Months ago, when I first heard about a game based on the character of John Constantine, I was super geeked. Having been a long time reader of the Hellblazer comic book series, the idea of being able to go between our world and that of the underworld where demons reside was just fascinating. Not to mention that Constantine uses both ancient magic and holy weapons in his fight to rid the world of the demons that hide in the shadows and in the shells of humans. Only Constantine can see through these shells and put up a defense for humankind against a potential war that could bring an end to everything on this planet. After waiting and waiting, some screen shots hit the web and I was shocked to see that John Constantine (a blonde haired, thin built, Englishman) looked like Neo himself, Keanu Reeves. It was then that I had discovered that the game was not based on the Hellblazer comic, but on the film Constantine featuring Keanu Reeves. What I felt when I heard that news can only be compared to having a present under the Christmas tree that youre 100% certain you know what it is only to find it is some article of clothing you will never ever wear out in public. Despite my feelings about Keanu and Hollywood versions of about 95% of the films made from comic books (X-Men and Sin City being examples of the 5% good ones), I decided to have some faith in THQ, a company Ive trusted for a number of years now. With that in mind, lets open a path between our world and the world of Constantine.
In the Hellblazer comic series, John Constantine is a cynical antihero who is only interested in getting his kicks having adventures involving a brewing war between Heaven and Hell. Whose side is Constantine on? According the comic he is for Heaven, but doesnt seem to really care one way or another. The fact is neither faction will have him, primarily because he is to evil for Heaven and too good for Hell. Plus, Constantine has managed to blackmail both sides in an effort to get his own way. This makes for interesting company. In the film version, Constantine is disposing of demons in order to get back into good graces and one day end up in Heaven. While the Keanu version is not one hundred percent pure, he is an angel compared to the Vertigo Comics creation. For the purposes of the Constantine game, we will be dealing with the game version. WHAT??? Thats right; there is a whole new version of the story created for the purpose of the game. Lets explore that plotline.
The story opens with John Constantine performing an exorcism on a poor woman posed by a demon soul. Dont expect the typical old priest/young priest combo here. Constantine walks into the room with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth like this is something he does every day. As the story progresses, we find it surrounds the death of a half-demon (half-demons and half-angels are permitted to travel about in our world) and the disappearance of an ancient relic that could hold the key to Hell overlapping into the real world. To complicate issues, the pack between Heaven and Hell to keep full breed angels and demons off of the Earth is broken as full demons are discovered running the streets of the city. As John Constantine, you must use an assortment of holy weapons, magic and the ability to travel between our world and the underworld in order to find the missing artifact and try to piece together what Satan and his minions are up to.
Gameplay wise, THQ keeps things going using an interesting storyline and cut scenes. Even if youve never read an issue of Hellblazer or seen the film version of Constantine, the storyline is still easy to follow and understand. You wont find too many of the story elements from the comic book present, and the elements of the game is set before the events of the film, so this can be treated as a whole new story. The action of the game is played out in standard, third person perspective and mainly involves hunting down demons, meeting up with contacts, finding various items and investigating murders involving other magic users and unnatural creatures. Using various holy firearms and magic spells, your quest will take you through our world and that of the underworld. While the story unfolds in interesting ways, the action is very bland and boring after a while. Plus, it can be very unclear where you are supposed to go and what to do next. The main challenge comes from creatures coming from hidden areas and trying to surround you. This would have been an exciting and challenging factor if it wasnt for the fact that most enemies can be killed with one or two hits or several can be taken out with a multi-hit spell. Like many other games of this nature, there are no real challenges and Constantine can be beaten in a matter of a few hours.
Concerning the controls, Constantine plays similar to most third person shooter games. Weapons are controlled by the left and right trigger buttons. Movement is controlled by the left thumbstick and the right thumbstick is used to look/aim in various directions. In addition to standard action buttons and switching weapon inventories, the X and Y buttons will become your best friends. X is used to activate True Sight, which is an ability to see through humans in order to expose hidden demons and to see secret areas created by half demons in order to stash away important items. Almost as important as True Sight, the Y button allows you to cast spells. Once pressed, a command circle appears prompting players to hit specific button sequences in order to perform the spells. Spells include both offensive attacks and defensive protection spells. While the controls seem to cover all the bases, they arent without their problems either. The controls feel too loose and will often have Constantine running like around like a mental patient when he should be walking calmly. This too makes aiming on the fly tricky, especially when dealing with low height enemies. Finally, controlling the camera can be particularly annoying because it doesnt focus downward when near Constantine. This means that if a low height enemy gets past you and manages to attack, it is difficult to actually see the enemy attacking your legs. Look downit should not be that difficult. Yet, in the world of Constantine, nothing is typical and looking down is too typical to have happen so easily. Tight controls, similar to games like Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City would have eliminated all such problems.
