Why You Should Be Keeping An Eye On The Hellgate London Reboot

Why You Should Be Keeping An Eye On The Hellgate London Reboot

Fifteen years after its infamous demise, Hellgate: London is being resurrected once more. 

For those not keeping track, this is something like the fourth revival that Flagship’s infamous looter-shooter has received since it first launched. There was the original release in 2008. Then, there was the Hanbitsoft era. This was followed by the China-based Hellgate: Reborn, the single-player re-release of the game on Steam and the fan-run London 2038. 

However, the newly announced Hellgate: Redemption will be the first revival to date that has a firm connection to the original development team. The head of the studio involved with the effort – Lunacy Games – is none other than former Flagship CEO Bill Roper. 

While the team at Lunacy is hard at work on its first original IP (a survival game set in a supernatural Western world), Roper admitted that he couldn’t pass up the chance to return to the universe that he helped build at Flagship.

“Back in the Flagship days, we did a heck of a lot right on that game,” he said. 

By Roper’s estimation, Hellgate: London was a game that was released ahead of its time. These days, he’s quick to frame Hellgate as an early forerunner to loot-shooters like Borderlands, Destiny and Outriders

“Today, if you look at a lot of the stuff we did has become industry standard. But at the core of it, I always felt we built a really interesting fantastic world, compelling lore, characters that were there to drive the story but within that, you were the hero.”

Of course, famously, a lot also went wrong.  Looking back at his days at Flagship, Roper pointed to some of the significant technical challenges that the Hellgate team had to work through at the time. 

“We had to build our own 3D engine. Unreal was the only one available, and it could not do real-time 3D lighting,” he explained.

Nowadays, there exist many third-party solutions for these issues. At the time, having to invest in that tech sapped Flagship of development time and talent. Other challenges included having to implement voice-over IP support, Microsoft’s Game for Windows requirements and a bespoke server infrastructure for Hellgate’s multiplayer. 

Roper said that this thorny history has eaten at him over the years since.

“I’ve always wanted to go back and do something with that world. I’m not the only person from the original team and Flagship that has wanted and even has tried to do that in the past.”

In pursuit of making that dream a reality, Roper said he got  “real bulldog tenacious” in 2023. 

“I got it in my teeth and couldn’t let go and spent a lot of time getting in contact with the right people at HanbitSoft. That turned into some excellent discussion about what could happen with the franchise.”

Lore and personality

From the get-go, Roper was very upfront with HanbitSoft about his vision for Hellgate. To put it bluntly, he’s not interested in doing another reboot, remake or re-release.

“They tried to find interesting ways to work with the IP and I definitely have a different viewpoint on how to tackle it. One that I think sits firmly in the AAA gameplay space. I am not interested in spending $200 to $300 million to make that game because I think it’s insane that budgets have become.” 

“I don’t think that it’s going to be a cheap game but I think stacked up against what it’s going to deliver, what we want to make it for is a bargain,” he said.

Perhaps as a consequence of both rising development costs and his own experiences at Flagship and elsewhere, Roper wants to use “every single thing off the shelf that I can” to build Hellgate: Redemption.

“I want to use Unreal 5, I want to be on AWS, I want to use Playfab. There are so many incredible tools that are built by companies that specialise in those things.”

“I want every dollar we spend to be spent on gameplay and innovation,” he said.

As for what that looks like, Roper’s pitch for Hellgate: Redemption has two key inspirations. 

”What I want to build in the next evolution of the Hellgate franchise is taking the lore and personality and the character progression and randomisation of loot – that customizability – of the original game and then mixing in with that the true-to-life grounded real-world setting in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2,” he explained.

Roper sees a lot of parallels between how that game represented the real world and how the original Hellgate tackled London. 

“One of the things I really appreciated about Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was the fact that I felt like I was in DC. I could see where streets were, I knew where points of interest were and I knew how to get there. I also really liked its progression of story coupled with map progression, taking over safe houses and control points.”

In contrast, the minute-to-minute gameplay for Roper’s revamped take on Hellgate proved harder to articulate. Or at least it did until Helldivers 2 came out. Roper praised the Arrowhead team for doing a “brilliant job” with the sci-fi sequel. 

“I love that it’s squad-based. You feel excited and threatened at the same time. It feels like you’re getting mobbed by far more enemies than are actually on screen. It’s brilliant design on their part.”

“You have specific goals you’re trying to achieve, but the moment-to-moment gameplay, the visceral gameplay, is exactly what I want Hellgate to feel like.”

Fergus Halliday is an editor at Reviews.org Australia and a regular host on the We Review Stuff podcast. You can follow his work on Threads, or take a trip back in time to see his work as the former editor of PC World Australia.

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