Hellgate: London PC Review

Here’s a funny thing about video games – as much as you might like to, you can never tell someone whether they did or did not have fun playing any given one of them. Of course, you can spend forever pointing out a game’s flaws and explaining to someone why the game is technically ‘broken’ – but if that person comes back with something along the lines of “Well, fine, but I still enjoyed it.” – that’s it. You’re done, man.

This isn’t exclusive to games, obviously – the same thing happens with other media all the time. Nobody who really likes music gives a flying toss about, say, Lily Allen – but she sells a shitload of records and therefore you’ve got to concede that the music she puts out must make a certain kind of sense to a lot of people. Even if they are tasteless idiots. But the point is that you can’t really argue with them, because they’ve already gone and enjoyed it despite its flaws.

Which brings us to Hellgate: London. It’s an action RPG set in a post-apocalyptic London in the near future. It’s worth noting that, while it does feature online play, it’s not a MMORPG as many – myself included – first thought. It’s also a total mess. It’s buggy, it’s old-fashioned, it has piss-poor dialogue, it runs pretty badly on my PC despite not even looking all that great (PRO TIP: If you’re running Vista and only have 1Gb of RAM, think about upgrading before you give this a punt), the quests all seem to be variations on ‘fetch-and-carry’ or ‘go kill X amount of this enemy’, the much-vaunted random level generation is rubbish, they’ve got loads of London-related stuff wrong, and, and… I can’t stop playing it.

For those of you who don’t know, Hellgate: London was made by the guys responsible for Diablo 2 – another game that was known for being fiendishly addictive despite being little more than a tedious series of dungeon-crawls – and it’s clear they’ve worked the same black magic here. This is probably helped in no small part by the fact that, in a lot of ways, it’s the exact same game with a fancy makeover and change of setting. So, no points for innovation. And, um, they kind of messed up the setting, too.

Now, it’s worth noting that I actually live in London, so for those of you who don’t: you probably won’t care about half the things I’m about to bring up. Still, if they’re going to stick LONDON in the title and make a fuss about how the game is SET IN LONDON with REAL LONDON TUBE STATIONS and FAMOUS LONDON LANDMARKS, then I say it’s fair game.

First up, the developers didn’t get permission to use the proper London Underground logo, so half the signs in the tube stations look wrong. Mind you, this is hardly surprising given the fuss over Resistance: Fall of Man having a section set in Manchester Cathedral a few months back – Flagship Studios are probably lucky they haven’t been sued by Transport For London for encouraging nerds to run onto tube lines and look for demons to smash up with hammers and knives. Of course, they’d only manage to maim a few mice or something before getting hit by a train, but still. A lot of the outdoor locations are wrong, too – buildings and streets are too small, or the wrong shape, or in the wrong places in relation to each other (during the course of the game, you’ll travel from Leicester Square to Piccadilly Circus – this takes about an hour, when in real life the two locations are literally a five-minute walk apart). On top of that, the developers seem to think we actually still have red phoneboxes all over the sodding place, and that the famous red Routemaster buses are still in use on more than two routes in the entire city. Combine all this with the laughable ‘English’ accents, and I was half expecting to see a demon drop a NOVICE’S BLACK BOWLER HAT: +3 TEA DRINKING.

It’s not just the setting that’s a mess, either – the game itself is riddled with weird little throwbacks to the RPGs of old, while everyone else has moved on. Why can’t I claim back my spent character points if a skill I’ve just bought turns out to be rubbish? Why do I have to spend ages rearranging my inventory just so I can pick up a pistol I found? Why does almost every single character in the game stand still in the same spot, forever, even when there’s a bit of dialogue explaining that they have to go somewhere else for a while? And so on.

None of this ruins the game, obviously – it’s all stuff we’ve put up with in the past. It just seems odd that the developers seem to have ignored all advances in the genre since… well, since Diablo 2.

But here’s the thing – for all the criticisms I’ve just gone through, I actually really enjoy playing Hellgate: London. The combat is surprisingly frantic and satisfying, levelling up your character never really feels like a grind, and the constant promise of new gear to try out makes the game addictive as hell, and highly recommendable to those of you who appreciate a good dungeon crawl.

The rest of you, get a copy of The Witcher instead.

And this year’s ‘Guilty Pleasure of the Year’ award goes to…

7 out of 10