Hellgate: London E3 2005 Hands-On

We get our hands dirty with this first-person hack-and-slash game from the creators of Diablo.

We had a chance to sit down with Flagship Studios' Bill Roper for an in-depth look at Hellgate: London, a new 3D hack-and-slash game that will pose the question: what if the city of London, England, were to be invaded by demons in the not-too-distant future? As Roper explained, this unusual idea came from a number of different sources, such as the studio's research into secret societies like the Knights Templar and the Freemasons (who, incidentally, were responsible for much of the construction of the London underground subway system, known colloquially as "the Tube").

From this, we watched a demonstration played using a templar character--a combat-heavy class that focuses on wearing heavy armor and getting into the thick of things. As we saw, templars may wield a two-handed rifle, two-handed melee weapons, or wield a smaller weapon in either hand (either two melee weapons, such as short swords, two ranged weapons, like pistols, or a pistol and a sword simultaneously). However, Hellgate's weapons won't be conventional firearms, because regular old pistols and rifles won't actually harm demons. Instead, the game's weapons are modified with holy symbols and magic charms to actually act as "spell delivery systems," rather than firearms.

The game's weapon system will be highly modular and highly randomized, like many other aspects of the game. In plain English, you never know what weapons you'll find over the course of your adventures, and since each weapon will have upgrade slots you can use to swap in fuel cells and scopes, as well as other items to deal bonus damage and other effects, you may end up spending a good part of the game fiddling with various add-ons, trying to maximize the strengths of whichever your favorite weapons are. Likewise, you'll also earn specific (and random) character skills that you can activate for active or passive bonuses--you'll have an upper limit on how many skills you can use at one time that increases each time you gain an experience level.

Even the game's environments will be randomized--no two areas will be the same each time you play through the game. Roper ran through a dingy, deserted city street of London, running past abandoned red phone booths, piles of garbage, and glowing cracks in the walls and pavement, occasionally encountering the game's hellish enemies. As Roper explained, the game will have four major classes of demonic foes: beasts, mindless critters that attack relentlessly; spectral demons, which are not completely substantial and can ignore your armor when attacking; intelligent demons, which have advance abilities like using the same weapons you do; and necros, spirits that inhabit corpses and cause them to talk (zombies, in other words). Each enemy will have a unique ability and each one will net you experience points toward your next level. There is also a random chance that they might drop a healing kit, weapon, upgrade, or skill.

We also had a chance to play the game ourselves, and while it does use your keyboard's W, A, S, and D keys along with your mouse to aim (and the game does seem to be paced faster than Diablo), it clearly doesn't require the manual dexterity you'd need in a first-person shooter. Again, Hellgate is played from a first-person perspective (and switches to a third-person perspective if you have melee weapons equipped). And you do use guns to fire, but your aim and how much damage you deal are actually determined by your character's skill and ability scores, similar to the way combat is determined in NetDevil's upcoming online game Auto Assault. Like with Diablo, the most effective way to deal with any given group of enemies is to strafe around them, dodging any incoming attacks and counterattacking continuously.

Hellgate: London even looks surprisingly good. The game takes advantage of DirectX 9.0 effects, like specular mapping, and it features detailed textures in the ruined city of London, as well as extremely hefty particle effects for its various types of gunfire. Considering the game's very modular design, which will let you hunt down desired items to mix, match, and swap in any number of different combinations, Hellgate: London could very well become the next addiction for obsessive Diablo players. The game is scheduled for release...when it's done.

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