I first discovered Hellgate: London when I went to E3 a couple of years ago. An early demo was being exhibited. I remember speaking to Bill Roper himself, and being excited about this game. These were the guys that created Diablo, after all! But even as he and his staff were showing off the game, they reminded us that the framerate issues, the bugs and whatnot, were all the nature of early builds and would be cleared up by release time.
We all know how that turned out.
At the time of release, eager fans went out of their way, perhaps even preordering the game. The reward for their devotion was essentially a pre-beta release with more bugs than you can count with all your fingers, toes, and other appendages.
I’ll spare you the much-deserved attack I’d like to level against Flagship Studios and PC developers in general regarding buggy releases that need far more QA testing. What I did with my time after the game’s release was simply this: wait.
Now, at the time of writing this review, three large-scale patches have come out. They have brought many remedies to the game. The constant falling through the floor glitches have been drastically reduced, as have some slow down, some data processing issues, and a host of other once-insurmountable problems.
The game received poor scores at the time of its release, one would assume, because of all the bugs. But I’m here to deliver the sad truth: even with the fixes, this game isn’t very good.
What is this game? It’s a first-person Action RPG, a la Oblivion. But it takes place in a post-apocalyptic London where demons have taken over the earth. Not a happy time. It may seem cliché, which is because, it is just so. But the concept prompted some comic book publishings from Dark Horse, as well as some novels.
The human “coalition of the willing” ready to resist the demons were broken into three parts. They are, of course, the Warrior/Rogue/Mage paradigm set in 2038 AD London, now called: Templar, Hunter, Cabalist. You get to be one of these three jobs, as designated during the “character creation” part of the game.
The single player campaign is about one tenth as interesting as what the opening FMV and early missions suggest it will be. Basically, you will face a series of fetch quests, a load of “optional” missions (that you better do if you don’t want to level grind for hours near the end), and some silly arena-style mini-games. As you go, you get to customize your stats and equipment to your liking with a variety of NPCs and machines guiding you.
The script to Hellgate: London threw me for a curve. Despite the dark setting, the attempt at humor is strong. Notice I said “attempt.” The script regularly breaks the fourth wall, and the recorded voiceovers are completely separate from the actual text (clicking on an NPC means random talk is coming your way, similar to Warcraft). Generally, though, I thought these attempts at humor fell flat. I did, however, laugh at the absurdity of some of the near-end-game missions. “The fate of the universe hangs in the balance. Good and evil must fight once and for all: in a game of ‘steal the bacon!’ And after that, it’s time for some chess!” I didn’t realize the forces of evil were so into bastardized football mini-games….
The actual gameplay is, dare I say it, boring. Even after the awful glitches were fixed, I still witnessed clunky controls, mindless demon-grinding (with little strategy required), and map/environment recycling that will simply drive you insane. It doesn’t matter which job you choose, or whether you decide to play 1st- or 3rd-person; the game is subpar either way.
The graphics, on the other hand, are amazing. Technically, I should say you get what you pay for. If you have the sort of PC that can run a game like Crysis without missing a frame, then you’ll enjoy what you see in Hellgate: London. As the PC’s specs scale down from the ideal, one will witness an exponential degeneration in framerate and/or graphic quality, depending on the settings you choose.
The music comes in and out to match the tension of the moment. Generally, I didn’t like the music in this game as stand-alone work, but it fit the FPS-style action very well.
For all the twisted, macabre, death-worshiping crap that’s found in this game, it only makes sense that the game itself should suffer a terrible fate. And it did. As I’ve already said, the rushed release killed any chance of mainstream success, and even after the fact, I found myself wanting to play Diablo over this game. It’s clear that Bill Roper still has a strong sense of vision, but without a strong team of programmers and a lot of extra time, all we can look forward to is more bug-ridden releases and some empty promises.