And now, Scary-Crayon reviews...
"This is Constantine. John Constantine. ...Asshole."
With those words, we're thrust into THQ's Constantine, based loosely on the anti-hero of DC/Vertigo comics' Hellblazer title and more closely on the current film starring Keanu Reeves. Unfortunately, gamers unfamiliar with that source material are out of luck, since the game takes few pains to explain just who John Constantine is and why he's taken to boxing with demons in the streets of Los Angeles. (If you care, see the Scary-Crayon review of Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection. And apparently we were wrong in that piece -- the premise does not make for a great video game after all.) From the opening cutscenes, we glean that he's an exorcist of some sort, that he's been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and that by standing in a puddle of water and mumbling a few nonsensical magic words he can somehow transport himself into the depths of Hell for the purpose of obtaining pistols and shotgun parts. If that didn't make sense to you, you're not alone.
So once Constantine steps into Hell the game begins in earnest, and although he doesn't spend the entire game in Hell -- our hero is required to alternately traverse both Hell and Earth in order to complete his mission -- as a player, I never felt like I really left. It's not that the game is horrible, per se, but that everything about this survival horror/action title has been done and done better in other games. To be sure, there are few elements in any one game that aren't reminiscent of some feature of another title, but the main problem with Constantine is that it's virtually impossible to play it without calling other, better games to mind. In order to surmount certain obstacles in the Earthly realm, Constantine is required to enter into Hell, manipulate a few things there, and then return to Earth in order to continue his quest. Alas, Constantine is no Raziel, and anyone who's played the Soul Reaver titles would be seriously tempted to pop one of those in (for my part, I'd rather suck souls as the blue vampire than have my soul sucked away by the bland Keanu-clone). In dark areas, Constantine needs to use his "second sight" to see pathways and demons and whatnot. From Silent Hill's flashlight to the use of night vision goggles in any number of FPS titles, this has been done in games before -- and successfully at that -- but in Constantine it adds absolutely nothing except perhaps frustration, since battling demons through a first person blue haze isn't exactly an enjoyable experience. Of course, that's not to say that fighting them in third person is much fun, with sloppy combat that puts one in mind of first gen 3D beat-em-ups without the 2-player advantage. Sure, Constantine has a few spells to mix things up a bit, but they're also fairly lackluster and the easily accomplished timed button presses required to execute them put one in mind of various RPGs -- all of which have, at the very least, contain more depth than and are therefore preferable to this unfortunate title. And then, there's the whole retrieving keys and backtracking to open doors and whatnot, which, while making sense and being somewhat appropriate (if I were hiding something, I'd probably keep my doors locked too), is just getting old -- I'll never understand why heroes don't just kick down or shoot open locked wooden doors when they find them. And though admittedly I didn't stick around until the end of the game, during my three hours spent with the game on the medium difficulty setting (I imagine things get a little more fierce on the hard setting, not that that would improve the gameplay elements any), I found that the most challenging thing about Constantine was staying awake while playing.
The graphics fare a little better, but they're nothing to write home about either. With respect to some features of a game, the fact that the player hardly even notices them is a good thing -- for example, the game's controls, which proved adequate by not calling attention to themselves -- but not so with visuals, and on that front, Constantine's were so unremarkable that a player might require his "second sight" ability to come up with anything substantial to say about them. There were a few nice touches -- for instance, Constantine will smoke a cigarette or have a coughing fit if he's left standing idle for too long -- and once, in Hell (the game's Hell, not the one in which I was forced to endure this game), I noticed a car sailing overhead and thought, "Whoa," (get it?) but that was about it. In fact, the latter instance did more to confuse me than anything else, since then I started wondering why the hell there would be cars in Hades anyway. I mean, who built them? Do demons drive? Or do our earthly cars have souls, such that they, too, can be damned when they "die" and will no longer run? But I digress. I did notice the game's sound effects, however, mostly because they irritated me and because the voices were atrocious. Still, given the film on which the game was based, I guess they were about on par with a Keanu Reeves performance. (Keanu didn't lend his voice to the game, but the entire vocal cast and he must have the same pitiful acting coach.) Other sound effects -- demons screeching, gunfire, various substances colliding with other substances -- sounded more/less like one would expect them to sound, but ultimately failed to impress and grew repetitive rather quickly.
So without an engaging story -- which, given the average nature of the rest of the game, would be the only reason to see Constantine through to the end -- the player is left with a dull and tedious supernatural romp involving repetitive gameplay accompanied by repetitive sound effects and unexceptional visuals that collectively cannot fail to evoke memories of far superior titles. In the end (in the non-eschatological sense of the word, that is), I can't quite figure out who this game would really appeal to. It won't appeal to fans of the comic, because this John Constantine certainly is NOT the engaging figure who first made his debut in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37. It won't appeal to fans of the movie because, if they love the movie so much, there's no sense in wasting $40 on a painfully average video game when they could just see the movie three times and save the rest of that cash for the inevitable DVD release. And it won't appeal to fans of survival horror games and gothic action/adventure games because it's boring and unoriginal. While in the film on which the game was based, Constantine killed demons in order to earn salvation and buy his way into Heaven, given the game's lacking story, the virtual Constantine might as well be killing demons and halfbreeds because he's got nothing better to do. Similarly, that's the only excuse I can think of to kill more than a half-hour with this game.
-- Wes --
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