RETRO – „Heaven’s got a Hitman” – this was the motto of Painkiller back in the day, and this could have been the motto of Bits Studio’s latest TPS too. In Constantine, we play as a cynical, lung cancer ridden demon hunter who tries to save humanity all the while attempting to survive the wars between angels and demons.
These days there is a resurgence of movie adaptations of comic books. Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk, and after Punisher, a lesser known comic book is getting the adaptation called Hellblazer. However unlike the usual superheroes, the protagonist of Hellblazer is sad, cynic, who has a terminal illness, so the only reason that he is alive is that he can handle the occult forces pretty good. Of course, Heaven and the agents of the Lord from the Vatican should be pretty grateful as he uses his talents to hunt demons, and exterminate them ( or, at least, sends them back to hell).
The protagonist in Constantine is played by the main actor from the Matrix aka Keanu Reeves, however sadly fans of the comic this is not a true adaptation of the character (in the comics Constantine is a blonde bloke who looks like Sting, lives in Liverpool – England, and not in Los Angeles). The movie is getting good reception all around the world. For us, what is more, interesting right now is the game based on the movie that was released recently, which also has the likeness of Keanu Reeves…
Neo, the demon hunter
Which means that right off the bat we will experience as Constantine/ Reeves enters into a run down apartment, where there is a lady tied to a bed. Those who have seen The Exorcist movies can pretty much figure out what is going to happen: Constantine will probably cleanse the girl of evil with the usual hocus-pocus from her body. As to how he does this, I do not wish to spoil, but I can pretty much say that we see one of the most fun openings of all time. After this, our hero returns to his dark, dirty, and depressing office where Beeman, Constantine’s only friend and true ally describes the events for us.
Unfortunately, the developers forgot to explain everything for those who do not know anything about the movie or the comic books: just like in Enter The Matrix, here everything regarding background story is shown in the movie. So in case you were wondering where Constantine got his powers, why is he doing this, and how is this linked to the underworld, and to humanity… well, they are out of luck.
The gameplay is built up from the older TPS games. For example, if any of you remember the Legacy Of Kain games, will not be surprised here that just like Raziel or Kain, Constantine can move between two planes of existence. In this case, we can switch around between Earth and Hell in certain sections of the game. To Hellblaze we need water: in Earth we stand in a puddle, and after murmuring an occult spell we end up in Hell. To return to Earth, he needs to break a vial of water from his body. Just like in Legacy of Kain, here the real world locations in hell are present but in a more twisted version.
For example a museum is squeaky clean on Earth, will end up being rotten, dirty, and the dark halls are light up by hell fire. While the idea is not that original, it does its job for Constantine’s ambiance, but I did miss the option to switch between planes anytime unlike in LOK here we can only shift in particular locations. Hellblazing is needed most of the time when an object is blocking our path, and we can only continue in Hell. This is not a bad idea, but it annoyed me that the route was always straightforward, and the game would always show me where to go, so I did not had to think about where to go…
„Say, Constantine, haven’t we met before somewhere?”
Of course, Constantine did not just lift ideas from Kain games, as our hero looks like a Max Payne. Just like Remedy’s TPS most of the times our guns talk, the difference is here that the enemies are demons, and a shotgun is not just a shotgun, but a HOLY SHOTGUN. WOW!! Bits Studio will not earn the most original weapon names of all time, as most of the weapons have fun names, but are just like every other generic weapon in other games.
Controlling Constantine is not that different from Max Payne, or for say the protagonist of The Suffering, as most TPS games usually bleed out by trying to force some radical new way to control a person. Luckily we have the usual FPS style mouse handling, so even as a PC player, you can enjoy this game. What I did not like initially was that the enemy numbers were rather low in the beginning section. As if they wanted to force a survival-horror game down our force. Luckily later down the line, the action does get better, when in the dark, hordes of Demons try to kill Constantine and rid him of his lung cancer…and his lungs.
Harry Potter – though in a different way
Besides the usual shooting Constantine have magical abilities that we have to use throughout the game. During the game, we learn different spells: Lightning strike, exorcism, godly shield, etc. While all of the spells are not that original compared to the creator of Hellraiser aka Clive Barker, he probably was not turning in his bed screaming why he did not create such ideas. At least, it fits into the game, and can be used pretty well.
Just like in the Harry Potter games, here we also have to press buttons in sequence so that the spell is successful. Luckily we have enough time to mess around with these as time stops when using them, and it does not start until the effects of the spell stop. The spells are great, and add some depth to the game, the only problem is that besides the lightning strike, the godly shield, and demon leech most of the spells are pointless to mess around with in Constantine. Throwing lightning around just like in Star Wars was neat, and since it did not require that much magic, I used it most of the times besides the boss battles.
It seems that the depiction of Hell helped the graphic designers ( the movie people also helped a bit), as most of the demons are both spectacular, and scary. The air sizzles due to the heat, houses look like war-torn hellholes while the streets are filled with car wrecks, and the inside of the buildings are also well detailed. The normal world is less interesting, or detailed. We can see the Earth version of Hell’s structures, and most of the times we’ll roam such locations that are similar to Max Payne and other TPS games: apartments, streets, office buildings, and prisons. Which is a shame as it seems the creativity ended here: almost every Earth location is boring, generic, and does not do too much. This would not be a problem, but the developers fell into the usual pit where they darkened the locations, just so that we might get scared.
Unfortunately, it is not that scary since we’ll be switching „demon sight” on and off constantly which works as a night vision google in commando games. The same goes for the demonic and human characters. The depiction of the main character is the most detailed, but unfortunately, most of the characters are bland. The NPCs look okay, but they seem a bit choppy regarding animations. The demons are better designed, though, and they do look frightening. Although here it reminded me more of The Suffering, instead of the usual Silent Hill horror games – and there is even a monster type that looks like was ripped out straight from The Suffering.
Watch it, play it, forget it!
Constantine is a typical TPS that after watching the movie should be played once, as it is relatively tense, interesting, and atmospheric, but you probably won’t play it for a second time. It is a rather short and easy game, which is why it ends up being in the okay category. A great fun for the weekend after watching the movie.
+ Great game compared to the usual movie adaptation games
+ Interesting story with lots of cinematics
+ Fun gameplay
– Too easy, and short
– Dark environments
– Gameplay ideas borrowed from other games
Developer: Bits Studios, SCi Games
Genre: Action, TPS
Relase date: 2005