Author’s Note: Since the developers pulled the game from Australian Steam for… reasons? I was (thankfully) unable to purchase a copy for review – many thanks to Kyoji Shirakani for giving me access to a copy. I use to term “thanks” loosely here, Kyoji.
I’m not entirely sure where to start, so let’s take a quick look at what “Hatred” actually is; Google defines hatred as “intense dislike; hate.” The game Hatred casts you as the villain who marauds his way through Generic American Setting #4, intensely disliking everyone around him with firearms and explosives. The game’s premise is also its core narrative, never caring to go beyond the idea of “EVERYONE SUUUUUUUUUUUUCKS” or giving any greater context to the extreme violence that unfolds around you. To my credit, I did finish this overbearing monument to the fact that controversy sells. It took me roughly five-ish hours to complete the game, give or take, and I can tell you right now friends – that is time I’m not getting back.
“I HATE VOOOOOOTIIIIIIINNNG.”
There are games and movies whose stories focus entirely on the events at hand, providing contextual details that are largely inconsequential but still serve the purpose of supporting the main story. Hatred is not one of these and, in fact, has no idea what’s happening or how to build the world around itself. The nameless main antagonist and player character of Hatred, hereafter referred to as Shotgun McGrumpyface, has no real motivation. As an emotion, hatred has to have a reason for its existence, even if that reason is incredibly petty and ridiculous, or it simply comes across as childish. For all the context that Hatred gives us for Shotgun McGrumpyface’s intense dislike for everything around him, he may as well have been a mentally imbalanced thirty-five-year-old man-child. Perhaps his mother canceled his WoW subscription – who knows? Certainly not the writers, that’s for sure.
There really isn’t much more to say about the story of Hatred, if you want to call it that. It’s obvious that the developers weren’t just relying on controversy but banking on it entirely. Having a white supremacist burst into my house, and screech at me about a new world order run by Jewish Reptilians would have been more interesting. The design, gameplay and events of the game simply aren’t interesting or engaging enough to allow questions like “What is your problem, Shotgun McGrumpyface?” to go unanswered. If there is a point to Hatred, it’s that “this dude is irrationally angry.” Because as far as I can see, there’s not a single reason for me to cheer this guy on… except in the ironic sense, I mean.
I mean… My natural instinct is to try and “win,” so… stabby stabby?
Now, I can’t prove anything, and I’m sure that Destructive Creations will deny it if ever questioned. I’m almost certain, however, that Hatred‘s story started as a Duke Nukem-Sin City crossover fanfic. Sin City aesthetics aside, Shotgun McGrumpyface swears like a twelve-year-old who just learned how and uses it to punctuate his awful, awful Jon St. John style murder puns. Shotgun is, of course, a darker, broodier Duke after saving the ungrateful populace of Sin City, giving him nothing but hell in return for his efforts. With only his burning, intense dislike for humanity to drive him, he must punish these worthless maggots for the pitiful, titty-less victory he was given. Sure, that’s dumb as hell but at least my version makes it entertaining.
In terms of design, Hatred has less substance than a heroin starved junkie. At best it’s an extremely linear and boring twin-stick shooter, and at worst it’s a free-wheeling rail-shooter gone wrong. There have been games that have been so unimaginative in their design that they’ve been summarised as nothing more than “Go to [Place] and kill X many Z’s.” Hatred is the first game I’ve played where that sentence could be used to describe the whole game, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole. Every main mission requires you to kill so many people before you can progress, and the sidequests (which tastefully maintain that title) are just more of the same. Fifteen to twenty minutes of play is enough to see everything the game has to offer.
Assuming you can get through that much.
Playing Hatred is like a race against the game itself to see how far you can get before it degrades into the best slideshow of 2015. The framerate constantly drops over time until you’re teleporting bullets into your victims’ heads and traversing great distances in a single frame. The game also plays like a day-one Bethesda release; restarting because I got stuck in a wall or object was frequent, including within the first two minutes of the tutorial. The variance in weapons is barely there, and you could probably get through the entire game with just the shotgun if you wanted to (hence the name). The moment the game presented a challenge that took me beyond two continues, I almost couldn’t bring myself to continue and finish the game. It’s barely at flash-game levels of engagement and far from being disgusted, I was bored out of my tree.
