First Impressions: Legendary suffering once again from the master of horror
There aren't too many folks who get their names above the title in the video game world. Sid Meier and American McGee are two that come mind?though it's up to you which of the two better deserves the honor. The name Clive Barker, meanwhile, sells novels, comics, movies, computer games, paintings and plays. Who was that guy who called himself the King of All Media a few years back? Bah! Barker's name will appear above the title once again this fall when Codemasters and Mercury Steam will release Clive Barker's Jericho, a first-person, squad shooter with?as you might guess?a serious horror twist.
The plot of Jericho is just the thing to have hordes of Clive Barker fans wringing their hands in anticipation of buckets of blood and twisted flesh. Back before the beginning of Time, before Adam and Eve, there was a flawed attempt at Creation called the Firstborn. At once beautiful and horrible, the Firstborn was banished from the world. It grew in its evil and power until it was able to threaten all existence itself. Four times the Firstborn has tried to erupt into our world, and four times it has been beaten back by Jericho teams. Some six thousand years ago, a group of Sumerian priests imprisoned the Firstborn at the location of its creation and built around it the city called Al-Khali. Each attempted incursion into the world occurs at Al-Khali, and after each attempt, another concentric ring of walls and labyrinths was added to the city, trapping the slice of space and time that holds both the Firstborn and the Jericho team sent to fight it. That's right?no Jericho team has ever returned alive from its mission.
Across the millennia, the teams have been drawn from the ranks of the Roman centurions, the Knights Templar, and WWII British commandos. Now, the team is based out of the U.S.-run organization called the Department of Occult Warfare, and once again the Jericho team will set out for the puzzle-city Al-Khali, where they'll travel back through time as they draw closer to the threat that is the ancient Firstborn.
The game picks up the action with this seven-member team as they make their way to the ancient city. Each member of the team has excellent conventional warfare skills, but being good with an assault rifle won't be enough to hold back the forces of darkness. Each Jericho commando also has a pair of supernatural abilities like clairvoyance, exorcism or telekinesis. One member of the team releases her blood magic by slicing open her hands. The member with pyromancy skills consumes his own arm in flames as he uses his power. Then there's the ?reality hacker? who can control the flow of time while teleporting people and materials.
Jericho will be a squad-based shooter, so the player will be able to give orders to the Jericho team in ways familiar from other similar games: advance, hold position, etc. Generally, the player will control one character while an A.I. system will control the others. Jericho adds a supernatural twist to the squad mechanic by allowing the player to jump into the mind of each team member and control him or her from a first-person point of view. Some missions will split the team up, limiting the resources available to the player at a given time. On the other hand, more advanced missions will require the player to combine skills of different characters in order to solve puzzles and advance.
If the Jericho team sounds like an impressive strike force, it's only because the enemies are anything but ordinary. The team will face supernatural beasts from across history, each with its own brand of vile power. Expect to find everything from phantasms to monsters within the walls of Al-Khali, all of it made more horrifying by the fact that they always seem to have what was once a human being at their core. The skin may be stretched and tattooed, the muscle might be flayed from the bone, the shape might be malformed into something vicious, but the human body is generally still in there somewhere, somehow. In his novel The Island of the Day Before
, Umberto Eco described the torment of Judas as eternal life accompanied by eternally slow decomposition. That's the sort of excruciating, never-ending pain written onto the citizens of Al-Khali.
Some of those citizens will be recognizable as members of earlier Jericho teams, now trapped in the city's mazes. The problem is, the Firstborn have been working on them over the centuries and may have been able to turn some to the cause of evil. In cases like these, it'll be up to you to figure out where they stand. An early trailer shows what appears to be a knight templar distorted and mutated by his connection to the Firstborn. It looks as if his armor has fused to his body and taken the place of his limbs while also serving as means of chaining him to the walls inside the city. Think of Hellraiser's Cenobites and how their bodies were tortured and twisted into Borg-like amalgams of flesh, leather and steel, add centuries of suffering and filth, and you'll get a sense of what's happened to this knight. Pain is the baseline in Al-Khali; pain seems to have turned into a creative force, a defining factor in the lives of the city's inhabitants.