Hell on Earth, you say? Lost souls, shambling empty-eyed along streets and alleyways, incoherent moans escaping their rotten maws, pausing occasionally to unleash vile streams of strangely-coloured fluids? Anyone who's ever frequented our fair capital's Elephant and Castle and its environs, will know that such a concept is not too far removed from reality (and your correspondent ventured into that godforsaken place three times a week for three years - thank you, the university clearing system). So Flagship Studios' decision to set its debut title in a demon-infested Laaahndon Taaahn is fitting, at least in our bleary eyes.
That said, Flagship has picked London mainly because of its history (and sadly not because of its less salubrious denizens). The city positively drips with it, and its age means that it's been knocked down and rebuilt more times than John Travolta's acting career. The result is an aesthetically pleasing (at least if you're a games designer) hodgepodge of architectural styles, and lots and lots of tunnels: Roman aqueducts, World War II bunkers, the charmingly rat-infested London Underground. Tunnels are important in Hellgate: London, because they're humanity's only remaining hiding place. From what? Well, from the legions of the damned on the rampage, that's what.
The game is set in 2032, five years after the opening of the titular portal that let millions of demons and other assorted nasties loose on the streets of the city. Slaughter and destruction on an unprecedented scale was the predictable result, with the military finding their weapons to be useless against this paranormal foe. Anyone lucky enough to survive the onslaught quickly made their way underground, out of harm's way.
But now it's payback time. The Knights Templar and other assorted Fortean Times favourites (Hellgate's packing more secret societies than ten copies of The Da Vinci Code) have known about the demonic threat for centuries - in fact they've prevented invasions several times throughout history - and now they're striking back. Their main weapon, if you haven't guessed by now, is you. Now there's a thing.
Hellgate: London is an RPG viewed from a (mainly) first-person perspective, but don't expect a Deus Ex or Vampire: Bloodlines type of experience. This is RSI-inducing, balls-to-the-walls action all the way. Think Diablo with 3D graphics and a non-fantasy near-future setting and you're nearly there. Seeing as many of the Flagship team actually worked on Diablo and its sequel, this comes as little surprise.
Like the Diablo games, Hellgate will have randomly generated levels. There are certain pre-designed 'safe areas' in the game, where you can rest up, visit the medic or do a bit of shopping, but the rest of the time you'll be duking it out with demons in randomly created parts of London. You might argue that this is an easy enough feature to stick in a 2D game, but getting it to work properly in three glorious dimensions is a staggeringly difficult task. Little wonder that Flagship has had to create its own engine to get the likes of lighting and shading right. The upshot is that no two gamers will experience the exact same Hellgate: London. The randomly generated monsters you kill drop randomly generated loot and items, and scripted events will be sown in at randomly generated times. Everyone will play a slightly different game.
As befits an action role-player, there'll be an abundance of weapons - at least 100 of them, in fact. But don't expect to see old favourites like AK47s and Uzis among them. Conventional weapons can't hurt demonic creatures, so all the toys in your potential arsenal are at least slightly magical in nature. You don't spray lead from an M16 - you unleash flaming shells of righteous fury with your Vulcan Bolter. That kind of thing.