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Holy Chain-Smoke! Constantine First Look unleashed

SCi takes us over to the dark side for a taster of its movie and Hellblazer comic-book tie-in. New screens inside

Chainsaws, shotguns, cross-bows and sniper rifles - all fun weapons, but rather too common amongst the third-person action game these days, don't you think? If it's not downing a cowboy with your revolver, it's butchering a zombie's head with a golf-club.

Constantine, SCi and Bits Studio's spin-off from the forthcoming Keanu Reeves movie and DC/Vertigo comics Hellblazer, features a whole new breed of gunplay.

Take control of the eponymous, chain-smoking anti-hero, and you'll get to blast crosses from the holy shotgun (a "bad-ass weapon" SCi tells us), impale monsters with the nail-spurting crucifier, or even better, roast the buggers with the flamethrower-alike dragon's breath.

PS2 version

And that's not to mention the exorcism spells, the Shroud of Moses smart bomb, the Amityville screech beetle or the witch's curse pistol which launches stones hand-picked from the road to Damascus. Hell (literally), it brings a whole new meaning to the supernatural third-person action romp.

Do you feel lucky punk?

Based on the Alan Moore's Hellblazer comic-books, players take part in a plot expanded on the movie. You play John Constantine (the Keanu Reeves character), a private eye who is given a second bite of life after perishing through cigarette-induced lung cancer.

"He's not a nice person," explains SCi producer Darren Potter. "He likes a drink, likes a smoke, and he's a mage, an occultist. He basically tricked the Devil into returning him to earth, which rewarded with him supernatural powers. You can look at him as a supernatural Dirty Harry, if you will."

The general storyline involves hooking up with a female detective called Angela (played by Rachel Weisz in the movie), and investigating the mystery behind a deceased angel friend, as well as combating the vast number of demonic forces overrunning earth.

Needless to say, the gameplay footage we saw was largely action-based, with Potter promising a 60-70-percent leaning towards fighting.

Not a lot of cop...literally

Two of the levels we were demoed were set deep in the bleak heart of a mortuary and police station. While the former presented a few effective chills - a trolley rolling by as you turn a corner, for example - the latter mirrored scenes of The Suffering, with unfortunate cops being mauled by scavenger warriors in a rather gratuitous manner.

In fact, there's a nifty little scene where police corpses are artistically lined up in an identity parade. "We're always trying to create that air of confusion," explained Potter. "Things can happen that are pretty nasty." Indeed.

PS2 version

Pea soup anyone?

Seeing that combat forms the main thrust of the action, we are pleased to report that the fighting is suitably frenetic. In the mortuary, you'll encounter humans possessed by weird scuttling demons, with powerful exorcism spells (involves inputting a special button combination) one way of thwarting them.

Or you can simply blast away at the human 'homes' with your holy shotgun, and then finish off the demons separately as they pop out. If you're feeling particularly devilish, there are also various ways of taking out multiple enemies at once. One good tactic is unleashing your storm crow spell, which releases what appear to be streaks of lightning at your foes.

Plus, if you get up close to a monster, and you can use Constantine's melee attack, which involves thumping enemies with your holy knuckleduster.

Also, like all good third-person action fests, there are two views available during the game - while the standard third-person perspective is effective for exploration, the over-the-shoulder vantage point seemed to make shooting and targeting far easier.

Second sight

One of the Constantine's other key powers is that of true sight. Engaging this superhuman sense - which is largely similar to night vision, and can even be used as such - enables the powerful one to pick out the 'unholy' during your stays on earth.

For example, you might spot two innocent chaps chatting away. Bung on your true sight vision, and you'll realise that one of them is in fact a half-breed hiding in human form. Other uses include highlighting switches and important objects, which may be hidden to the human eye.

Oh's Hell!

Like Legacy of Kain, the action in Constantine often flitters between earth as we know it, and Hell. Constantine has some kind of affinity with water, which enables him to be transported to an underworld dimension.

PS2 version

Here, there are some very impressive visual effects in action - broken car wrecks floating through the air, hazy, swirling winds (even the PS2 manages this effect convincingly), and much more fittingly, human souls being tortured in the background. It did actually remind us a lot of some of the levels in Legacy of Kain, although naturally, it was far less gothic.

As for the boss battle we were shown, the large behemoth demon that attacked our unfortunate hero was a truly nasty fiend composed from human body bits and, we think, souls of the damned. He actually looked a bit like the killer from Jeepers Creepers, but maybe just a tad more menacing.

Devil's advocate

From first impressions, Constantine looks to be a reasonably dark, heavily action-oriented, very solid third-person action adventure. Think Spawn without the campness, Buffy with less humour or Legacy of Kain minus the vampirism - there are strong elements of all of those games, plus bits of Enter the Matrix, Van Helsing and Devil May Cry too, but with a few neat twists all of its own.

We're gonna play Devil's advocate and suggest this one could be pretty damn good. It is currently due to release on PS2 and Xbox in February 2005 around the same time as the movie.