Hellgate: London

2008-12-07 21:52:54

Hellgate London (PC)

Ah, to be young again. In 1999 this geek was in the Air Force and his nice sweet aunt was so nice as to send me a copy of Diablo II for Christmas. Despite the obviously demonic appearances it arrived on what some would consider the holiest of days. I quickly installed it and began my life as a necromancer. This Blizzard title would set the stage for Hellgate: London.

See Diablo II if you haven't been living like a cave troll with a computer that dates back to 1992 or prior was a widely popular game, consisting of originally 5(later expanded to 7) character types to play as. Your play revolved around getting around 6 main quests to perform per Act and to get through those main quests you generally had to visit every square inch of terrain. The Genius of Diablo II was that 1, the game gave the illusion of randomly generated levels by rotating the map randomly everytime you started up a game. Monsters would respawn if you quit and return. the chance of equipment and treasure dropping from any given monster was completely random and only slightly less random when it came to named monsters. Combine all this with a very simply interface that anyone could figure out(left clicking moves you to where you clicked on the screen, in addition to attack or whatever you have linked to left click, and right click is generally reserved for special attacks that can be flipped between with simply hot keys.) and you've got a recipe for success. The graphics weren't incredible but they were good, the interface really sold it with it's almost keyboardless design. You could do almost everything with just the mouse. Blizzard still actively updates this game adding in extra features. The game was a blast and a great followup to Diablo.

Diablo II is still so widely played on Battle Net is has to be one of the oldest games still worth buying and playing constantly. It's a far more entertaining way to kill time than mmo's and I think it's most because of the interface makes it feel like playing slightly more intense Solitaire.

Now most of the development team for Diablo II left Blizzard and jumped over to start their own company called Flagship Studios. From their new studio they have managed to fire up my rage. Everyone who had been following the project entitled Hellgate had heard that it was going to be similar to Diablo II, random loot, demons, all that. After watching someone else destroy demons in the game I decided to see if it would run on my lame as shit 1.7ghz laptop.

Well after installing the game I ran it to see just how well it would run. Unfortunately a recurring theme here is that apparently Flagship has been taking way way way too many trips to MMO land for "creative" ideas. Sadly it's the case that almost all new PC games are more tattooed with adverts than some NASCAR vehicles are. I'm immediately greeted with Intel bong music and something telling me to buy their processors, followed immediately with an Nvidia banner glowed into view, as well as the Flagship Studios Banner flapping majestically, and finally the video intro. I wonder how on earth people still tolerate this bullshit, all it serves to do is fuel fanboyism and ensure that games will become more and more segregating when it comes to hardware specs. I thought DirectX was supposed to kill off coding specific to a manufacturer. In the past programmers used to bitch and complain that they had to code for like 15 different brands of chips, now they are using DirectX to make themselves compatible yet still coding to their favorite brand at this point. If this wasn't the case I suppose games wouldn't assist the lurching ever forward computer system specs caused by requiring their players to upgrade to the latest board that the developers specifically made their game run best on. Fuck you devs I'll run your game on my Damn Intel Integrated Graphics driver, quit telling me everytime I launch the game that I'm inadequate!

The constant annoying adverts in games is getting pretty lame, I'm just glad that most games, this game being one of them, allows for you to click past the ads. Though there are also ad posters in the game, they are less intrusive than Rainbow Six Vegas for the 360, where the game updates the posters present in the maps to sell the latest product du juor.

The video intro was compelling, much like the intro to a Blizzard title, the CGI is great, the story compelling, and in the end you are exposed to basically examples of the capabilities of the different classes of the game. No complaints with the movie other than on my shitty laptop the sound did something very strange, not only did the sound de-sync with the movie(to be expected when my system is screaming under the workload) but it also de-synced left and right, so I got a wierd echo effect where the sound would be in my left headphone, then show up to repeat itself in the right headphone 2 seconds later. Very Disorienting but irrelevant to the quality of the game.

I find it amazing that pre-rendered video can be such an issue with a not too terribly old machine, I dunno how little they optimized it but honestly they probably could've optimized it enough to not have so many problems on a 1.7 ghz machine.

