Reviewed: March 17, 2005
Released: February 15, 2005
Apparently any movie is fair game for a videogame spin-off these days as THQ intends on proving with their latest, Constantine, and while I “hear” the movie is above average, perhaps even good depending on who I talk to, I have yet to see it so I undertake this review with practically no knowledge of the subject matter other than what I have seen in the trailers. Perhaps having no preconceptions is a good thing because I found this game surprisingly good.
Constantine (the game) is based on Constantine (the movie) which was inspired by a comic called Hellblazer. I’m sure the game will probably make more sense (if that is possible) to fans of the franchise, but coming in cold I had no trouble falling into the role of John, full time demon hunter and exorcist, which is how we meet up with him in the opening movie.
The world of Constantine takes place in two very distinct realms, the real world and a unique vision of Hell, sort of a post-nuclear LA with debris-filled streets not to mention cars and semi-trucks sailing through the air. Of course, all sorts of hideous demons are lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce.
The use of two parallel environments is nothing new. We’ve seen it in Legacy of Kain and more recently, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, but this time the concept of dimensional travel is often wasted on mundane chores. You’ll find yourself up against some environmental obstacle in the real world, locate a puddle of water, enter a sequence of Simon-Says button presses to go to Hell, perform some simple action like pushing a box, then go back to reality and get past the “puzzle”.
The game eases you into the action with an in-game tutorial that ends with you getting snatched by a flying demon. As you soar above the red-tinted city version of Hell the title credits roll, but you retain full control over the camera...a nice touch.
Controls are simple to the point where jumping is automatic. Just run towards a gap and you leap over, walk into a ladder and climb it. You can arm and fire weapons like pistols and shotguns or do melee attacks if the demons get too close. If you move into a dark area you can toggle True Sight, which is basically a photo negative of the area in front of you with enemies and objects of interest highlighted much like “predator vision”.
True Sight also allows you to reclaim ammo for any stray shots from the Crucifier weapons effectively giving you unlimited ammo. Not that ammo is a problem. There are package of ammo around just about every turn in the game and health is nearly as abundant. You'll have to be pretty careless in this game to die, with the exception of boss fights that is.
Spells are an integral part of the gameplay and cleverly implement by first hitting the Y button then entering a specific combination of buttons to summon lightning, swarms of flies, or you can confuse the enemy or exorcise demons. Each spell has a unique four-button sequence and a strict time limit to enter the code to get the spell off. It’s definitely a cool concept.
The missions are fairly straightforward, tied together with a good story and plenty of cutscenes. Your path is usually obvious and if you get lost just follow the trail of monsters that are still moving.
The graphics in Constantine reminded me very much of Max Payne, which in turn reminded me of the recently released Punisher game, also from THQ. Maybe it was just the third-person perspective of our trench coat wearing hero, or maybe it was the simplistic architecture and simplistic textures and color schemes.
The pre-rendered movies are very well done and quite engaging. I was totally captivated after the opening movie where John captures a demon in a large mirror. The in-game model of John actually does a good job of resembling Keanu Reeves and the demons look terrifying and are animated with nice details.
Hell has a disturbing look all its own, very much in contrast with the dark environments of the real world. There is a heat distortion effect over most every scene and debris blow around including entire cars and trucks that fly by like a scene from Twister minus the funnel cloud. Unfortunately, all of these hellish effects seem to tap the power of the Xbox and drag the framerate down significantly.
In the real world things are darker and sharper without all of the filter processes and the framerate remains solid. Constantine supports HDTV progressive scan and some wonderful lighting, particle, and volumetric fogging effects, and the True Sight special effect is outstanding.
For whatever reason, Keanu didn’t lend his voice to the project but there is a reasonably good sound-alike who delivers an acceptable performance for most of the game. There are a few slips where the actor almost sounds like he is mocking the star rather than mimicking him. The rest of the supporting cast all turn in admirable peformances.
The sound package consists of all the appropriate environmental noises, weather effects, gunfire, supernatural spells, demonic groans and hisses, and plenty of crackling fire. The Dolby Digital mix puts all these sounds in their proper 3D space creating a very immersive experience.
The music is a compelling score that complements the scenery and the action taking place in it. I can’t confirm if this is the actual theatrical score but it sounds good enough to be part of a film.
Constantine is a linear progression of levels tied together with a story. Once you finish the 8-10 hour game there is little reason to go back for another visit anytime soon. The game does scatter collectible bonus Tarot cards around the levels, usually in back alleys and dead end areas you would never explore other than to find videogame secrets. The more cards you collect the more DVD-style bonuses you can unlock in the Extras menu.
Constantine does a lot of things right and it fails in a few areas. The dual-world concept is starting to get a bit stale and it’s not implemented very well in this game. The mix of spells, weapons, and melee is great and presents an ongoing challenge throughout the levels with the various demons and boss fights.
Blending a healthy mix of occult imagery, melee combat, weapons, and supernatural spells, Constantine delivers stylish third-person action that ranks right up there with many of its peers. It’s a bit short and there isn’t much replay value making this a great bargain title, but only fans of the franchise will likely invest in a full-price purchase.