Have you ever wanted to be a rude, chain-smoking man? Hmm, or how about a rude, chain-smoking man who’s dying from lung cancer? If, amazingly, you answered yes, then today is your lucky day! In Constantine, the new action/adventure Xbox game from THQ, you get that chance! You play as John Constantine, a rude, chain-smoking demon hunter who, surprise, surprise, is dying from cancer. The game is primarily based on the film version of Constantine, and – a little bit – on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer.
The gist of the game’s story is that your character, John Constantine, has always possessed the power to see demons and angels. When he was young no one believed his wild claims and, subsequently, the torment ended with Constantine killing himself – only for doctors to revive him. And – as we all know – suicide earns you an all-expenses paid, one-way ticket to Hell, even if you’re resuscitated. Upon discovering this, John learns everything he can about Heaven, Hell, and both of their inhabitants. He studies occult magic and exorcism techniques, and evolves into one ?hell’ of a demon hunter. In this regard, Constantine figures if he can rid the Earth of enough demons he will redeem his soul and earn his entrance into Heaven. However, he’s wrong, and he struggles daily with his imminent return passage to Hell. The game opens with Constantine discovering and investigating ominous signs that some of Hell’s demons are appearing on Earth – which is, obviously, against the rules. Only half-breeds (half human/half demon/angel) are allowed on Earth. Again, obviously!
As Constantine investigates the demonic appearances, you have access to a number of different character skills. First off, there are his weapons. He has all sorts of cool demon-dispatching stuff. Since the guns he uses are specifically meant for killing demons, normal bullets won’t work in them. Constantine’s pair of pistols essentially use Holy rocks for ammo. An automatic weapon that you’ll find during the game fires nails. There are no traditional weapons or ammo on show here. This weaponry aspect is pretty cool since it veers away from the conventional weapons we’re all used to seeing in videogames.
Next up on the skill list is Constantine’s magical power. Throughout the game you’ll learn new spells that allow you to blast enemies with lightning, attack them with swarms of bugs, or just plain confuse them. This is accomplished through tapping controller buttons in correct sequences before set time limits run out – not too difficult. There aren’t very many spells on offer, though, which is a bummer. Thirdly, we have Constantine’s True Sight, which allows him to see half-breeds for what they truly are, see in the dark, and to spot hidden occult symbols and objects. It’s pretty much night-vision with a few extra technological perks included. It comes in handy, and is a nice addition to the gameplay. Especially, since most of the environments are pretty dang dark.
The skill sets are all involving and interesting, but the gameplay doesn’t quite live up to their potential. The guns work just as normal guns would, so nothing new there. But the problem with them arises through Constantine’s somewhat slow movement and aiming. Maybe the lung cancer is affecting his reactions, but it seems to take Constantine quite a while to move the crosshairs towards his enemies. More often than not, enemies are almost on top of you before you’re in a position to blast them. Luckily, though, if they get too close, John has some nice hand-to-hand moves to lay the smack down with. Who would have thought that while you need enchanted Holy rock bullets to kill demons, a simple punch-kick combo would do the trick just as well? Perhaps simply stunning the demon in question would have been a more fitting result in regards to the hand-to-hand combat? In addition, you use the left thumb stick to move Constantine through the levels but, if clicked, it makes him execute a 180-degree turn so he can quickly shoot in the opposite direction. Sounds like a worthy gameplay feature, right? Well, it is, until you accidentally click it during a frantic fight and suddenly find yourself facing away from the demon currently immersed in ripping you to shreds. It’s inconsistencies and oversights like these that muck up the general gameplay mechanics.
Constantine’s graphics are pretty impressive, but there is some inconsistency in this area, too. The game’s cut-scenes are done extremely well and look great throughout. For the most part, the spells and effects all look good, but a few things here and there could have benefited from more development attention. For example, the ethereal fog effects in some areas needed a bit more randomization. The way they appear, you can see all the rectangle patches where they are originating from the ground – resulting in a largely ineffectual visual effect. The correction of details such as this could have made the aesthetic experience a little more immersive. The sound, on the other hand, is fairly cool. The clicking and growling sounds from the demons are creepy and, unnervingly, you always hear them before you see them. This really adds to the game’s creepiness factor. The voice acting is performed well, and sounds great. One major aural inconsistency, though, was that the John Constantine character sometimes really sounded just like Keanu Reeves, and sometimes really didn’t. Whoever they hired to perform his voice could have been a bit more consistent in the impersonation?but then Constantine being a movie-licensed game begs the question: Why didn’t Mr. Reeves lend his vocal talent directly?
The game, on the whole, is an above average achievement – but not by much. Though it’s never horrible, and some parts are certainly fun, for the most part Constantine emerges as a bit too repetitive. The excursions to Hell are definite pluses, and the use of True Sight is also a nice addition; using it to locate hidden doors and occult clues really adds a lot to the game and makes it more of a shooter/detective game than anything. There are some inconsistencies in the gameplay and graphic departments that really hurt the experience, though. Let’s imagine for a moment that Constantine’s only way into Heaven was to make a great videogame, and he turned this one in as his submission – I’m afraid he would already be on his way down to the lake of fire for an eternal purgatory lunch date with a certain Mr. Satan.