For those of you with an appreciation for subtle, biting, social irony in mainstream culture, consider if you will that this game features a weapon called the Holy Shotgun. It is a firearm, shaped like a crucifix and plated in gold, which John Constantine uses to vanquish demons and other spiritual n’er-do-goods in the new THQ third-person shooter, Constantine. The game, based on the recent feature film adaptation of the Hellblazer series of graphic novels, takes place essentially in two different worlds – hell, and Los Angeles. (This writer has chosen to forego the obligatory cheap shot that would normally follow that statement, and has instead taken the moment to increase the reader’s awareness of sesame seeds.) In keeping with the dual nature of this title, this review will look at the game from two perspectives; as both an adaptation of the film on which it is based, and as a genre title.
As a film-to-game adaptation (or comic-to-game, for you purists), Constantine is, for lack of a better word, fine. Because the majority of people will purchase, rent, borrow or steal this title because of its source material and little else, it seemed appropriate to begin this two-part review with the discussion of the game as an adaptation. And it’s fine. Not fine as in delicate. Not fine as in a euphemism for supremely attractive. Fine, as in it does not evoke one particular emotion towards the negative or the positive. It is not good, nor is it bad. It is fine. At best it’s good, when considering the graphical recreations of locations seen in the film as well as the use of Keanu Reeves’ real voice (although the vocal inflections were done by a sound-alike).
Other than these things, the game could easily be an original, stand-alone third-person shooter, and still retain all the qualities that truly make it enjoyable. It is not the storyline, nor the voice talent, nor film tie-in that makes Constantine a worthy game. It is the gameplay and graphics that set it apart as a quality genre game.
Perhaps the fact that the game’s background story was already established in both the [iHellblazer series and the film was a benefit to the game’s designers as well as its marketing department. Because there was no need to try to create an original, compelling storyline (it is essentially a rip-off, after all), resources were more available to focus on the actual meat-and-potatoes of Constantine. A perfect example of a similar situation (established franchise with a cult following) working to its creators’ detriment is Enter the Matrix. Commendations to the designers for wanting to do something original, by making their game a virtual fourth film in the Matrix saga, but the best storytelling in the world couldn’t live up to fans’ expectations of what revolutionary gameplay should be like.
On the flip side, Constantine does nothing revolutionary. Instead, it merely recreates the familiar with great class. The plot is more of a retread of typical shoot-and-find action games than homage to the film, although many of the same characters and props appear within. Where the game really makes strides in recreating the film is through the environmental designs. Every level, even if not depicted in the film, is crafted to inspire the same feeling evoked from settings in the movie. John’s apartment, where you first take control of his character, is surprisingly akin to its live-action counterpart. And Hell?my God, Hell! (Ah, sweet irony.)
The most amazing visuals in the film Constantine are probably those we see when John ventures into the dark realm of the hereafter. There is fire, of course, but the landscape is also littered with burned-out buildings and cars, the sky is scorched red, and everything has a yellowish tint. It resembles what you’d think California would look like were it suddenly relocated to the surface of the Sun. (Don’t pretend like you haven’t imagined it already.) In the game, the depiction of Hell is shockingly consistent with this image. Color tinting is the same, as well as the charred architecture and other structures. More than anything, what makes this environment so convincing is the subtle additions, like the light rippling in the distance from the intense heat rising from the ground. Embers and smoke drift about, and random fireballs and earthquakes add to the realism – er?well… scriptural verisimilitude. It truly is the highlight of the game, and something that must be experienced to be appreciated. Just don’t get too caught up in all the pretty damnation, or you might find yourself neck-high in hungry, hungry demons.
But should you end up in such a perilous situation, there is always the good old Holy Shotgun to fall back on. However, blasting your way through adversaries is not the only way to advance through the game’s levels. John has at his disposal several spells (Funny?it doesn’t sound as dorky in the game) that do various dirty deeds, from exorcising possessed enemies to striking down foes with holy lightning bolts, and to refill your energy, you can simply pull out your flask of holy water and take a hallowed drink. Much like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, you can refill your flask by stopping next to a sink or water cooler, and pressing the appropriate holy text-sensitive button. THQ certainly didn’t run any risk of having too-few actions for each of the 15 buttons on the PlayStation 2 controller, and getting used to the layout can be daunting at times?especially when you are trying to cast a spell while fending off the evil dead. The spell system is clever, requiring the player to press buttons in a certain sequence depicted on the screen ala Simon, but you are only given a second or two before the spell is cancelled (or you are dead because you weren’t paying attention to the headless beast eating your face). However, casting spells isn’t always necessary, and it doesn’t take long to become pretty adept at wielding the Holy Shotgun and its bullets of divine love.
All-in-all, Constantine should not disappoint even the most devout of the franchise’s fans, because of the solid gameplay it provides. And it doesn’t require a lot of prerequisites to be enjoyed, so it should appeal to even casual genre fans. It is not necessary to be a skilled gamer to understand and conquer the control interface (though it might help). One need not be a huge fan of John Constantine, nor even know anything about him or the Hellblazer series to appreciate the experience (though it might make you cool). You don’t even need to own a videogame console, for that matter, because the back of the disc is so shiny and pretty.
My recommendation: Pick up Constantine if you enjoyed games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil – even if you don’t care for Keanu Reeves (but really who doesn’t?) Do not pick up this title, however, if you despise videogames altogether and you also hate puppies. It is probably not for you, and you should ask yourself why you are reading this article in the first place, you puppy-hater.
Too late, you just finished it.