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Hellgate: London

Steve Hogarty desperately searches for an Oddbins in a ruined London...

Before today, my last visit to Tottenham Court Road saw me missing the last tube and finding myself happily eating a Bacon Double Cheeseburger on the night bus home. There were definitely no demons, no apocalyptic warzones and very few gaping chasms reaching into the very depths of hell itself.

It was definitely an improvement on today's trip to London's electronics-laden High Street, in which a boy called Lil' Timmy asked me to retrieve his prosthetic leg from some hell-spawn he'd encountered.

If there was any doubt that Hellgate: London will be dark in both its setting
and its offbeat humour, it's lost as soon as you begin playing. The search for the kid's missing appendage took me from Covent Garden tube station, through randomly generated tube tunnels and desolate London streets, on to a final encounter with a 15ft hulking mass of flesh.

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Exactly why he'd nicked the leg remains a mystery to me, but Lil' Timmy promised he'd give me the stump of wood (an entry-level melee weapon) he was using as a replacement leg if I brought his prosthetic back.I have to admit, the pedant inside me had a bit of a cry when I discovered that London Underground refused to allow their trademarks be used in the game, meaning familiar logos and posters will be absent in the final release (are you listening mod community?).

COR BLIMEY GUV
However, that's really not what Hellgate: London is about. The randomly generated surroundings of the game are built for those who have only a vague familiarity with the city. It's postcard London, it's the Ripper's London, it's red postboxes, waving monarchy and the sort of pea-soup fog which hasn't been seen since the days of Sherlock Holmes.

The fact is, this is London enough for it to work perfectly well, and most players won't notice the fact that the East End looks like the West, and the tube stations are the wrong way round. It's brilliant just to be able to fight the legions of the netherworld among derelict boats on the dried riverbed of the Thames, and being able to look up and see wrecked bridges high above.

The formerly unannounced third character faction, I was informed as I successfully gave the child his leg back, is the Hunter. Joining the Cabalist (demonologist, summoner, transformer) and the Templar (knight, religious fanatic, paladin, barbarian), the Hunter falls into the techno-mage category. The faction is militaristic and full of "spit and gumption" as Ivan Sulic, community manager at Flagship Studios, put it. The Hunter is a weapon-heavy Sam Fisher-type character.

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APPLES AND PEARS
My Cabalist character, on the other hand, had already gained a few levels on his travels, and a rummage inside my class-specific skillset rewarded me with several offensive spells, the ability to summon a fire elemental and a very handy spell for transforming into a zombie. This skill left me free to wander the zombie-riddled streets in relative safety, Shaun Of The Dead-style. What's more, Simon Pegg fans will be pleased to hear of the subtle inclusion of a cricket bat melee weapon too, perfect for feebly batting away at zombie hordes.

Of course, coming from some of the principal creators of Diablo and Diablo II, it should come as no surprise that this is a pure action-RPG. The option of an FPS-style perspective belies the sort of hardcore stuff on offer here - at no point is Hellgate: London a shooter, and beneath its 3D visuals beats the heart of a true isometric XP-chasing RPG. Discreet green arrows above enemies' heads dictate whether or not an attack will have a chance of connecting, rather than the pointing abilities of your mouse-hand. Such things are handy when you're fighting your way to Covent Garden market in search of a radio transmission emanating from a portal leading to hell.

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