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FPS rantings

Hellgate: London hands-on demo preview

by Mike on October 26th, 2007

The Hellgate demo feels unfinished.

Pedigree means a lot, even if a developer is rolling out its first game. This is why expectations are high for Hellgate: London. Its creator is Flagship Studios, whose core is composed of ex-Blizzard employees who were responsible for the development of Diablo, Diablo 2, Warcraft, Starcraft, and World of Warcraft.

The game is heralded as the spiritual successor of Diablo and you’ll notice that once you start playing. Specifically, Hellgate feels like Diablo brought into 3D, with a few modifications. Gone is the point-and-click movement scheme, replaced by the familiar WASD prevalent in shooters.

The level design is also very Diablo-like, and you’ll notice that when you switch between the small and large maps while playing. Perspectives may have changed from isometric 2D to behind-the-back (or first-person) 3D, but the overall feel of the levels are reminiscent of Diablo.

You’ll see the difference between Diablo and Hellgate when you try out the Blade Master. Hellgate mixes things up by letting you make different swings as you combine attacks with the directional keys. You can swing your sword repeatedly at an enemy, but if you consider timing and distance, you can be more effective.

Blade Masters can use projectile weapons, but not elaborate rifles like Marksmen. One interesting combo I used with mine was a grappling hook on the left hand and a sword on the right. You can snatch an enemy with the hook and pull it towards you, but as the beast approaches you must start swinging your sword. When timed correctly, the sword strikes your enemy before it can attack you point blank.

Marksmen change the experience entirely because you can play them in first-person and arm yourself with rifles and guns. Unfortunately, the shooter elements of Hellgate feel substandard. While your crosshair widens when you unload bullets, there’s no recoil and reloading. When you jump in first-person view, the gun doesn’t bob like it’s supposed to. If you want to see your avatar and his/her gun bob, you have to zoom out to third-person.

Note to Flagship: Letting players wield dual pistols do not give Hellgate any semblance to a real shooter, especially with the flaws I’ve mentioned above.

Between the two classes, playing a Marksman was a cakewalk. You can obliterate enemies even before accumulating aggro. If these two were to duel in PvP, the Blade Master could be at a disadvantage—unless the two are fighting in a box. A Blade Master may have better damage, but the shooting mechanics feel a bit overpowered (i.e. no recoil and reloading).

The missions provided by NPCs feel a bit too MMO-like. Kill X number of enemies; gather X number of items. Even the names floating above NPC heads are too WoW-like, especially with the question marks and exclamation points. Sure, these guys may have played a part in making World of Warcraft, but can’t they differentiate themselves from their former employers?

Hellgate is scheduled for release on October 31, but the 1.39GB demo still looks far from completion. Collision detection problems abound—your character passes through other NPCs, parts of dead enemies stick through solid objects, and corpses float in midair. Aside from the technical problems, the game doesn’t look too pretty either. The textures scream 2004 and even earlier.

You’ll be seeing references to Blizzard games like the familiar Warcraft peasant’s voice, Wirt’s leg, the deep Diablo skill tree, spherical health and mana indicators, and such. Despite the nostalgia, one can’t help but be displeased with the unfinished state of the demo, especially when we’re this close to launch day.

Fine, one may reason that the demo was created long ago and that the game is actually in a much better state. On the other hand, demos are supposed to drum up interest for an upcoming game. If Flagship is banking too much on pedigree and nostalgia, then I’m afraid they could be setting themselves up for a huge fall. If there’s one legacy that Blizzard is known for, it’s polish—and polished, Hellgate isn’t.

Mr. Roper, the ball is in your court.

POSTED IN: Hellgate: London, Previews

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