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game: Constantine
two star
posted by: Matt James
publisher: THQ/Warner Bros. Online
developer: Bits Studio
ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Mar 30th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Mar 30th, 2005

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Constantine made me want to vomit. Well, ok, I wasn't feeling all that great to begin with. Still, after a couple of hours of Constantine, I went from a little off to wanting to puke. And not in a good way. Sad part is, later, when I felt better physically, the game still left me a little nauseous. However, this time it was at the thought of having to keep playing it. Maybe the game had more to do with my initial queasiness than I thought.

Constantine is based on the movie of the same name, which in turn is based on the comic book Hellblazer. Created by the great Alan Moore, in the pages of Swamp Thing, John Constantine is a man Damned to hell but fighting for a chance at heaven. One of comic's original anti-heroes, Constantine is driven by questionable motives. While he fights on the side of angels, he is far from selfless. He doesn't serve God out of faith but understanding, and thus always falls a little below God's faithful servants. That means he has to work extra hard to for God's good graces. Mostly that means fighting demons, in as much as the game is concerned.

The game Constantine is based very little on his comic book counterpart and very much on his movie persona. The opening cinematic sequence is a literal translation of the beginning of the movie. In fact it is nearly shot for shot the same. The cinematic looks fine, but I couldn't help wonder why they simply didn't just use the footage from the movie. The game continues to loosely follow the plot line of the movie, only now it is stretched out to include levels of gameplay. Where in the movie Constantine only battles a handful of demons, half-breed or otherwise, here he must battle hordes. In the movie the battle is only about to begin but in the game it is all out war. This is standard movie adaptation fare, shoehorning elements of plot and fight sequences into the existing framework of the movie's plot. This always tends to weaken the narrative flow, but seems to be the only way developers are usually willing to make these types of games.

Recently GamesFirst! Writer Chris Martin raised the question should the videogame to movie trend end? Playing Constantine I wondered if movies need to stop being made into videogames? There are exceptions to every rule, but just about any gamer can tell you that a licensed game is, nine times out of ten, gonna suck. Usually the ones that don't suck are the ones that go a different route than Constantine. Instead of trying to make the game fit into the movie they use the movie as inspiration for a whole new type of experience. Chronicles of Riddick made the game a prequel. It gave fans of the movies a good gaming experience and built upon the mythology that they enjoy.

Star Wars is another example. The games that are movie adaptations are usually the worst. But some of the best games in recent gaming history are Star Wars games that went outside of the movies are expanded the universe. (See the Jedi Knights and the Knights of the Old Republic series.)

The only game adaptation that stuck to the confines of the movie and still offered a satisfying experience (not just gameplay but a good narrative flow) was Spiderman 2. Spiderman 2 had such an open structure that it felt more like living his life than playing through a story line level by level.

Unfortunately, Constantine tries for the very least. There is nothing new, inventive, or even especially well done in the gameplay. The storyline is even more convoluted than the movie on which it was based. And the game offers no complimentary experience for fans of the movie who are searching for something more. But really, what did I think of the game?

It is your typical 3rd person shooter. You run through each level, shooting whatever comes at you, solving base puzzles (Flip switch A to unlock door A), and occasionally fighting a boss.

The graphics are passable but not spectacular. Constantine himself looks fine but the backgrounds are muddy and dark. I had to constantly swing the camera around and examine that muddy background and, like stated earlier, it made me nauseous. I'm not a graphics whore, but I prefer inspiring over sickening.

The game has added a spell casting feature for combat. Typically I found it easier to just shoot the demons. You have to quickly push a series of buttons before any of the demons can hit you. If you get hit then you must start your spell over. The only times I really felt the need to use spells over guns was when I was being over run. Of course with them all around me it is hard not to get hit, so I just end up shooting my way out of the mess any way.

As John Constantine you must traverse between earth and hell on your quest to stop the son of Satan. Hell looks real close to how it does in the movie. From afar it is pretty neat, but up close it all looks very generic, especially inside the buildings were the winds of fire aren't as prevalent. Most gamers have played games were you switch back and forth from dimension to dimension (the Zelda games come immediately to mind) so this is really nothing new. Mostly it is more running and shooting demons.

The game has very little immediate appeal and much less lasting appeal. For totally brainless gameplay this might be a decent renter, just don't expect much. If you enjoyed the movie and are looking for an extension of that, then go buy the comics. They are available in handy trade paperbacks (although I would suggest skipping the first trade and going onto the second, you won't miss any important story points). You won't get anything more out of this game than you did the movie. Frankly, I am just tired of games being made to cash in on a quick buck. There is no reason a good Constantine game couldn't be made. That and I think it has been proven that good games make more money. Everybody could win. Then they could use that money to pay a decent writer for a good game-based script. I want a Metroid or Zelda based movie, and I want them to be watchable.