RE­IN­STALL

Strap in for another ride through Hell­gate: Lon­don.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Jon Mor­com

Hell­gate: Lon­don tried to bridge the gap be­tween ac­tion RPGs and shoot­ers

The seem­ingly rushed re­lease of Hell­gate: Lon­don, to co­in­cide with Hal­loween 2007, was ar­guably a Pyrrhic vic­tory for op­por­tunis­tic mar­ket­ing over what with hind­sight might have been a more mea­sured launch strat­egy. The mixed re­views the game re­ceived at the time sug­gested that Namco Bandai/EA’s hopes for a spooky sea­son cash-in had come at the ex­pense of fully de­vel­oped ideas and a var­ied ex­pe­ri­ence. The pro­ce­du­rally-gen­er­ated lev­els were too samey, they said, the quests were repet­i­tive er­rand-boy stuff, and the com­bat lacked ex­cite­ment. Liv­ing in the English cap­i­tal as I do, I was cu­ri­ous and kind of de­ter­mined to like Hell­gate: Lon­don, but the gen­eral con­sen­sus was that it was more trick than treat.

Now de­funct, Flag­ship Stu­dios’ only full re­lease pur­ported to be an ac­tion-RPG im­bued with a more pro­nounced FPS feel. Alas, the shoot­ing wasn’t that great and the role­play­ing el­e­ments were lim­ited. How­ever, with a num­ber of Diablo old hands driv­ing things, it was no sur­prise that amass­ing loot and ag­o­niz­ing over skill and item stats would fea­ture promi­nently. That might not sound en­tic­ing to hard­core shoo­tists, but it was in­vi­ta­tion enough for an in­vet­er­ate tweaker like me.

It’s 2038 and de­mons in­tent on oblit­er­at­ing mankind are pour­ing in through Hell­rifts spread through­out the cap­i­tal. En­listed to as­sist gam­ing’s peren­nial ‘go-to’ fac­tion, the Tem­plars, in their cru­sade to erad­i­cate the threat, you’re headed for the Hell­gate in­side St Paul’s Cathe­dral, through which you must pass to con­front the fi­nal boss Sy­donai.

Start­ing at Rus­sell Square, your jour­ney takes you across the Lon­don Un­der­ground, us­ing a num­ber of key sta­tions as havens where the quests are dis­pensed by a cast of fop­pish dandies, in­tense bearded types and cheeky Cock­neys. These hubs are beau­ti­fully de­tailed with their fu­tur­is­tic forges, handy gear lock­ers and boun­ti­ful shops run by a suc­ces­sion of wise­crack­ing mer­chants; each con­tains a num­ber of por­tals through which you must pass into tube tun­nels or the streets above to tackle a huge va­ri­ety of beasts and ghouls, most of whom upon ex­piry sur­ren­der some lovely Pal­la­dium, valu­able hard­ware or a sat­is­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion of both.

Un­for­tu­nately, most of the weapons in Hell­gate have the bal­lis­tic im­pact of a squirt of Axe, but with less lethal re­sults. But this is where the game can get its claws into you. Keep­ing your char­ac­ter com­pet­i­tive with the de­mons you’re fight­ing as you level up means ac­quir­ing a se­vere gear habit and get­ting to grips with the ex­cel­lent craft­ing sys­tem. It’s all about col­lect­ing guns and swords, break­ing these and other high­yield items down for their scrap metal,

tech and rare shards, all of which can be used at nanoforges to up­grade your weapons and ar­mor. Ad­di­tion­ally, you can buff an item with coins at any Aug­men­trex 3000 ma­chine.

There’s in­fi­nite joy to be had in sift­ing through loot drops and strangely ubiq­ui­tous crates for killer mods that will com­ple­ment and am­plify the kind of dam­age your weapons are deal­ing. In­ven­tory man­age­ment be­comes cru­cial with so much... stuff to gather up, sell or can­ni­bal­ize; nudg­ing those weapon and ar­mor stats higher be­comes an ob­ses­sion, if not an out­right ne­ces­sity.

Hell­gate’s un­der­ly­ing pre­cept is ‘al­ways be mod­i­fy­ing’.

Lon­don Un­der­ground afi­ciona­dos will know that from the game’s start­ing sta­tion, Hol­born, it’s only two stops on the Cen­tral Line to St Paul’s, where the fi­nal bat­tle takes place. How­ever, you’ll be tak­ing the scenic route through 200 story and sid­e­quests that play out in around 115 lo­ca­tions. Given the num­bers in­volved, I can for­give Flag­ship for re­peat­ing a few of the dozen or so generic en­vi­ron­ments. Wide, aban­doned streets, pokey al­leys, dank train tun­nels, clois­tered court­yards and sub­ter­ranean necrop­olises pro­vide a some­what im­pres­sion­is­tic (if some­times ac­cu­rate) in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Lon­don, although Flag­ship had a de­cent stab at recre­at­ing real-life lo­ca­tions like St Paul’s and Covent Gar­den Mar­ket.

A no­table ex­cep­tion to the many fetch quests is a mis­sion that places you in­side the head of Tech­smith 314, ex­plor­ing the wind­ing synapses of his mind, look­ing for the Limit of Imag­i­na­tion. Another dis­patches you to the Tower of Lon­don to kill the mas­sive Beast of Ab­badon. A boss with piledriver hands and a fiery breath at­tack, the Beast has been in­ter­rupt­ing Tem­plar com­mu­ni­ca­tions. This fight re­quires you to first catch him in the crossed beams of two light can­nons, shrink­ing him tem­po­rar­ily, at which point he spawns a dozen elec­tri­cally-charged Fell­bore min­ions. This leaves the Beast’s hit­box—about the size and lo­ca­tion of a pos­ing pouch—briefly vul­ner­a­ble so you can pep­per it with ‘nut shots’; it’s about the tough­est fight in the game.

Flag­ship’s vi­sion of a Lon­don that has been de­stroyed by The Burn and over­run by de­mons is a fair at­tempt at cre­at­ing the chaos such cir­cum­stances might bring, and any­one who has spent the Satur­day be­fore Christ­mas shop­ping on Ox­ford Street will rec­og­nize it im­me­di­ately. I love that the art style is so crisp, with a color pal­ette that’s not quite as drab as you might ex­pect. The street lev­els are lit­tered with aban­doned po­lice cars, burnt-out black cabs and up­ended phoneboxes. Lava erupts through the walls and the pave­ments are not pop­u­lated with NPCs tak­ing flight but, more en­ter­tain­ingly, with another gam­ing staple—com­bustible bar­rels. This know­ing, gra­tu­itous place­ment of things that go ‘boom’ and the com­i­cal way in which the cast of Bri­tish ec­centrics de­liver the few lines they have is ad­mirable;

Hell­gate never takes it­self too se­ri­ously. I think it was the 18th cen­tury writer Dr John­son who once said that when a man is tired of Hell­gate: Lon­don, he is tired of life. Al­right, I ad­mit that’s over­stat­ing things a bit—maybe the game missed some op­por­tu­ni­ties, but whether you go through it as a gun-tot­ing Marks­man or a fairy-dust fling­ing Evoker, it’s an en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and a bold at­tempt to bridge the gulf be­tween gen­res. Mind the gap.

The Bri­tish Mu­seum, where ex­hibits come to life.

J ON says... “A good solid game buried be­neath the weight of hype.”

Sta­tion hubs pro­vide some respite from the bat­tle.

Shoot­ing an­noy­ing street per­form­ers in Covent Gar­den Mar­ket.

In­side the mind of Tech­smith 314. Eugh.

Where all the magic hap­pens.

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