They don’t call it “overlooked” for nothing… After the break…
A few moments with… Hellgate: London…
I have to admit something: I often get “it” wrong. I am lousy at predictions. I keep remembering reading about the small “computer-on-a-single-board” Raspberry Pi and wondering, “Who would ever buy that thing?” The answer: Everyone. Minecraft: Who would ever want to play a game with big, blocky “voxels”? Why is everyone so fascinated with “Angry Birds”? How come everyone enjoys Massively-Multiplayer Role-Playing Games? Why is “The Sims” so popular with everyone? John Wick. Mad Max: Fury Road. Twilight… I just don’t get it. I honestly don’t. Same thing with “Game of Thrones”; It’s a soap opera with dragons and female toplessness. Really? Why did everyone obsess over “Lost”? I’m not writing this to be oppositional or “cool” or different… I honestly feel as though I’ve turned into Sean Connery while he was reading the script for “The Lord of the Rings” and wondering, “This is supposedly popular?”
OK… So, occasionally, I get “it” right. Quake 1… Wow, for it’s time. The same with “Portal” (and I saw the potential of it back when it was called “Narbacular Drop”). Thief: The Dark Project (as well as Thief 2 & System Shock 2). I also caught on quick about games and their DLCs; Just wait for the Game of the Year edition (or whatever their marketing department wants to call it), scoop everything up for one low price and enjoy.
Every now and then, I’d like to think that, not only did I eventually get it right and people agreed with me but I’ve also gotten it right and… No one else sees it from my perspective. Everyone hated Total Annihilation: Kingdoms when it first came out… And they still do. Yet “Supreme Commander” (which Chris Taylor did work on), was just a re-themed TA:K with one or two additional gameplay mechanics and everyone loved that. Everyone and their pet monkey enjoyed absolutely trashing the movie “Waterworld” but I saw it when it first came out and enjoyed it.
Now I get to add another game to that third list (the one where I like it and everyone else is indifferent or hostile towards it): “Hellgate: London.”
Hellgate: London is a 1st/3rd person action-RPG set in a post-apocalyptic London, England. The residents of Hell has invaded the British Empire and aren’t letting bad teeth, garbled accents and driving on the other side of the road get in their way of putting their fiery hoof-prints all over the English countryside. You play as one of six classes out to single-handedly stop these demons from ruining yet another season of “Top Gear” (for the record, I thought that the new hosts were fine – Others have decided to disagree profusely): From the sword-swinging Blademasters to the high-tech FPS stalwart Marksman. It’s not entirely innovative, as the classes just boil down to the typical: Shoot them from a distance, Kill them up close with an axe & “the magical one” because, for some reason, people like to play as fanciful magical characters regardless of the game, the genre or even the plot. They’re probably also the same people who write angry letters to cough syrup companies demanding that they include “cherry” as one of the flavors. Seriously… Why is “cherry” always an option as a flavor for medicine? Have you ever met anyone who has ever confided in you…
Yeah, man… I was totally going to buy that over-the-counter cough medicine but it didn’t come in cherry flavor. I am so bummed out right now. They are most definitely getting an angry text message from me about this. Definitely going to Tweet about this! #NoCherryFlavorNoSale
Anyway, Hellgate: London (let’s abbreviate it as H:L) follows all of the typical action-RPG gameplay mechanics. Enemies drop stuff, such as money and items. Weapons and armor come in a variety of flavors, such as ordinary, enhanced, rare, legendary, unique & “mutant.” Some weapons and armor are limited to being used by certain classes. You can buy items and weapons from merchants, you can sell off your inventory, you can store the inventory that you want to keep, you can augment those items with “mods” (because even back in 2007, “crafting” was a thing). You can de-mod weapons and armor. You get quests that are primarily all variants of, “Go here, do that.”
Just like an action-RPG, though, it has some major annoyances that come with action-RPGs. For instance, “saving” a game is more-or-less checkpoint-based and areas reset their enemies every time. Just like an action-RPGs, you eventually get into a situation where you acquire a bajillion useless things and not a lot of it makes any sense (fat zombies, for instance, drop large vests that they obviously couldn’t stuff into their tattered pants). Large boss-like monsters, at the very least, might have eaten the items previous and had been “digesting” them but, seriously, who wants to wear a belt that was passing through some monster’s lower intestines (unless you very thoroughly wash it first)? Also… Why does everything need to be identified? Is anyone ever excited about that gameplay mechanic?
So H:L, on the surface, is your pretty standard action-RPG… Until it isn’t.
One of the nice aspects of H:L is the ability to play in first-person and, quite honestly, I may never play another action-RPG otherwise unless it has that same option. Playing in first-person gives such an immersive feeling to the game that you would otherwise lose in 3rd person. I’m not knocking 3rd-person gaming; I’m describing how awesome 1st person gaming can be.
Another nice aspect is that collecting money in the game (called “palladium”) is pretty useful. Unlike other action-RPGs, buying halfway-decent equipment is tangibly your only option in the early going. Sure, you’ll find good equipment naturally later on but there’s some pretty decent stuff in the store as well. You’ll always want to search for better gear in the stores. However, better gear has a “price”: Each piece of gear tends to have a requirement from your four attributes – Accuracy, Strength, Stamina & Willpower. These requirements compound themselves; They add up. Therefore, if one piece of gear requires 3 strength and another piece of gear requires 5 strength, that’s 8 strength that has been used up out of how much you’ve got in your strength attribute.
H:L has a “secret” mini-game that is, honestly, a bit half-baked. Think of the game as an undocumented quest: The game gives you a challenge to kill a certain number of a certain type of creature, damage them in some specific way and/or find some specific type of loot. When you complete the challenge, you get some somewhat decent loot and the mini-game resets to a new combination of tasks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the mini-game itself yet the implementation leaves a bit to be desired. For instance, the mini-game might force you to kill certain types of enemies that you just don’t encounter in the early stages of the game, essentially dooming you. Or it may want you to damage enemies with a certain type of damage (electrical, toxic, fire) that your class doesn’t readily have access to.
Another feature of H:L that is also a bit half-baked are the procedurally-generated levels. The procedurally-generated levels look good at first but get incredibly bland rather quickly. You begin to see the same characteristics of a level over and over again. You see the same desecrated three-level apartment over and over again; You see graffiti over and over again; the same steam pipes; the same burnt-out vehicles. Yes, the scenery changes over time and, as you progress through the storyline, different types of sets emerge. Yet every new set is generic enough so that it can be reshuffled in a bajillion different ways that never quite feels… Different.
There’s a lot about H:L to like – If you’re into action-RPGs, this is a very nice action-RPG. If you like 1st person perspectives, this has that, too. It has nice graphics.
Yet H:L brings a lot to the table that is… Less-than-desirable. Checkpoint-based saving is just so limiting; It feels as though that you either have to play for ninety minutes at a time or not at all. The RPG part of the action-RPG is so moribund that it feels criminal to regard the game as an RPG; “RPG” means that you have significant choice and you have none. Sure, you can reject a quest and… That’s it. You don’t have dialog options.
One fascinating aspect about H:L is that the team that created this game would go on to create the action-RPG “Torchlight” and the two games are a bit uncanny when compared. In each game, characters merely stand around waiting to be talked to. The levels in each game are procedurally generated. You have to identify items. You can mod or de-mod your weapons. There’s a mini-game in each (in Torchlight, you catch fish).
H:L is a far better game than what it was initially given credit for. It’s by no means perfect but you could do far worse.