Cigarettes are dying a death. From the glory days of Hollywood of old, where non-smokers were either children or deeply uncool, tabs have been vilified and removed from advertising hoardings, racing cars and even pubs. What's the world coming to?
Thank the Lord then for John Constantine, a chain-smoking detective who first appeared in a bit part in Swamp Thing, but who went on to get his own starring vehicle, Hellblazer. Both of these were penned by the great Alan Watchmen' Moore, which gives you some idea of the pedigree. And guess what? He's now got his own computer game, which faithfully replicates the big-screen Hollywood version which should be hitting multiplexes in March.
The opening cut-scene in the game is a frame-by-frame remake of the opening scene of the film, and , the very first thing you see, in super-close-up, is a smouldering cigarette. This could be the positive publicity smokers need to... What's that? John Constantine has terminal lung cancer? For the second time? Arse.
How can you get terminal cancer a second time? Well, the first time round Constantine made a pact with the devil (or devils) for his soul. You see, it turns out there are three of them, and when he was claimed' none of them could agree who would take him and he was spat back down to Earth to resume his bad habits. This time around though, Hell wants him and Heaven won't take him, and Constantine is trying to worm his way back onto the righteous path by devoting his time to thwarting demons on Earth. And, as it's demons you're up against, the standard third-person arsenal has been tweaked to include the Holy Shotgun (like a shotgun but it fires crucifix-shaped shells), the Witch's get to practise the rudimentary spellcasting system by following sequences played out on screen. To give you a fair chanco of gotting ono of these off in the heat of battle, time slows down slightly (as it does if you employ the 180-degree spin turn, that enables you to come at demons from behind). Unfortunately, it's the only nod you'll find to Max Payne, which is still the definitive example of how to craft a third-person shooter. By comparison, Constantine looks like it might 3port too many limitations - the game is extremely linear, but full of console quirks and not always consistent. So you can climb over certain objects in the world, but not others, and jumping happens automatically when you approach a gap. As time is pressing (the film gets released in the UK in March) it's doubtful whether any of these issues will be addressed.
But, while it's definitely a game that's going to sit better on consoles than the PC, Constantine can't be dismissed as just a dismal cash-in. The dark and twisted Hellblazer universe is long due a PC outing, and the Constantine character is roughly 100 times better than any of the creations you've had to endure over the years. The only major problem I foresee is that as the game follows the threads of the movie, once you've seen that, it isn't going to present you with any major surprises. Having said that early reports of the film are good, and after getting to grips with some of the foibles present in the preview code, our report is that it could well have enough in it beyond the heritage of Hellblazer to make it worth a look. Find out if we're right in next month's review.
Everyone Has their own vision of what hell actually is. Maybe a lake of lava, with dozens of small demons with the face of Anne Widdecombe jabbing you with sharpened lolly sticks. Or perhaps just a small suburban living room, where you're forced to watch your entire life replayed second-by-second in front of your entire family and friends. For John Constantine, cigarettepuffing, terminal lung cancer celebrity of the cult comic Hellblazer, the fiery plane is a path to redemption, a chance to correct mistakes of the past.
Better The Devil You Know
Portrayed in the forthcoming big-budget Hollywood movie by Keanu Reeves, the character of Constantine has been sent back to earth after a triumvirate of devils disagreed about the ownership of his soul. Currently barred from heaven, hell is wanting to reclaim Constantine, who is attempting to get in god's good book(s) by vanquishing any son of Satan that gets in the way of his Holy Shotgun. Constantine is a third-person action-adventure that follows the plot of the demon-possession and nifty camera effect-stuffed film - nicknamed The Matrix-orcist by certain wags. Somehow, it's found its way on to the PC, despite looking, sounding, playing, behaving and smelling of a console game. Although there are some neat gameplay touches choking beneath the sulphuric fumes, this is mostly ultra-linear, film-licensed fare.
The main gimmick in Constantine is that the action regularly switches between Earth and hell, with the trenchcoatwearing occultist able to pass between the different realms by reciting magical incantations when, ahem, he's standing in a puddle of water. Copying the convention in the Soul Reaver games, the devilish locations are twisted versions of the Earth ones, so the relatively normal appearance of a library is transformed into a gutted building with tortured souls nailed to walls, apocalyptic red skies, fiery blasts of sulphuric winds and various nasty creatures who're obviously not looking to borrow the latest John Grisham.
