Rating: M (Mature)
Developer: Bits Studios
Release Date: 02/17/2005
Keanu Reeves, a parallel dimension, black outfits, and crazy special effects? No, it’s not the Matrix prequels (thank God), but the latest 3D action title from THQ, Constantine, loosely based on the film of the same name (which is in turn loosely based on the DC Comics series Hellblazer).
The title character is John Constantine, occultist and exorcist-for-hire. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he tries to earn his way back into heaven by deporting demons back to hell. See, when he was a young man, he attempted suicide, and while he was only dead for a few minutes before being resuscitated by paramedics, suicide is still a mortal sin that damned him for eternity. Tough break.
The plot in the Constantine
video game is not the same as the one in the film; rather, it’s more of a “side story” that could easily take place alongside the flick. However, it certainly helps to watch the film first, as some of the cutscenes (the intro in particular) are lifted directly from the film, and some parts won’t make sense unless you’ve done your homework, so to speak.
The game focuses on the hunt for a strange mystical object…but beware, for it carries a terrible curse (and it comes with a free Frogurt!). As the plot unfolds, you’ll interact with various characters from the film, as well as a few new faces. The story is paced well, but it’s nothing so amazing that it’ll shock you at every turn. It’s relatively standard horror/suspense fare.
If any one thing in this game surprised me more than others, it was the attention to detail on the character models. John Constantine in particular really does look like Keanu Reeves! Kudos to the programmers on the heightened realism. Much of the detail is often lost due to poor lighting, as it’s meant to be a “dark” game, after all. Luckily the hell levels don’t suffer from this, as there’s flames and such everywhere. Instead, they suffer from a very bland color palette, as everything is stuck with some shade of burning orange. Regardless, the frame rate’s relatively solid, and enemies look appropriately menacing and/or disgusting, as the case may be.
Music is almost nonexistent in the game. Even though rock is the devil’s music, you won’t hear it blaring when you’re running through the depths of hell blasting demons in the face. Sound effects are very well done, though they get repetitive after a while.
Then there’s the whole matter of the voice acting. It’s not a dubbed Japanese game, so it’s not horrible…but for whatever reason, THQ and Bits were unable to hire Reeves to do his own voicework. Instead, they’ve got a “Keanu clone” providing the voice of Constantine instead. While I admit that the fill-in guy does do a decent job, it still cracks me up. I keep waiting for the guy to bust out a Bill & Ted
line, or at the very least let out a “…whoa.” This is especially hilarious when you’re trying to cast a spell; the random words Constantine yells out make little to no sense, but just hearing them is enough to make the demons of hell itself fall over in fits of laughter.
With just about every button on the controller used in Constantine, you’d think it could get too complicated too quickly. Fortunately, the first few levels contain a built-in tutorial, similar to many other games released over the past few years. As Constantine learns new spells, acquires new items, and opens up new areas to explore, the use of each is explained quite clearly.
In the course of the game, you’ll explore the real world, but also cross over into hell quite a few times. This is achieved by using pools of water as a medium (much like the shift portals in the Soul Reaver games). To escape from hell, you break a vial of holy water on yourself, and you’re jerked back into reality.
Since this is an action title, the primary focus of the game is combat. You’ve got your usual melee attacks, and you’ll automatically attack whichever foe is closest to you. For long-range attacks, you’ve got firearms, and in case you need to attack multiple foes at once, there’s various spells and other weapons (like holy water bombs). When you want to cast a spell, you have to hit a sequence of buttons within a certain time limit; taking damage will cancel out the spell, so make sure you’re not being overrun by enemies while you’re trying to cast. Finally, you’ve got your flasks. These don’t contain alcohol, but just plain ol’ H2O. These help refill your lifebar, and you can refill the flasks at water coolers, sinks, or any other source of running water. Convenient!
The biggest problem with the control setup is that you can’t turn fast enough. There’s a 180-degree turn function, but what if you just want to turn to the right quickly, or to the left? You can’t do that. While it’s mildly annoying when you’re exploring an area, it becomes a severe irritation when you’re fending off enemies from all directions.
Scattered throughout each level are cards that unlock bonus material within the game. Honestly, though, it’s nothing special. One playthrough is more than enough.
While Constantine isn’t overly difficult, the aforementioned control problems can throw the balance out of whack, especially in later stages. A lot of trial and error will be necessary to navigate some stages, for no other reason than to have foreknowledge of where enemies will pop out at you.
One man fighting a personal war against demons is hardly original. We’ve seen it before in many games, films, comics, and other media. Constantine surely won’t win any awards in that regard. Still, points must be given to the developers for creating a relatively coherent story for Constantine that doesn’t completely spoil the film it’s based on.
It’s about as addictive as any 3D action title can be, but without the polish and original plots given to some other titles in the genre, it just falls flat. That’s not to say that Constantine is no fun at all, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard among its many competitors.
The movie was heavily marketed, but the game was not. As a result, Constantine seems destined to be a rental-only for many gamers. It’s almost a certainty that diehard Hellblazer fans will avoid this title like the plague, just as they’re avoiding the film.
Constantine is one of those games that really could’ve been something great, but too many things were against it from square one, just like its celluloid sibling. Casting Keanu Reeves in the title role turned off comic book fans right from the start, and if they’re not seeing the film, then they’re not going to play the game, either. Plus, with so many other similar action games on the racks today, Constantine is likely to just get lost in the shuffle.
Overall Score: 57/100
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (AVERAGE)