Constantine has always been the black sheep of the DC Comics universe. As an occultist and demon hunter keeping balance between heaven and hell on Earth, he tends to get left out of DC Comic universe happenings often. It’s difficult trying to insert an alcoholic chain smoker that curses within every other syllable into something like Lego Batman while keeping what makes Constantine the classic, lovable character we know and love. You know, the one that wakes up drooling in a subway car and curses at ghosts in a pub. And while being the black sheep of the group can be awkward, it also allows for writers and directors to be a bit more experimental with Constantine than your typical DC hero.
Constantine the video game, released in 2005 as a game based off the film starring Keanu Reeves. Alright, so the film wasn’t exactly how the comics went, but it wasn’t trying to be exactly what the comics were per se. It was just trying to be an American version of Constantine, but using the same universe and characters. I think Keanu Reeves and his acting style work pretty well with the role of Constantine. You have to think of the movie as something separate from the comics, and it does a pretty decent job at that.
Constantine (the game) goes through the same sort of plot as the movie does, but orders things around a bit more to keep it closer to the comics while keeping to the same sort of progression the movie had. Scenes are moved around and changed in a way that format the movie’s plot better for a video game setting. It offered more consistency with the gameplay than just porting the movie directly to a video game, which was nice to see. It shows that the developers put at least more than five seconds of thought into the plot. The game even switches around some of the dialogue, giving the game some uniqueness to it, and giving it some sort of reason for existing other than just to buy another version of the movie.
The game plays as a third-person shooter where Constantine is trying to figure out why demons are beginning to violate the rules of the world and invading Earth. At the beginning of time, Heaven and Hell set rules as to what they can and can’t do on Earth. Constantine spends his existence helping maintain God and Satan’s troops and ensuring that humanity is kept safe from such supernatural forces. He uses a range of guns imbued with the good ol’ “fire and brimstone” logic that helped exterminate the witches in Puritan colonies.
The guns actually work pretty well. They almost feel as wacky as Painkiller. There’s a gun that shoots flaming nails called the Crucifier, a shotgun that shoots shells in the image of a cross, and a crossbow that shoots flaming stakes. Along with that, Constantine is also able to perform incantations during battle. Some protect him, some cause him to shoot more lightning than Palpatine, and some cause enemies to be frozen in time, giving players a chance to brand a cross along their backside. The incantations are interesting and varied enough to keep them interesting, but are somewhat overpowered. The only one you really need is the Palpatine epilepsy lightning that can clear an entire room of enemies.
Combat flows well enough, but definitely could have been refined a bit more. Enemy design is well-varied, with the exception of the “large brute that rams into walls” boss that gets repeated almost as much as in Arkham Asylum. There’s a regular enemy that does that, but he can only be hurt in one point on his back. There’s generic little melee dudes that are quick but die easily. There’s ones with Scyther-style blades that run as fast as the flash for short periods. There’s the artillery ones that shoot poison and teleport when you hit them. The enemy design allows for most levels to be tense and action-filled, keeping the flow of the game pretty consistent.
The only problem is, halfway through, the game just goes “well I have no more ideas for enemies, what do we do now?” And that’s when the game starts hoarding enemies, which typically would be horrible. But since the incantations are usually AoE-style moves, it doesn’t get as horrible as it normally would. Managing when to use your incantations or whether to kill a specific enemy or two can cause some creative situations.
The environment and level design can be really annoying. The game attempts to use entering and exiting Hell as a game mechanic. Sometimes you’ll have to pass a door or something by going into hell, or sometimes to do that you’ll have to move objects around on Earth. The process becomes more tedious than interesting, as well as leaving the lingering question of why bottles of holy water are lying around Hell more frequently than weed is on a Californian college campus. There’s only two levels that are dedicated to being in Hell, and they do a good enough job at representing Hell’s atmosphere. Randomly going to Hell because you need to get over a locked door is so convoluted and nonsensical that it could have been designed by John Romero himself.
There’s really very little past this other than some horror concepts on some levels that are actually fairly well done. One horror level in a library was genuinely able to give me the creeps and re-stain my couch after playing Soma. For fans of the series, you’ll either appreciate it for what it is or despise it completely. It’s not the greatest shooter ever, but we’ve definitely seen much worse video games within the DC universe. If you’re looking for a cheap shooter with an interesting universe and concept, it can’t hurt to try Constantine out.
“Disaster’s snapping at my heels and it’s time that I was somewhere far away. It’s all up to me again, ennit? Somehow, I’ve got to stay ahead and get some new aces up my sleeve. But right now, all I really need’s a smoke.”