You've played this game before when it was called Legacy of Kain (Soul Reaver), or Akuji, or Nightmare Creatures, or Bloodrayne, except those games were far less derivative and more fun to play.
Our hero for this misadventure is a dude named John Constantine, who was born with the ability to see demons. That ability drove him insane when he was young, to the point that he committed suicide in order to escape the evil things he was seeing. Now, he's been revived by archangel Gabriel to exorcise demons from Earth, and hopes that doing so will buy him an eventual ticket into heaven (normally, suicide earns you the express route to hell). The plot is the best thing going for the game, literally... and sadly, since the rest of the story revolves around collecting the pieces to put together a magical shotgun and hunting down some demon bent on world conquest.
While the game's visual perspective is third-person, it plays more akin to a first-person shooter with some magic and puzzles thrown in. The weapon selection is decent, albeit uninspired. They gave fancy names to the twin pistols, nail gun, shot gun, etc., but they're still the same weapons found in every other shoot-'em-up. You can melee attack enemies by pushing the X button, which, while unoriginal, is always a great thing to see in an FPS-style game. Also, by tapping the triangle button, you can make Johnny boy cast various spells that stun or kill demons. The spell interface requires you to mimic a button-press sequence for a spell to work, but thankfully the sequences aren't too-too lengthy.
Aiming with the crosshair is a pain thanks to the skewed view that the third-person perspective provides. No matter, though, since demons have no concept of "dodge" and don't dish out much damage with their generic claw / energy attacks. The bosses are somewhat tougher, mainly in that they dish out a load of damage and usually have some tricky weak-spot to find first. Then, they're just as easy to dispatch. Constantine also has a flask that he can drink from, which replenishes his health. Water for the flask is available almost anywhere. Conversely, some portions of the game were setup to be intentionally cheap, overwhelming the player with an inordinate number of demons during those moments when Constantine is dangerously low on ammo or health, or worse--requiring the player to make a head-shot with the dodgy aiming.
The game uses a multi-dimension gimmick (identical to Soul Reaver), where you can travel into the "hell" version of a level to bypass obstacles. However, the level design is so freaking uninspired that the toughest obstacle you'll ever face is dragging some object, usually a box or trash dumpster, in order to use it as a step or uncover a hidden tunnel. A long time ago, Old Man Murray wrote a long diatribe about how the very worst action games were those that are packed with boxes and crates. Constantine is packed with boxes and crates. And so it goes, for roughly 20 chapters or so. There's also a tarot card side-quest tacked on for anyone who's into checking dark corners for cards that eventually unlock bonus comic pages, movie clips, and concept artwork.
So too, the story, the graphics, and the audio are flat out mediocre. The story was cobbled together by mixing the movie plot with original dialogue, and the end result is pure nonsense. It's clear that a high-level demon has come up with a plot to fill the Earth with hellish creatures. That much is certain. Otherwise, some characters are never fully explained and many plot points are left unfinished. Visually, it looks like the developers used a first-generation engine to produce the in-game graphics. Mere words cannot express how rectangular and simple the environments are, so I highly suggest you click on the screenshot link in the upper-right of this review to see for yourself. Afterwards, imagine what you saw, but also add in a jittery frame-rate and loads of slowdown. Laughable, eh?
As for the audio, well, I have to admit, the ambient goth murmur that underpins each level is pretty spooky, and I do have a soft spot for all of the various creature screams that are in the game--they're so shrill that they dig right into a person's soul. Unfortunately, the sound effects for all of the different weapons and environmental sounds are weak and generic (and were quite possibly taken from old PC games).
Worst of all, there's a lot of voice acting in the game, but the conversations are full of tepid exchanges like "Damn you, Constantine!" -/- "I've been damned by worse, much worse." Doesn't help that the people hired to read the lines do so in a monotone, dull manner. Bueller? .... Bueller? .... seriously.
In the early days of the PS2, Constantine would've been cutting-edge; a fun action romp. But this is 2005, not 2001. We demand that games look, sound, and play better than this.
2/17/2005 Frank Provo