Graphically speaking, there appears to be two worlds at play here, one of excitement and detail, and the other of boring simplicity. The action of the game is real basic looking, especially the demons that all look like the came out of the same mold. I realize that Im starting to sound like a broken record, but some variety in demon appearances would have been nice. Credit must be given for the fact that there is some variety in sizes in the demons, but that is about it for the ten different kinds of bad guys (and personally I do not think rats should count as bad guys). Another downside is that items you pick up along the way (ammo and health) are almost not noticeable and are often only found when you just happen to walk over them. Something, like a brighter shade of color or a flashing light, would have been nice to distinguish the important items from stuff that is just used as background detail. Speaking of background detail, the settings and location detail look incredible. The wastelands of the underworld look amazing as fireballs cause major destruction and objects go flying through the air via some unknown force. Lighting also plays a major role in hiding enemies amongst debris and opening the window for many sneak attacks. Lastly, the cut scene animation is absolutely jaw dropping in detail. Character molds look so life-like that John Constantine looks just like Keanu (or should that be the other way around). This might very well be the first time I was amazed at something that involved Keanu Reeves.
Sounds like Keanu Reeves!!! Okay, so hes no Vin Diesel when it comes to providing voice acting for his characters video game counterpart, but its still nice to hear the actual actors voicing their characters. In addition to Keanu, Gavin Rossdale, Tilda Swinton and Max Baker voice the characters they played in the movie for THQ. Unfortunately for us, this about all the good stuff that can be said about the sound department from Constantine. The sound effects were imported from stock sounds built up in the THQ sound library (although the random screams in the underworld were a very nice touch) and the music is standard to any action game. Despite the film soundtrack having some great hardcore score pieces and a song from A Perfect Circle, the game music sounds like something that was created in the Acid Music program with several classical pieces rolled into one mix that leaves a bad taste in players mouths. As I find myself saying about every other game I review, some custom soundtracks would have been appreciated. Hunting down demons would have been more fun doing it to bands like White Zombie, Powerman 5000, Slayer and some good old Bauhaus.
So whats not so good about Constantine? The action of the game, while being carried mostly on the back of an interesting storyline, is too bland and devoid of any long term fun. This could be due to repetitiveness in the missions or the fact that the controls just feel loose and are often more frustrating then anything else. Graphically, the enemies could have had some design variety within the ten enemy groups and the important items should have some sort of detail that would have had them standout to the human eye. While the voice acting was top notch, everything else in the sound studio felt rushed and pushed aside in order to release the title faster. But of all the things that could have been done differently, there could have been a nice mixture of both film and comic book elements to create a totally original game experience. I guess Ive never completely gotten over the fact that this was not a direct adaptation of the Hellblazer comic from Vertigo.
Overall, Constantine falls into the typical movie license game standard. While the storyline is different then either the comic or the film, it still possesses all the same rushed game to tie into the film release grouping. Players should find the premise of the game interesting enough to keep on playing, while having the actors from the film voice the game is a nice touch, I just dont think it will be enough to get players to jump at this title. While the potential for what one could do in the video game world of Constantine was unlimited, it is ultimately not realized due to the fact that action is the same throughout the whole game and is only carried by adding a slightly different objective for each stage. While games like Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay make strives to bring gamers back to license titles, games like Constantine remind us that we still have a very long way to go until Hollywood and game studios realize that gamers arent stupid enough just to buy a game because it was based on a semi-popular film. Perhaps gamers would have appreciated Keanus voice acting ability if it was attached to a budget title (a nice $19.99 tag would have taken the sting out of this blow) as opposed to another mediocre movie license title with a forty dollar price sticker. Message to THQ, stick with wrestling games.