I started a new character, and unlike Diablo 2 where all necromancers look like x, I'm given a traditional MMO style pallete of heads and colorization. I build a surly looking engineer as per the recommendations of my compatriots and I'm off to the races. I am given a tutorial quest, which is fairly easy, and I go to the first "station" Stations behave like cities did in Diablo II, providing you respite from the demon hordes. In fact there is a lot of Analogues to Diablo II in play here. The Personal Relocation Device(Town Portal) the Analyzers(Scroll of Identify) the Slots on Weapons, the randomly dropping loot, and the red health orb on the left and the right mana/power orb on the right. While the similarities are endearing and can compel fans of Diablo II to enjoy this new game, there are things that start eating away at the veneer as you progress further into the game.

The little nods to Diablo II are great, I dispise the fact that you cannot drop loot like you could in Diablo II, it was often nice to toss loot aside as you were rifling through items in your stash and your inventory in order to organize it better or if you needed to clear out your cube to do recipes. If they introduce a cube as there is speculation that they might, they need to allow people to more easily clean their cube without losing valuable gear in the process. Other than that the Diablo II nods set an aura letting you know "hey it's cool we made Diablo II, so this game should fit your tastes if you liked that game", unfortunately it doesn't quite meet that mark.

Let me nail the developer right between the eyes and say it right now. Your level design team, FIRE THEM, all of them, fuck them all they're a bunch of useless monkeys and have ruined your otherwise shiny game. The level design team has rendered the game to appear like their level design team was fired shortly after they built a few "primitives"(coder speak for lego like chunks of architecture) and were secretly replaced by a band of 7 year olds that were told to play virtual lego. the maps can be reduced to 7 kinds of scenery:

  1. Abandoned cityscape - full of crumbly walls, lumpy unkempt parks, cloudy sky with some weird humpback whale looking thing, and inaccessible houses. Sprinkle in flamed out vans, english phonebooths, and european police cars for flavor.
  2. Abandoned Subway - full of demons, flaming barrels, and more demons. with partial subway cars in various states of ripped open.
  3. Maintenance Ducts - Full of Demons and crates and supplies to be raided.
  4. Sewer - Dank with stagnant water, wide open areas with small pockets to the sides of the main route, and big staircases that lead down 4-5 floors in some instances.(what kind of Sewer is this? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Style sewers?)
  5. Building Interiors - full of crumbled artwork, demons, and usually a hellgate
  6. Hellgates - Seen one, seen them all, they're all the same map with demons with different names, and 1 piece of furniture in the center to interact with.
  7. Stations - fairly clean safehouses for humanity, which seem to only be filled with about 10 people per location and almost all of them have quests for you to do.

Now some of you might say 7 should be plenty of tilesets to work with! but keep in mind it's not just the tilesets and prefab furniture but also the placement of these and the shape of the maps that is the killer. At this point even when entering new territory for the first time once I see the map I can judge just where things are going to be located, down to the crates and shelves full of supplies for me to blow up. The level design is unimaginative and boring, and it kills the mood of the game. The biggest most evident use of this copy paste level work is in the houses that you CAN enter in Hellgate Cityscapes. Every available building is identical. there is 1 door in, there is a hole on the right hand side, and there is a set of 3 staircases that are right above each other so you have to spin around inside the house to get to the next stair. oh and the hole on the right when you enter, it's the same hole on every floor in the same location. The basements will always be full of fuel barrels and crates to grab loot in, and the building will always be 3 stories high with a basement.The carpet will also be an ash coated red color with diamond pattern. This will never change. BORING, I don't know who was in charge of making decisions like this but they need to be publically humiliated on all levels of the industry and laughed out of town. I don't think I've seen a more poorly designed level list in my life Other than a handful of MMO's and other games where you can fall through holes in the floor and end up outside of the map.

The repetitive levels are kind of bland in a way, but Diablo II wasn't much better, Diablo II was very cookie cutter with the same little huts and same looking caves. It's just more apparent when you go for a first person shooter eye candy kind of viewing camera.

