Unless youíre a longtime comics purist who was absolutely riled that the lead character didnít resemble one Gordon Sumner (a.k.a Sting), there was a lot to like about the recent film Constantine. Keanu Reeves hit just the right note of a surly yet somewhat sentimental (and temperamental) lead, and the filmís great usage of CG visuals in spots made for some pretty interesting and dynamic scenes. UK developer Bits Studios has managed to capture much of the filmís cool hotness in the video game version of Constantine, and although the game is hampered with a slightly awkward control scheme and some clipping issues, it does a great job of bringing the film experience home from a stylistic viewpoint.
Opening with a smashing cinema that makes you want to pick up a controller and jump right into the action, the game then drops you into a nicely rendered office for a brief chat with one of John C.ís buddies. Youíll learn about stepping into pools of water to go straight to hell and the need to imbibe more water to restore Johnís health and return to the real world among other things. Stepping into liquid, John winds up in Hell, a constantly burning, spectacularly destroyed Los Angeles with ruined cars and trucks sailing through the air like blown newspaper, and corpses scattered all about. Youíll soon be accosted by some minor demons skittering about, which lets you deal some damage with the gameís first weapons and learn the fun targeting system. John can also punch with his fists and melee with his weapon up close, but as ammo is quite plentiful here, feel free to just blast away at your leisure. Youíll eventually get into a boss battle which ends with the main title sequence rolling as you control the game camera- a nice touch.
The game then follows the filmís story for the most part, with a few new areas and enemies and some puzzles that require John to drop in and out of Hell to move boxes and battle assorted demons. What Constantine does perfectly is blend the filmís look and dark tone into playable form. The aforementioned control issues are mostly the same ones that hampered Bitsí otherwise fantastic Rogue Ops (a game worth tracking down no matter what home console you have). When armed, John moves and turns a little stiffly, which can get him hit and bit too often in close quarters when heís ambushed. Thereís a quick turnaround move here that rotates him 180 degrees that helps, but only if your attacker happens to be 180 degrees behind you. Feel free to turn the auto targeting on until you get the hang of the controls, then off to make the game more challenging. John also uses context sensitive actions for climbing and interacting with objects, and can automatically jump certain gaps, a nice touch that takes the worry out of falling to oneís death out of the equation.
Combat is similar to run and shoot games like Max Payne (JC even has a dive/roll/evade move similar to Max), but the element of darkness coupled with Johnís holy weapons and some truly frightening enemies makes for a bit more careful gameplay in spots. But donít worry; there are more than enough creatures to send to their doom here. Constantine can use a first-person mode called True Sight that enables him to see, move, and shoot in the dark, another of the gameís great touches. He can also use melee attack if a beast decides to gets up close and personal, but you wonít let that happen, right? Spells are also a big element here, as John will acquire spell books that allow him access to some very helpful magic. Casting requires enough room to target a monster or group of monsters and ďreadĒ the spell out by drawing sigils with the face buttons before a timer ticks down. It works very well, and things can get pretty tense if you rush into a fight unprepared. I wasnít too fond of the dual dimension box moving stuff, having played all the Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver games, but itís a not terrible addition- itís just not extremely original.
Visually, Bits has done a great job here; they continue to improve steadily as a developer with each game they release. Constantine uses what looks like a modified or next-generation version of the Rogue Ops engine, and there are plenty of destructible elements in the gameís environments. The character model looks exactly like Keanu Reeves, all the monsters are pretty damn scary up close, and the gameís cinemas are fantastic throughout. The Xbox version of the game runs smoother than the PlayStation 2 counterpart, so if youíve a choice of consoles at home, Iíd recommend the former over the latter. As for the sound; the game has some excellent music tracks and voices from beginning to end. Keanu wasnít available for JC, but the stand-in chosen does a solid job with the vocals here. You do get a few of the actors from the film reprising their roles here, from the great Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Gavin Rosdale as Balthazar, and Max Baker as Beeman. In terms of sound effects, the demons will send a chill up and down you spine in the dark, but the weapons sound slightly muted and a bit lacking in punch compared to other action games. But they all certainly kill monsters with plenty of fury, so thatís a minor ggripe.
As for the control issues, Constantine always runs forward with a weapon drawn, so it sometimes feels awkward when you have enemies coming toward him at an angle. If youíre in a creature-free zone, just holster your gear and youíll have more freedom to run around. Also, the context-sensitive stuff is great, but climbing some objects required John to be perfectly lined up until the action command shows- not a great thing when rats (or worse) are gnawing at his heels. Iíd like to see Bits apply more fluid character animation and more area interaction to their next game. Iím not talking Devil May Cry style hopping and leaping, mind you- just more realistic and looser feeling movement overall. Other than that, the game is a lot of fun. Thereís a nice selection of unlockable material, from production art to the cinemas, and youíll get a good 8-10 hours or so out of whatís here. Just remember to add an hour or three if youíre scared of the dark and demons popping out and assaulting you when you least expect it. To wrap things up, if you liked the film and/or like horror-themed video games in general, Constantine should be right up your dark, demon infested alley.
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