However, Satan's spawn also appears on earth in a variety of ghoulish guises, including scaly Scavenger Soldier grunt, the fire-breathing Kan-Gore devil dragon, and the spider-like scuttling Bile-Riz, that can possess and re-animate corpses. The monsters are actually quite well done in most cases, with the Vermin Demon -a wriggling mass of rats, spiders, moths and snakes - being a disturbing highlight.
Fortunately, Constantine has a heavenly armoury of weapons to send the unholy horrors back to hell, many of them ripped straight from the pages of Alan Moore's comic. Particular favourites are the Crucifier nailgun, the Purger crossbow and the Dragon's Breath flamethrower. Each of these is best used in conjunction with physical punches and kicks, secondary weapons like the Holy Water Bombs and Constantine's magic spells (see 'Nasty Spells' right).
Such a shame. The building blocks of a half-decent game are here, it's just that the execution of them is so mediocre: shoot some monsters, solve a rudimentary puzzle, watch a cut-scene, shoot some more monsters, go into hell, shoot even more monsters, get an artefact, watch another cutscene, fight the end-of-level boss. Constantine gets samey very quickly, and that's despite unlocking more spells and weapons as you progress.
Everything seems to have been crow-barred in just for the sake of it from other games, such as Constantine's 'True Sight' ability to see in the dark (Chronicles Of Riddick) and the 180-degree slo-mo bullet-time move (Max Payne) that enables you to turn quickly -useless until you encounter the Impaler, who has a very handy weak spot on his back.
What Do I Have To Do?
However, the unforgivable crime is that aiming and looking around with the mouse is awkward, making Constantine appear as if the years of fighting demons has given him some kind of twitchy nervous disorder. You can alter the sensitivity of the mouse, but this only makes things worse, making frenetic melee confrontations downright un-enjoyable and frustrating - you have to keep the console staple of auto-aim switched on just to make it playable. An incomprehensible plot concerning a half-breed angel and strange secondary characters don't help matters either, although at least Constantine has Keanu's likeness, with his trademark monosyllabic Californian drawl imitated with some success.
Constantine is sub-Max Payne -there's nothing surprising or challenging here that you haven't seen in a thousand other film-to-game conversions over the past five years. Level desiqn is depressingly lacklustre, and the puzzles - some of which require you to nip back and forth between Earth and hell - are of the 'move box, climb up ledge' and 'turn valve, switch off steam jets' variety. There isn't even a jump button - you run towards gaps and automatically leap -along with bad examples of clipping and characters walking straight through solid objects.
It's a pity, because there's a sprinkling of good ideas here: a Se7en-ish atmosphere: spooky phenomena such as car alarms set off as Constantine passes by; scripted sequences with guards being dragged through doors by unseen demons; an evil book in hell's library referred to as a real page-burner'. However, you're left with the distinct impression it's been thrown together quickly to cash-in on the forthcoming film.
Constantine is a tragic waste of a good comic license -you're much better off replaying Max Payne 2. Oh. and I've just thought of my own vision of videogame hell - spending an eternity in front of a state-of-the-art PC, with only a stream of film-licensed third-person actionadventures to play. Shudder.
First of all, if you're not familiar with the story behind Constantine this is going to be an extremely confusing experience. Constantine is the story of a John Constantine, a troubled soul with a troubled past. Unfortunately the game gives little if any history of who John is and why he possesses unique talents. Since this isn't the place to back fill the story of Constantine, I'll leave that to those interested in finding out on their own but I can tell you that it's a bad sign for the rest of the game and is one of many problems that plague this it.
Constantine is a third person action game that meets the basic requirements for a game in this genre. John can shoot enemies and cast simple spells but the entire gameplay is straightforward and requires little effort to navigate. Even casting spells, which on the surface attempts to deepen the gameplay, is more challenging to mess up then get right, as you only have to hit a series of buttons in order.
The cut scenes are actually decent along with the rest of the graphics. Some of the environments are more on the drab side but definitely one of the better aspects of this game. The audio doesn't come across quite as well but the sound effects are well done.
If you're familiar with the comic books or loved the movie, Constantine may be worth your while. The story is a lot easier to follow if you know the character's background and even gives a good reason to see how it ends. However, for the rest of us, its going to be a struggle and there are plenty of other action games out.