Lock your children in the basement, barricade your doors, and pray to your chosen deities for mercy; Hatred has finally been released.
By now everyone knows or has heard of the infamous mass murder simulator by Destructive Creations. It’s debut trailer caused the press to explode in prudish horror over the a graphic depiction of a one-man genocidal rampage against a relatively realistic backdrop of suburban America. Every news site quickly condemned the game as the death of the industry’s unsteadily developing maturity. While the murder of innocents is a common feature in games such as Grand Theft Auto and God of War to name but a few, Hatred crossed the line by explicitly instructing players to kill as many as possible. After the ultimate culmination of the gaming world getting their enormous knickers in a twist around the depiction of pixels being killed, Hatred was never going to live up to it’s overtly lofty expectations.
The truth is, Hatred will not destroy the industry, nor will it return the medium into an immature state or cause riots in the streets. This is mostly because it’s quite boring to play and disappointingly average. Hatred is a fairly straight-forward twin stick shooter.
One of the first issues I noticed is that the aiming in the game is very unreliable. Shots would often miss targets standing at point blank range or hit objects in front of the bystander that I was trying to obliterate. Frequently I would lose my cross-hair in a hectic fire fight, which meant I was essentially defenseless until I could reorganize. That’s a real problem because your trench-coat-wearing antagonist is about as durable as a moist paper towel. Death happens suddenly and without warning, cars kill you instantly and once enemies begin lugging around rocket launchers Hatred becomes a serious pain to play.
I chose to use a mouse and keyboard for enhanced aiming control, but its perfectly playable on a controller as well. The main character, who is essentially Nathan Explosion, can crouch, sprint, vault, roll and perform hilarious spin kicks in order to blast through a level. The weapon selection is minimal, with a number of interchangeable assault rifles that don’t offer many advantages. Your arsenal only includes a handful of stand outs, such as the flamethrower and rocket launcher. In the latter stages you gain access to armoured Humvees with mounted machine guns, which offers a fun approach to dealing with crowds, but other than that, there’s little to get excited about in terms of your weaponry.
Moving around can also prove annoying, as your character will refuse to vault over objects, get stuck in tight spaces or suddenly decide to start break dancing without warning. When jumping into one of the numerous abandoned cars, the main character will suddenly have a tragic fit of epilepsy and wheel his way into walls and trees, occasionally leading you 50 feet away from your object at best. Cars explode rapidly, and getting stuck in a tight alleyway can prematurely end your spree, forcing a mission restart. While some of this can be associated with my own ability, it certainly isn’t helped by the controls on offer.
All of these issues are exacerbated by the fact that you never fully clear out areas in the game. Police will repeatedly arrive in force, so taking a careful methodical approach is discouraged. Similar to Relic’s Space Marine, the only way you can regain health is to execute the wounded, which is demonstrated in a fairly brutal series of in-game cinematics where Glenn Danzig uses his hunting knife or rifle butt to gruesome effect. However, as enemies soon begin to come in waves of 30-50 it becomes completely unmanageable to defend against. These situations usually end with a rapid death or running away to find a civilian to brutalize, rather than standing your ground. Once police begin donning body armor it can take around half a clip to kill just one enemy. This is where Hatred starts feeling like a bit of chore to play.
Some of this annoyance could be alleviated if Hatred has a slightly more generous re-spawn system, but this is not the case. The only way to continue the mission without restarting it is to earn re-spawn tokens by completing sub-objectives. These are targets in the map filled with vacationers, party-goers or statues that beg to be destroyed, but successfully meeting the requirements can be complicated. Sometimes the entire building would be evacuated before Jackie Estacado could get his murder on, or one surviving dude bro would get trapped in an impenetrable cupboard. Once these tokens run out, you’re back at the start of the mission. It gets old real fast.
What Hatred gets right are its visuals and physics engine. Using a Sin City-style colour pallette, wherein only bright reds and yellows are displayed against a Film noir grey-scale, makes those finer moments pop with splendour. It can look downright chilling when you are left alone in a blood-filled house with a few police lights flashing in the background. Hatred also mimics Red Faction Guerrilla with a meaty destruction engine that allows you to plough cars into houses with a satisfying crumble. When it all comes together, Hatred demonstrates that, while cheesy and clunky, it can actually be a blast to play. Enemies react well to taking hits, fire spreads through destroyed environments and the chaotic firefights can feel exciting and tense. Its a shame the tone of the game doesn’t fit with these successful elements. Unfortunately it also suffers from pretty poor performance on top end PC hardware, often dipping to sub-20 frames per second when the action ramps up. It becomes very noticeable when performing executions, often providing a frame by frame account of American History X. Twice the game began hitching for 4 seconds at time in random intervals which forced me to shut it down and restart from the desktop.
In terms of writing, Hatred may be the worst game I’ve ever played. Based on the main character’s one liners its very easy to mistake it as a comedy. A few stand out moments include: ‘The soil is hungry, the soil is also thirsty’ ‘I always wanted to die violently’ ‘Let me introduce myself. I am a man of hate and disgust’ and my personal favourite ‘Can you hear your guardian angel weeping? I CAN’. It’s difficult to finish the game when I had to routinely pause the action to laugh at these outbursts. It’s been said many times before, but Hatred feels like a game made by an angsty teenager. I spent the very short duration of the campaign (around 2 hours) waiting for the punch-line to an increasingly stale joke, but it never came. The slow, unpleasant realization that Hatred thinks that it’s being poignant hits home when you begin seeing references to Anonymous, or when the protagonist inputs the code 666 to blow up a nuclear factory. It’s not rebellious, nor is it morally groundbreaking; its embarrassing.
Despite what everyone said, Hatred isn’t bad because of it’s violence. It’s bad because it never gives you a real reason as to why it forces you kill innocents. Games like Hatred should at least attempt to justify the tone. An example of a similar mass-murder simulator that demonstrated how to give weight to your actions is 1997’s Postal from developer Running With Scissors. Postal is a horror game in that it’s haunting, makes you feel like a monster, and sticks with you after its uncomfortable ending. The music fits more in line with Silent Hill and surviving is not the goal of the game. It leaves a sickly feeling after playing, entirely within the goal of the title. Hatred doesn’t utilize its own moral ambiguity or turn the absurd reaction of the public against itself. It doesn’t have a message or a reason other than to shock. It’s a video game equivalent of a grind-house movie, but at least those films often have the confidence to laugh at themselves. What surprised me about my own feelings on the game is that I wanted it to be more horrific, more brutal, just so it could be memorable. It can be a sign of how games desensitize us to violence, a claim which is often cried by critics of the medium. However, it comes down to setup. Moments in games that make us feel awful take time to put in motion, usually by letting us get to know a character before something we do gets them eaten by a goblin. Without any character development by the lead character, or of the world he is destroying, the emotional stings of the game are non-existent.
Despite this, Hatred is fun to play for a few hours. Very fun in fact. Unfortunately this dissolves quickly. With some game-play tweaks, better writers and a dynamic tone, it could have been an awesome Punisher game. But as it stands the most interesting part of Hatred is trying to work out why it exists. And how you too can you can keep your hair perfect during a murder spree.
Much ado about nothing.
Despite the controversy, the violence isn't what lets Hatred down the most.