Developer: Bits Studios
Release Date: February 14, 2005
Let me begin by saying a few things up front that may or may not have anything to do with my review. First off, I didn’t see the movie "Constantine" prior to being assigned this game. Secondly, I am usually nonplussed with games based on films or TV shows. Yes, there is the occasional exception, but as whole, "licensed" titles generally leave me cold. And (C) (I never was very good at indexing) I think Keanu Reeves is perhaps the single most overrated movie star of this, or indeed any other generation.
You see, here’s the thing: In an all-out attempt to shed his "Theodore (Bill & Ted) Logan" persona, Mr. Reeves has succumbed to the all -too-easy temptation to take his acting level down way too many notches, so all that remains is a flat monotone. We heard it in "The Devil’s Advocate", all three Matrix flicks, and now we are hearing it again in the cynical, tired character of John Constantine, scotch drinking, cigarette smoking, working-class mage.
It would be too easy (but accurate nonetheless) to describe this game glibly. As a matter of fact, I went through a number of permutations before deciding on calling it "Dante and Neo’s Bogus Journey."
Boy, it doesn’t sound good for this game does it? Read on…
Constantine is a third-person survival-horror game that pits aforementioned John Constantine against the minions of Hell. Before you can say "Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K," you will be facing a variety of horrific creatures, using a buffet of unique weapons and casting a number of offensive and defensive spells in your quest for survival and understanding. Your travels will literally take you to Hell and back.
In the first of many borrowed ideas from other games, John can teleport between the real world and the "Hell version" of this world (insert your own Bayonne, New Jersey joke here). Just as in Soul Reaver, if a particular area seems to be a dead end, you can transport yourself into Hell, move a few things, kill a few demons, and upon your return, you’ll find that the "real" world has changed to allow your progress.
For some reason, water represents the schism between this world and the Netherworld. This reason is never really explained, which leads me to my first problem with the game: It seems to assume that anyone playing has already seen the movie. Exposition is kept to such a minimum that you are never 100% sure of the why behind the what. On the other hand, the game also seems rife with spoilers, so, after finishing the game, I have a feeling there will be very few surprises left for me when I finally watch the movie at 4AM in an insomnia-induced lapse of judgment.
When you are assaulted by numerous, miniscule demons, your guns are your best defense. At these moments, the feeling is distinctly Devil May Cry (the good first one, not the sucks-like-a-vacuum-cleaner second one). John can also do quick 180s to fire on larger assailants coming from multiple directions like in Max Payne, and engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat a la True Crime: Streets of L.A. Truth to tell, there’s not a whole lot of originality at stake here. Each individual part of Constantine feels like a lifted mini-game from another franchise.
The spells are handled in a button-sequence form, and when utilized, look pretty wicked. The downside is that you can’t seem to cast them wherever and whenever you wish. The game takes you by the hand and will tell you when you can cast a spell. This can become extremely frustrating when you know a certain spell would take out at least half of the demons advancing on you, but for some reason, the game won’t even allow you to enter spell mode, forcing you to shoot it out with nasties you had previously dispatched with a well-placed spell.
John’s "True Sight" is another borrowed idea, but here it works better than in most games. Upon clicking the left analog stick, the screen turns to a hyper-Technicolor, kind of ultra vision view. In this mode, clues will be made visible to you, as will certain weaknesses in your adversaries. "True Sight" is also indispensable in dark spaces, allowing John to see in the dark, and thus avoid ambushes as well as making your spent rounds easier to find when being chased by something ugly and pissed off.
During your exploration, you will also come across charms, relics, voodoo dolls and tarot cards. The first three add to your life force, magic reserve, and occult energy, while the tarot cards unlock bonus features in the game. Alas, none of these really help much; they are more for aficionados of the film, guys who still live in their parents’ basements at the age of 30 and list "Jedi Knight" under "religion" on job applications.
Your primary weapons (called artifacts for clarification) consist of your pistols, affectionately referred to as "Witch’s Curse," a "Crucifier" which is an ersatz machine gun spewing nails recovered from bodies of martyrs, "Dragon’s Breath," a supernatural flamethrower, the "Purger," a mechanical crossbow firing iron-tipped bodkins at long range, and that cool-looking shotgun/crucifix from the movie previews. Your secondary stash includes Holy Water grenades and a matchbox that contains an "Amityville Screech Beetle" that temporarily stuns your enemies with a sonic attack, and the "Moses Shroud" which could be described as napalm for the undead.
Your spells include "Stormcrow," a lightning strike, the self-explanatory "Protection" and "Confusion" spells, "Hunger," a swarm of flesh-eating insects, "Gargoyle," which temporarily turns your attacker to stone, and "Demon Leech" which is a sort of reversal spell to direct the demons’ attacks back at their nasty old selves.
The enemies themselves are about what you would expect. Hordes of rats, different levels of Scavengers, a little thing called a "Bile-Riz" that possesses corpses, the Half-Breeds that these infested corpses become, and a host of other things called Impalers, flying Seplatives, Cleavers, and Bastados. They’re all kinda creepy, yet all more than vaguely familiar-looking.
As to be expected in a linear game like this, you will also be confronted by the de rigueur "boss levels." Each boss will have its own weak spot, or means of attack, and once you find that, it’s a matter of hit-and-run until you wear him/her/it down. Frankly, the coolest of these bosses is the "Vermin Lord," a creature totally comprised of snakes, bugs and other gross critters. Even though it is somewhat derivative of a few of the baddies in "The Mummy" movies, it’s a welcome change of pace here.
Graphically, the game looks okay, but on the whole, is too dark. I understand the attempt to set a mood, but c’mon guys, lemme see a little bit more. Nothing is really exemplary. If you have played Resident Evil or any other survival-horror game, you will know what to expect from a visual standpoint. The computer AI is not particularly challenging, as each enemy tends to follow a preset pattern of movement. It’s not exactly "count to three, sidestep left, then shoot," but it’s darned close, especially at the boss levels.
Sound… (Heavy Sigh) I don’t know if that’s Keanu Reeves himself doing John’s dialogue. It may as well be, because I haven’t heard this much monotonous droning since those ill-fated voiceovers added on to "Blade Runner." The music is just as droning and the supporting cast sound like they phoned it in. The plot is way too linear, allowing the player almost no choice in where to go and what to do, and the replay value is next to nothing. The control scheme suits this genre just fine, but it’s not going to win any awards for innovation.
In the final analysis, Constantine is a mediocre "licensed" title, obviously made to capitalize on a recent film. Considering how poorly the movie fared with the critics, is the game score any surprise?
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