“My name is not important. What is important is what I’m going to do… I just fuckin’ hate this world, and the human worms feasting on its carcass. My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred, and I always wanted to die violently. This is the time of vengeance and no life is worth saving. And I will put in the grave as many as I can. It’s time for me to kill. And it’s time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here.”
Just chill and have a wank, dude.
Developer: Destructive Creations
Publisher: Destructive Creations
Released: June 1, 2015
Copy supplied by Steam
Hatred‘s controversy, in retrospect, was absolutely ridiculous. Having played the poorly designed, thoroughly pedestrian shoot ’em up, the idea that this is what got everybody’s panties in a bunch is something of a bitter punchline. I’ll say one thing for Destructive Creations – they know how to get attention, and they played the world like a fiddle.
Both the media condemning it and the free speech warriors rallying behind it were dancing on strings with this one, as evidenced when you finally play the thing and realize that, for all the anger, mudslinging, and begging for notable games critics to be potential in-game targets, Hatred simply isn’t remarkable in the least. For all its brooding angst and “ironic” glorification of mass murderers, it doesn’t come close to the videogame nasties of the 1990s. From Mortal Kombat to Postal to Grand Theft Auto, many have walked the path Hatred walks, and they did it so much better.
The nameless aggressor, who I will call Franny Strawberries, is full of so much hate, so much bitterness and anger at the world around him. With his long hair, trenchcoat, and perpetual scowl, he’s the embodiment of edgy angst, the sad bastard child of Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefield. Strawberries’ mission? To kill lots of people, and eventually die himself in a blaze of miserable glory. That’s his sole motivation, and the only real story you can expect to get.
Essentially a twin-stick shooter in which most of the targets don’t fight back, Hatred throws you into a series of maps and tells you kill everything. Civilians run screaming as you mow them down, gurgling in their blood once riddled with bullets. By merely wounding them (or kicking them to the ground), players can execute folk in order for Franny to regain health. A selection of mundane weapons are picked up along the way – pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, etc. – and the world is full of explosive canisters that can be shot to blow stuff up. Bullets and bangs are pretty much the only currency Hatred deals in.
As Franny progresses, stiffer resistance comes his way. Cops, SWAT officers, and soldiers will swarm in from all angles, with little regard to game balance, and can easily mow a player down. Hatred‘s loading screen messages actively encourage cowardice, suggesting wounded players run away and slaughter unarmed victims to keep their health up. So it is that each stage boils down to a humdrum game of cat-and-mouse, as you run into soldiers, shoot at them a bit, then run away to get your healing on. Rinse and repeat.
Optional objectives are scattered throughout each map – almost of all of which involve yet more killing in distinct locations. Completing these objectives unlock respawn points, and you’ll need to make them a priority – if you’re killed without spawn points, you have to restart the entire level. You need to earn your checkpoints, which are themselves finite resources. Given how lengthy some maps can be, this leads to thoroughly tedious repetition when you run out and get killed for the final time.
Hatred is, at its core, a bunch of Rampage sidequests from the original top-down Grand Theft Auto games – you know, those things you did in between the real missions when you got bored. Devoid of anything more sophisticated than a remedial distraction in a 1997 shooter, Hatred simply has very little entertainment to offer. Both its premise and its gameplay are archaic and – worst of all – not very well crafted.
Poorly optimized and home to frequent visual glitches, Hatred is an unpolished and stuttery experience, made worse by clunky controls and an environment littered with debris that Franny Strawberries gets stuck on. Many of my deaths were suffered because, while trying to run away, Franny got caught by a tree, fence, or whatever else caused him to become a sitting duck.
Executions sometimes don’t work properly, trapping Franny in vulnerable animations while failing to regain health. The mini map shows only targets and objectives, without any actual pathfinding details, frequently leading Franny into dead-ends. Cars sometimes spawn without warning and one-hit kill you. Most firefights turn into complete messes, with it being impossible to tell what the hell is going on while soldiers surround you without warning.
If you use a controller, then may God have mercy on your soul. Keeping the left stick held down to sprint in a twin-stick shooter is a special kind of discomfort, and the fact that executions and weapon switching are mapped to the same button is a confusing and horrible mistake. With buttons left completely unassigned, it boggles the mind as to why Destructive Creations felt like doubling the duties of the ones it does use.
Hatred at least carries a visually interesting look – even if that look has been cribbed liberally from other media. Showcasing grainy graphic effects and a monochrome color scheme splashed with contrasting electric colors, Franny Strawberries’ adventures in Murdertown make an impression on the eyes. Sadly, however, the initially impressive aesthetic swiftly becomes a clear case of style over functionality – the obnoxious amount of lens flare is highly distracting, while the black-and-white color scheme makes the already crowded environment even harder to navigate – it’s nigh impossible to tell anything apart.
When it’s working at its best, Hatred is little more than a competent shooter. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever played, at least. You aim at stuff, you kill stuff, like you do in hundreds upon hundreds of other games. The very best it reaches for, however, is mediocrity in its purest form. Any initial shock value it could hope to squeeze from the core idea is spent within seconds, and you’re left with a few hours of repetitive genocide that other games can provide in higher quality doses. I can’t help comparing this to Hotline Miami and laughing at how desperate this game is to be startling.
At the very least, there seems to be a modicum to self awareness to the whole thing. Franny Strawberries is as corny as corny gets, muttering about how worthless everybody is and making such cringeworthy quips as, “Birds of a feather DIE together.” If it wasn’t so utterly joyless in its representation of human destruction, there’d be a good case made for B-movie charm and maybe even something approaching satire. Sadly, for every hilariously awkward slice of dialog, there’s a fistful of po-faced action that fails to hammer home the joke.
I’m not about to condemn Hatred for its grisly theme because that would make me a hypocrite. I’m a horror movie fan with more than a few Jason Voorhees collectibles in my office, and I’m no stranger to the “torture porn” subgenre of films. I watched all seven SAW movies in a row – twice – in the span of a few weeks, and I found something to love about every single one. I’ve killed my fair share of digital civilians in many videogames without regret. I’m sure I’ll kill many more.
That’s really the problem, though. In a world where SAW can be watched and Saints Row can be played, Hatred is nothing special. Nothing special at all. It’s not even especially gory – most of the executions are dreary, with only the occasional melon-like head pops to spice things up – the same kind of pops we’ve all witnessed dozens of times in media over the years. All the outraged thinkpieces and spite-driven praises for the game have resulted from one opportunistic trailer, and Hatred idly skates on that opportunity without putting in any further effort.
A grim part of me actually looked forward to this. Good or bad, I thought we’d get something provocative or remarkable in some way, shape, or form. Instead, we got a prosaic and outmoded little pile of cynicism. Perhaps worse than that – we got a damn boring game.
The most enjoyable part of Hatred is when the protagonist grunts “try harder” at his wailing victims, only because it allows me to grunt back, “You first.”