The game had failed at it’s primary objective of keeping me entertained, but I didn’t want to concede defeat to a goth’s phoned-in uni project. So, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I cheated, and it was the most fun I had all game. To say the ending is disappointing would suggest that it’s somehow out of step with the rest of the game’s quality, but I can honestly say that it lives up to expectations. I don’t feel bad at all about it either nor do I feel like I missed out on anything by cheating my way to the end. If anything, I saved myself a lot of time and likely would have been more upset had I gotten to the end legitimately only to see this in the credits:
Fuck you too, Destructive Creations, give me my five hours back.
What bugs me the most about Hatred is its inability to follow through and deliver on the “grittiness” that the developers promised in the lead-up. The violence is obscene to be sure, as players are treated to several close-ups of innocent people being repeatedly stabbed to death, or even having their heads stomped to goo. It’s hardly “shocking” though, I don’t feel uncomfortable with what’s happening on screen and what I’m being asked to do. Some might argue that this is because a long life of watching and playing violent media has desensitised me to extreme violence, and maybe there’s some truth to that. The much more likely reason, however, is that the cartoonishly dark, edgy atmosphere that Hatred attempts to create comes across as being written by your most angst-ridden of teens.
For starters, the lack of a reason behind this mayhem means that I can’t empathise with the player character at all, on any level. When there’s no backstory or explanation for character motivations, it’s either because it’s inconsequential, or the character is so stereotypical that almost anyone can relate. If there’s anyone out there playing Hatred that can instantly connect with the main character without the game greasing your belief suspension, seek help. I have no idea why Shotgun McGrumpyface wants to do what he does; saying simply, “because I hate them” doesn’t give me enough. If that were all he said, I could maybe get into the idea that he was just a raging psychopath with a need to kill. Unfortunately, this idea is consistently shattered when he says the most cringe-worthy dreck throughout the whole game. To show you what I mean, here are just a few of my favorite lines from the game:
“One nation under death, I am genocide… But enough fun, I must get to the powerplant.”
(While at a train station) “This is your last stop… you fucking maggots.”
“Can you hear your guardian angel crying? I can.”
(After executing a female NPC) “You reek of weakness… YOU CUNT.”
This is how minors talk during online games to make themselves sound tough; that, above all else, is distracting from the “horror” of what’s happening on screen. More than that, however, said horror is meaningless without a proper motivation – this isn’t real life, the senseless murder of innocent NPC’s isn’t going to bother me. I have no connection to this world; these people haven’t wronged me, and I’ve no concept of how my actions are going to impact them, so what’s the point of it all? The game relies on the action itself to provide my motivation to continue but, as already established, the gameplay is boring, and I couldn’t care less about Shotty McGFace. Essentially, Hatred is only controversial on paper.
To lay the icing on this bitter cake, Hatred just looks bad. As I said before, the terrible framerate alone makes keeping track of what’s happening almost impossible. This is also partly due to the Sin City-style colour highlights rarely highlighting anything important. Since you’re the same colour as everyone else, who are also the same colour as 90% of the environment, you tend to blend in a bit more than you should. You can hold down a key to highlight everyone around you with a red outline, but it also highlights you in the same way. Add to that the fact that the camera follows but doesn’t center on your minuscule, white reticle and the game quickly becomes a visual clusterfuck that hurts your eyes and gets you killed.
I had low expectations going in, and even I’m appalled at how terrible this game is, and how easily it conned its way into the Steam #1 seller spot for awhile. A non-existent story, tired design by any measure, woeful gameplay, nauseating visuals and all of it predicated on the flimsiest pretext of “controversy.” When all is said and done, Hatred is basically just a terrible “Muh Grimdark Mass-Murder Sim 2015.” I bet there’re a lot of people who wish the Steam Refunds had kicked in earlier.