Portals to hell are opening all over the place, and demons are roaming free in such numbers that the land teeters on the edge of the abyss. Sound familiar? It should - it's the same basic premise that set the amazing Diablo series rolling.
What's unfortunate about Hellgate is that it's neither as fun nor as memorable as its spiritual predecessor.
Hellgate starts off well, with a character-creation system that offers six unique classes, but once you actually hop into the game, the faults become immediately apparent. For instance, once you make a decision in the skill tree, you're stuck with that choice forever, which is an anachronistic design decision that effectively kills the possibility of experimentation. The available quests are boring, unimaginative and, worst of all, repetitive. Having an NPC require you to kill ten - and only ten - demons in a specific area doesn't make any sense, even in a virtual world.
It's a (pre)fabulous life
The game also suffers from a lack of tension and atmosphere; unlike the two Diablo games, Hellgate has no personality. The world looks sterile and prefabricated, probably because it is prefabricated, with environments slapped together literally at random. While in theory this might imbue a game with infinite replayability, in practice - at least as presented here - it leads to worlds that lack the cunning creativity that a human designer might have come up with. Think of it this way: a cat walking across a piano might compose something new each time, but would you rather listen to that or a piece of Beethoven?
The banality of evil
Working in Hellgate's favour, however, is the fact that the six classes complement each other so well in multiplayer. Gathering five friends, permanent or temporary, into a single band of brothers is definitely the way to go, leading as it does to a fast-paced stomp through any environment and an unrelenting display of trippy pyrotechnics.
It also incorporates some interesting ideas - loot that drops separately for every player in a party, a weapon modification and upgrade system that turns even useless items into collectible trinkets and a context-sensitive shift button that puts active skills within easy reach - but every single play session, regardless of whether it's solo or with friends, will invariably boil down to holding the attack button and heading off on yet another "kill x to get y" quest.
PROS: Class variety is interesting. Loot drops will keep obsessive gamers occupied.
CONS: Randomised levels, endless combat and quest repetition, locked progression choices, lack of atmosphere.