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Hello, my name is Josh, and I’m an addict. The American Medical Association recently dismissed video game addiction by brushing it under the “further study needed” carpet. Had the proceedings gone the other way, gamers could have been diagnosed with a disease and treated accordingly.

Lucky thing the good doctors over at the AMA never got their hands on Hellgate, or I might be sitting in a shrink’s office instead of writing this review. Yeah, it’s that addicting.

Randomized dungeons were something that Hellgate’s developer Flagship was betting the farm on. The game would fail if it didn’t work, but I’m happy to report that they hit a home run.

When embarking on the admittedly mundane side quests, you are often required to go through instances more than once. While all that backtracking sounds like a flaw, it really isn’t when the area you just went through is completely different. There might be a blown-up tank in a snowy city street one time around, while the next may hold a different street with an epic boss staring you right in the face.

This variety is compounded by the fact that combat is visceral and fast-paced. You could be dual-wielding grenade launchers one minute, then with a flick of an F key, looking down the scope of a sniper rifle picking enemies off from a distance. After playing all the classes, I seriously recommend picking Marksman. This is where the game truly shines above the competition.

[youtube width="425" height="335"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aMFhqVrbe0[/youtube]

The Neo Punk art style really lends itself well to the dark haunted streets of London. Think of Unreal Tournament’s neon lights mixed with Gears of War’s dark environments. While they’re unique and often contain some of those coveted “wow” moments, the aesthetics don’t always work.

For instance, putting Nvidia, Flagship, and Dark Horse advertisements in the centralized hub towns just doesn’t feel right. In-game advertisements have been a source of contention for many gamers over the past year. However, when handled tactfully (see Rainbow Six: Vegas) I think it can work.

I don’t care if I see an actual Pizza Hut ad instead of a generic Pizza billboard. If anything, I think it can add to the immersion. However, using the same four billboards across the game in almost all the hub towns doesn’t seem to do anything except increase developer royalties. They needed to treat this very tactfully. That said, it may be indicative of the fact that Flagship is partnered with EA on Hellgate’s ads.

Besides the product placement, Hellgate is a very loot-centric game. The loot scales from four different echelons – normal, uncommon, rare, and unique. Looting gear from each dungeon’s randomized bosses adds a whole new level of replayability rivaled only by Diablo. Also, after you complete the game you can replay the whole thing with an elite character, scaling monster difficulty and rewards much higher.

The downside of this is you have to subscribe to Flagship’s monthly service. The gist of the subscription plan is that players will gain access to larger storage compartments, guild creation privileges, and holiday-themed events and quests. If you’re at all interested in subscribing, make sure to check out the chart listed here.

The gameplay in Hellgate can sometimes change in a blink of an eye. For instance, a quest sends you out to rescue fallen soldiers, but when you get there, you assume command of them via a real time strategy interface.

You never know what tricks the lead developer at Flagship, Mr. Bill Roper, has up his sleeve. The man has one of the most coveted gaming pedigrees in the industry, having worked on such titles as Starcraft, World of Warcraft, and Diablo. It’s safe to say he’s learned a few things over the years, and his ideas have finally come to fruition with Hellgate.

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A few launch bugs mar an otherwise amazing game. Crashing to desktop, disappearing characters, subscription service servers shutting down, and jumping monsters that like to rubber band, to name a few.

It’s important to note that I haven’t run into any of these problems except the rubber banding monsters. It didn’t take away from my overall gaming experience, as it happened about four times in a span of about twenty hours.

These kind of bugs seem to be a disconcerting reality with any game of this scale. Gamers who played during the WoW launch may remember what it was like trying to open the auction house, not to mention actually play the game with the servers constantly shutting down.

With top-down, hack-and-slash Diablo clones making a comeback (we’re looking at you, Titan Quest), it’s nice to see the minds behind the original put a different spin on things. Hellgate offers what precious few games these days do–replayability.

The state of the industry is such that developers don’t want you playing any one game for too long. They want to hook you on the next IP they are working on, or the sequel to the game you just played. For what it’s worth Flagship seems to be in this for the long haul. I know I am.

Is this review over now? I could have gotten, like, five Shulgoth runs in by now. Man, the things I do for you guys.

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