Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jericho: Some promise, but a little flat in terms of game play

After doing a bunch of brick smashing on Astropop (a fun XBLA game that, sadly, is too hardcore in terms of its Achievements) I fired up Clive Barker's Jericho.

I'd played through the demo and quite enjoyed it. It was moody, suspenseful, and the characters were reasonably interesting as they combined both magic and conventional weapon skills.

The retail version denies you the swap-between-characters ability for the first hour and a bit. This makes some sense in terms of letting the player get familiar with basic controls and in-game conventions. It was a little frustrating to watch the other squad members do cool things while I just had my guns, so I was happy when I finally got the ability to body swap.

Unfortunately the whole thing became kind of hoaky. I wasn't really sure why I needed to sacrifice myself (other than to complete the level) and it wasn't quite as dramatic as I was expecting because I already knew that I was going to be able to transfer my soul from character to character at some point in the game.

And, really, I needed the game to really sell me on story and character because the game play was pretty mediocre. The weapons did not feel very satisfying, the enemies were not very interesting, and mission success didn't seem to require tactics beyond "stay behind your squad mates and revive them when they die".

Some of the special powers feel cool, but I almost wish there were fewer powers (and characters) and that they were more differentiated from each other. This would make it easier to follow the story and would make choosing the right character fun instead of a chore.

I guess in some ways it's like a slightly less engaging Darkness. That was another game that promised a mix of conventional and super natural combat techniques and squad tactics, but delivered mediocre game play. However, the story was much simpler and more powerful and kept me wanting to keep playing until I finished the game.

Like Republic Commando, some of the banter amongst characters is humorous (especially when they first get possessed by the main character). But, ultimately, controlling the squad and interacting with them is tedious. The squad commands are confusing (you control 2 squads via the D-pad -- I still haven't figured out how it works) and your squad mates don't really seem to do anything super interesting on their own.

A few other nits to pick:

  • Quick Time Events: There's no warning. All of the sudden button icons start flashing on the screen and you need to react. Players need a little "pay attention" signal before these things start.
  • The "heal me, I'm down" option doesn't seem to work as well as with Republic Commando. I wonder if this game might have been more fun as a co-op experience.
  • There are no journals, inventories, or maps. Yes, it's nice not to have to fight UI to manage my equipment or figure out where to go next (just follow your squad mates). However, I would like to know where my bullets and grenades are coming from. And I wouldn't mind collecting items of some sort -- if only to reward exploration.
  • Melee combat is not very fun. The ranged weapons aren't that satisfying in terms of feel and feedback (show me where I hit the enemy). Melee combat is even less satisfying. One character has a sword -- which you think would be cool, but it's basically unwieldy.
  • The characters don't have unique physical characteristics. It would be nice if the smaller, wiry ones could do some dodging. The bigger, slower ones should be able to grapple or block with their arms/weapons. However, all of the characters feel pretty much the same to control.

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