Demons in this game take their cue from Doom style demons with their rush in your face to kill you mentality, very few demons actually will seek to engage from range, and when they do they still do not seek cover in most instances, this goes along with the diablo II swarm mentality so it is okay, however I wish that my pet drone did not take from that same AI. The Drone in the original build( I did not do any patching which I understand tones this down a little) will lash out and try to kill everything in sight, usually keeping all enemies focused on it, however it seems to have a large radius in which it will go out to seek trouble. Often times my drone will round a corner and anger an entire room full of baddies at an infortunate time when I'm trying to recover from clearing a room full of demons. Thanks a lot Drone you have cost me quite a few deaths with your eagerness. So from now on I traditionally kill a room, wait a bit to see if my drone has wandered off, go support the drone and hope at some point the drone stops finding enemies within it's sight range.

As Geek said, they patched the drones so they should behave better, as a Guardian player I don't have much experience with what he was saying other than watching him in frustration playing through some times, the Swarm AI tactics are definitely reminiscent of Diablo II except now it seems even harder to wade through even just 3 badguys compared to Diablo II where it seemed much easier to cleave a path.

the game feels like an FPS, an MMO, and Diablo II had a wicked threesome after drinking too much absinthe and totally lost their minds. Only to wake up and FPS and Diablo II trying to bite their arms off to get away from the abomination of the MMO they slept with. the Diablo II quest system doesn't exist here as it has been replaced with the MMO quest system, where you have a main strain of quest, and a ton of mini-quests that consist of standard MMO stupidity(collect 10 zombie heads for a potion I'm brewing, kill 8 black skulls to prove your worth, etc). the shooting of the game is like planetside, an MMOFPS, so that you still have to aim and if you're totally off you'll miss entirely, but even when you have the enemy dead in your sights, depending on your accuracy stat you might miss entirely. So there really is no skill here. Movement is handled via WSAD as opposed to Diablo II's click only interface and there's a set of hotkeys at the bottom of the screen. That hotkey bar manages to fail at something MMO's typically do well with, and that is allowing the player to make multiple hotbars filled with hotkeys, and from what I've heard from some of my magic user compatriots you can't change hotbar keys for magic users as they are pre-assigned. The loot provided is also not very compelling either as so far I have yet to get an item that is almost irreplaceable. A lot of the draw in Diablo II was getting set pieces or rares that were too good to outlevel. I remember wearing a freeze immunity belt thorughout Diablo II because immunity to freeze was a damn good feature to have. I have yet to find anything equal to that in Hellgate, every weapon I get I can usually find another better one 2 levels down the road. The skill tree isn't all that exciting either and really appears slow moving for a game with only 50 levels as it's cap. I miss diablo II's leveling and it's skills, not to mention as Diablo II got older it got skill affinities, where taking 1 skill would help another skill in the same tree, there is none of this in Hellgate. What this game screams of is vanilla experience caused by mingling too many elements and doing so in a cheap and cookie cutter fashion.

I agree that newer titles should take lessons from the older ones and take what is good from that. Hellgate: London didn't do enough of that and so some of it does indeed suffer. Plus the different GUI obviously is something that maybe Flagship didn't have enough experience with the different requirements players might have for that. So they failed in that attempt.

While Hellgate: London is a fairly decent game it is completely bland in many important places and quite often makes me reconsider clearing an entire dungeon because it feels like an exercise in tedium because the hellgates all look the same(to the point I loathe to enter them despite the rewards) and the other levels are just rebuilds of the same L shaped tunnels full of pipes, awkward T intersections, and staircases. I took the trip to Ash filled Graytown UK, and while the hopes for good loots is still present in me I have to question why the fuck I even care? the enemies aren't even as satisfying to kill! I think I'll uninstall this game and install Diablo II and have a 10x more satisfying experience from a game that is almost a decade old!

I admit playing Diablo II is definitely more satisfying, though I think Hellgate: London, if it spawns a sequel, might be the breath of fresh air the genre needs to see progress.

Hellgate: London, you are a disease, and uninstall is the cure - 4/10. Great job instilling little nods to Diablo II players and keeping some of the gameplay of Diablo II alive, but your choices in level design kill your game being a top rated golden game that will last the weathers of time. I recommend you dismantle your flagship and beg Blizzard to take you back, maybe they'll staff your level building crew with people with inspiration and healthy checks from Activision.

Hellgate: London, you are a fun game with a bland appearance, a few more tilesets and a few different prefab rooms and ingenius use of them would've made your game much more improved. I give you a 8/10 because all the groundwork is laid for an incredible sequel, as long as you get a new level design team.