"For centuries the veil between the demonic and earthly realms has grown weaker and weaker as man has lost his belief in the supernatural and embraced the ways of science" whispers Bill Roper, CEO of Flagship Studios and the man behind such diamond franchises as Warcraft and Diablo, in a fittingly dark and mysterious way. Unsurprisingly in his new game, Hellgate: London, the demons have found a way to break through into our world. And they've not only broken into our capital city, they've also broken into the single most exciting role-playing experience currently on the radar.
The story follows the Knights Templar, the oft-covered sect who have been quietly preparing for the demonic onslaught for centuries, yet have been forced into subterranean havens peppered throughout the London Underground system. From here they attempt to rebuild society while nightmares stalk the streets above them. Your character enters proceedings 25 years in the future, and five years after the success of the demons in taking over large parts of the earth. And it's here that the adventure begins.
Played from a goth/cyberpunk first-person perspective, the potential contained within the ruins of London town is phenomenal. "Actual sites that exist beneath London make for some amazing places to take players, since they act as modern-day settings for good old-fashioned dungeon crawls," explains Roper. "From the Underground stations, to Roman Aqueducts, to the old underground Mail Train line, to Victorian hospitals, to World War II bomb shelters, to plague pits..."
The game and its environments are randomly generated, and although quests will be nudging you forwards in terms of storyline, random events will change each player's experiences. You might be adventuring and randomly come across a rocking van full of Flesh Eaters, for example, or a Templar surrounded by Ravagers - who, should you save him, will stick his details onto your PDA and team up with you later in the game. Or, you might come across nothing at all.
"The way we approach story-telling is from what we call the 'water cooler experience,'" explains Roper. "If we all started form the same point - say London - and travelled to the same destination - like Rome - we would be involved in the same parts, or nodes, of a story, but our experiences along the way would be vastly different. We like the idea of each character having their own tale to tell that revolve around the same key elements. It's like players hanging around the water cooler, sharing their unique experiences even though they were all on the same basic path to the same destination."
So that's Hellgate: London - a highly randomised RPG, from a company whose leads are intimately connected with Diablo. It's set in London, obviously. The inspirations that Bill Roper cites include A Clockwork Orange, Dawn Of The Dead and Shaun Of The Dead, Diablo, Marilyn Manson and Green Day. It also looks gorgeous. Are we excited? Hell, yeah...