Developer: Bits Studios
Release Date: February 14, 2005
The videogame version of Catwoman taught certain developers a very clear lesson: Perverted adaptations are not necessarily instant moneymakers when associated with a theatrical release. If the small-screen showing is weak, people don’t always follow. Now, the sales numbers of the Incredibles game disprove my point completely, but let’s look away from there and keep our eyes on Catwoman and the high-seller, quick sell-backer (I made that last one up all by myself!) Enter the Matrix, two fantastic examples of people fully realizing how completely crappy some tie-ins are. People don’t want perversions of films (as much) anymore! As any film buff knows, the only good distorted adaptation is Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation.
The fate of the Matrix IP probably has a lot to do with the Constantine game in it’s final form: Developed by a small company, licensed for a sum ringing up at about a twentieth of what Shiny and Atari ponied up to produce Enter the Matrix. This rare opportunity, giving a smaller developer the chance to make a big game, could have proven to be industry changing; the falling rates of licenses perhaps equating to better games, given the lack of involvement from those soul-less megapublishers like Electronic Arts, would have been a nice end to the story of the production of Constantine. Of course, paradoxically, when probable masses of money are involved the story usually doesn’t end with the interests of the audience in mind. Bits Studios’ Constantine is a blurred shadow of both the film upon which it is based, and Hellblazer, the comic book upon which the film is based, upon which, in turn, this malformed videogame is based. (Whew.)
Constantine begins with a cutscene. And the game is filled with many more cutscenes that follow. One might assume, thusly, that a strong narrative would be present; one that, while perhaps a bit overbearing when placed within a videogame, would do a good job at communicating a bit of storyline, or something similar. Now, in my time as a videogame reviewer, if I’ve learned anything I’ve learned one thing: Never make assumptions. Constantine has little explanation of the storyline, and little semblance of a coherent narrative even if you already know the ins and outs of the Hellblazer series. Considering that the main character apparently has some dealings with both God and Satan in the works, has strange, fantastic powers despite his everyday appearance, and has developed lung cancer, it would have been nice to have a little explanation. Not here, however. Constant confusion is the name of Constantine’s game.
For those of you who haven’t read Hellblazer – i.e., the majority of gamers out there – I will take the liberty of explaining the basics of the story here, something that Bits didn’t deem necessary for their release:
It’s 1953. John Constantine is born in Liverpool. As he grows up, he becomes interested in the occult. After nearly killing his abusive father with a death curse which he canceled at the last moment, little Johnny grows up to form a punk band. Then the poor guy ends up spending some years in an insane asylum due to accusations of being a child murderer. Once that was over with, John ends up making deals with both God and the Devil. Later yet, he becomes a cancerous demon hunter, and that’s where we are now.
Now for the game. Between the aforementioned cutscenes, a bit of standard action-based gameplay is to be had. And you know what? These work out fairly well for most of the game. The game switches between Hell and Earth realms, both of which affect each other in one way or another – akin to something like, say, Metroid Prime: Echoes, albeit not as fully-realized of a concept. Mostly, you’ll be moving objects around so you can jump gaps and climb ladders... which is completely mundane, but at least it’s all functional.
The actual action-action is where Constantine shines brightest. Supernaturally-enhanced projectile weapons and magic spells – all made appropriate for the dark Hellblazer universe – are a lot of fun to play with. Casting spells is controlled by button press combinations, similar to the ocarina in Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which is probably the best way to represent the use of memorized incantations. The basic controls are the usual third-person fare, that ever-unperfected Tomb Raider-style control setup that drives most normal people completely mad, but, again, at least it’s functional.
The boss fights are a bit of a disappointment: Poorly patterned boss battles. Nothing else to say; they’re just boring and too predictable.
Between Earth and Hell, Hell has the best “look”, unsurprisingly. While it is not as interactive as it should have been, its static stylings are of high quality. Most of it is the usual sort of appearance one would expect from a modern rendition of hell: Scab-like growths, billowing flames, visions of torture. The demons and bosses are equally fantastic, but also suffering in terms of accessibility, and especially animation.
If not for the weak animation, I would say that Constantine looks surprisingly good. Instead, its static appearance cheapens the overall look of the game. Physics are quickly increasing in importance as videogame graphics mature in terms of the overall visual quality of a game; to impress, the movements must now impress, else the best still graphics will never look as good as the next game.
Equally static is the quality of “Keanu Reeves’” voice acting. I put his name in between quotation marks because it is not actually the voice of the famous Bill and Ted’s Excellect Adventure co-star, but a cheap sound-alike who throws down mostly a handful of Will Smith-esque smartassed quips and bits of “wisdom” in his best “kyaaanu” voice. Hearing this threw me into a volley of flashbacks of the time I spent with the Bad Boys game for a review. Bad times. Very bad times. My mother had to clean my sheets for three weeks after I reviewed that game; that is not a state of mind I’d like to return to.
Right. So there’s this Constantine game. It’s fairly easy. Simplistic. Straightforward. Kind of pretty from a graphical standpoint, though not so much in the way a modern videogame needs to be in order to be outstanding. And it’s supposed to be based on this movie, which is based on this comic book, which is not based on anything else, being originally intended for the comics medium. And they couldn’t even get Keanu Reeves to spit out a few lines for the character he plays in his movie. Thanks, Keanu. Now there’s hardly any reason at all for your fans to buy your game.
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