight--although ours would occasionally turn off and need to be flicked back on--and a team who can spot an approaching enemy a mile off. The latter becomes crucial to your survival, especially with enemies often killing you with a single blow. Relying on your team to get the lead flying early will help you stay alive and once enemies are in sight, you can help them take them down. Staying alive is an interesting dynamic in itself, with the game allowing you to both heal and resurrect fellow team-mates if they fall in battle. Much like in Gears of War, all you need do is walk over to a teammate's body and hit the A button--either in combat, or when you've killed the target--to bring your team back into the fight. There's no mana micro-management here, so you can fight as long as someone is still standing. You'll know when it's over by the sound of buzzing flies as they engulf the screen.
The visuals in Clive Barker's Jericho are looking better every time we see it, though you'd be forgiven for immediately filing it under the Unreal 3 engine moniker. In actual fact the title runs on the Mercury Engine, a custom engine written by developer Mercury Steam. Character models are highly detailed, and from what we've seen with our flashlight, the environmental textures lovingly sculptured. Each player's weapons and special abilities has a distinct look and animation, and with the exception of healing--which each player is able to do--all the players have a distinct feeling even from a first-person perspective.
We didn't replace, drop, or upgrade our weapons at all, but ammunition seemed to flow bountifully, with Cpl. Cole conjuring more whenever we looked like we were running low. As a result, we threw caution to the wind and put as many rounds into enemies as quickly as possible to get them down. If you'd like to play conservatively, enemies do have weak spots where you can pick them off quite quickly with a few well-placed rounds.
Without spoiling the storyline, you will encounter other AI controlled players within the environment, but in our hands-on with the game, we were unable to control anyone outside of our team with the exception of Jones' astral projection ability.
Horror movie fans will be champing at the bit to get their hands on Barker's latest nightmare creation, and with a scheduled release date of early November this year, it won't be long before they can plunge into this new world of darkness.