Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 & PC - Xbox 360 version previewed.
Clive Barker gets games. In his recent, spirited defence of the video game as an artform against US film critic Roger Ebert, he talked of extraordinary experiences, escapism, and inventing worlds "where the player gets to go through every emotional churning feeling available." The man who dominated UK horror in the late eighties and early nineties with films like Hellraiser and Nightbreed and novels like The Damnation Game and Weaveworld has more right than most authors to talk so.
Barker might now belittle his contribution to EA's under-rated horror FPS, Undying, but it was a classic example of how a strong story and a rich atmosphere can make a slightly ordinary game something special. His latest entry in the field shows more signs of the Barker touch throughout. Barker came up with the initial idea, dismissed it as a novel and considered it as a movie, before realising that it was a natural fit for a video game. The result - a collaboration between Barker, Codemasters and Madrid-based developer, Mercury Steam - is Jericho, and we've been lucky enough to play through a six level preview.
After Undying - a deeply creepy haunted house mystery which crossed back and forth between two worlds - Jericho at first seems a little prosaic. It's essentially a squad-based shooter, with Barker's influence most visible in its occult storyline and gore-splattered visuals. Back in the forties, the US army set up a Department of Occult Warfare to battle the sorcerous research going on in Himmler's SS. Still going sixty years later, the department faces its biggest challenge in the ancient ruined city of Al-Khali, where a rogue agent and a dark brotherhood have unleashed an ancient evil. The department sends in the seven-strong Jericho squad, a team of trained combat operatives with supernatural powers. From modern Al-Khali, the team will travel and fight through four more periods, including World War II, the Crusades, the dying days of the Roman Empire and the 4th Millennium BC.
So far, so generic, but now things start to get special. Each member of Jericho squad has his or her own signature capabilities and weapons, and after an initial prologue section you're able to swap between them at will. Sgt. Frank Delgado, for instance, has an enormous chaingun, but he can also send out a fire demon to seek and destroy his foes. Billie Church, meanwhile, packs a machine pistol and a katana, but can also use blood magic to cast spells and ward off the forces of evil. Abigail Black might seem like a gung-ho sniper, but she can use her telekinetic powers to control her bullets in mid-flight. Obviously, all the team's abilities lend themselves to combat situations, but they'll also come into play in other areas of the game to remove barriers or tackle specific sections of a level. There's also talk of combining powers to get the advantage in certain situations.