Hatred is an isometric twin-stick shooter developed and published by Destructive Creations. I'm sure pretty much everyone and their dog and their dog's goldfish has head this one, as it did the violence outrage controversy circuit. We get these kinds of games - the Postal, Carmageddon, and more, of the world - every time there's a moral outrage against violence in video games, the capitalist exploitation of that outrage culture. But we're not really here to talk about that now, are we - what we are here to talk about is whether its a decent game or not, and mine's somewhat of a dissenting opinion, but I have to say, it is - up to a point.
"My name is not important"
We're quickly treated, upon starting the game and getting past the tutorial level, to a "gritty" intro cinematic where the protagonist, called the Antagonist in this case since he's hardly a nice guy, rambles off the kind of screed one would expect of a game that is fully embracing the "murder simulator" label. It's as over-wrought as anyone might expect, though much less offensive than it has been made out to be in the mass media (no doubt to satisfy the pushing of that violence outrage agenda the game is trying to capitalize on). Actually, I found myself, as I played, somewhat perplexed ny the Adults-Only rating given to it by the ESRB - no doubt in response to social pressures - because I have played much more violent games at the M rating. Hell, Die by the Sword featured as realistic a depiction of dismemberment and disembowelment as you were going to get with the graphics of the time, and it only got an M.
Let's not delude ourselves here, it's the "unwholesomeness" of the theme that is the reason for the rating, not the actual content, which don't get me wrong, is violent, but no more so bloody than your average Call of Duty game. Arguably less so. The thing here though, is if we predicate that argument on the story and it's themes, you basically have nothing to predicate it on except the premise, because the whole story just functions as a framing device, and save for short, less-than-30-second-long cutscenes (or so that's my wager, I mean, I didn't time them), that's all the story you get. It serves it's purpose, but if you're playing for those themes, you'd actually be left quite disappointed. It's so overdone it actually to me came out more comical than anything else.
Beyond that, the story in and of itself is merely functional; as I said, it serves as a framing device and little more. It neither impedes the gameplay nor elevates it, it is simply there to provide a reason for the game to occur, within it's own little world, and nothing more. If there's any real criticism of it, it's more of the game it'self, and that is that the game is very short for a game in the genre - you're looking at not only story completion in my play-time above, but also some play of the survival mode as well.
Actually, if anything the survival mode is a bit of a tease that way, because one of the characters you can play as is female, and that to me would have been an interesting inversion of the much more common trope the story is hanging its hat on with its principal character, the Antagonist.
Let the Purification Begin
The actual gameplay on offer with Hatred is pretty familiar twin-stick shooter, though the isometric perspective is a bit unusual for modern tastes. No doubt it is meant to be reminiscent of the original Postal, but in any case, it's quite functional. In fact, when it comes to the core gameplay, I have few complaints: the interface is tight and communicates everything well, the movement is decent and flows well (with one big exception we'll get to in a moment), and the guns feel and sound impactful, as much as they can in a twin-stick.
The ways in which it break down are less in the design, and more in the implementation. For instance, as nice as the isometric visual style is, it has a bad habit of hiding your character behind scenery, and occasionally making the scenery difficult to suss out and confusion, which I would say reflects mediocre level design, by the by, and the movement system bogs down with the special movement. You have a vault and a crouch, and the crouch gets used once in the introduction, and then probably never again unless you're on a harder difficulty mode, since most cover seems as reliable as hiding behind a wet Whetabix, and the vault is just .. not reliable period. Sometimes it works, and others it does not and you just rub up against the fence. When you're hurriedly trying to get away from the entire US National Guard (or so it feels like), that is definitely not conductive to your survival.
There's some nice points in that implementation, too, however. As much flak as the game's gotten for it's execution kills and their "gritty" one-liners, the way that this works as your one healing method means you are healing without breaking game flow, and I actually rather appreciated this. Likewise, I found it a nice detail that unarmed civilians running around in areas where there's a lot of guns wouldn't remain unarmed forever, as it additionally means you have to have some situational awareness when it comes to your surroundings.
In short, its a fairly good design, actually, with some good ideas in it's head, but it falls down a bit on the execution, not enough that I'd say it ruins it (the repetitive nature and lack of weapons and enemy variety does that more than the design), but enough that it doesn't make up for those flaws and ends up somewhere in the insipid sea of "merely average" games.
It Looks Very Pretty
No, really, other than the technical gaffes, this is an actually quite astoundingly-good-looking game for an indie production, and I think that's noteworthy enough for it's own heading. The 3D models are well executed, and display a fair amount of visual difference between different characters (with the exception of the female character in survival whom seems to just be a re-skin of one of the civ characters). The game looks and feels very almost sort of Sin City-esque, with it's monochrome being the primary, but with splashes of colour for the guns, blood, and occasional neon or lighted signage. This does a good job of making the interactable stuff obvious too, since they will be colour in a sea of monochrome - though one wonders at the efficacy of that for the truly-colourblind (ie, sufferers of achromatopsia). Nonetheless, it's a quite distinctive visual style, and well-implemented.
The Problem is, that Comes at a Price
The technical gaffes the engine has - allegedly the at-the-time-brand-spanking-new Unreal Engine 4 - really do put a damper on the production values, however. Sometimes models don't render, such as the guns in the opening in-engine cutscene so my character was quite silly-looking as he did his Broody McMiseryguts ramble on how he was going to kill everyone, assembling weapons I prefer to think he merely imagined in his delusional mind. Hair also had a tendency of just bouncing around on it's own merry fashion in blatant disregard for any resemblance of actual physics, and there were quite a few times the execution animations would lead to all sorts of warping and clipping issues as the game tried to glue things together in such a way as to make them work. Its all stuff that - in my opinion - seems to stem from a lack of knowledge of the finer points of an engine, and indeed, the kind of thing you used to get with the launch title line-up on new consoles, since no one knew how to really use them to their best. On one hand, that's then not quite Destructive Creations' fault, since it seems more in my mind to reside with engine issues, but all the same, they chose to use Unreal Engine 4 - its hardly the only one out there these days, between it, and CryTech, idTech, and so on.
Another big issue with how new that engine is at the time is that it runs like complete arse on some systems. I luckily did not have that problem, but I've lent many an ear to readers with such complaints - for some it doesn't run at all, others get sub-30-FPS framerates, others too get really weird physics glitches and other issues. The Steam forums for Hatred are at time of writing replete with messages asking for technical assistance, and as such, if you do decide to get Hatred, I'd advise you to do some research on whether it will work with your video card.
The Survival Mode is Where the Longevity Is
Well, what longevity there is, anyway - harder difficulties to the story mode don't really change anything except the number of guys thrown at you and their respective health (they're bullet sponges on higher difficulty), so what the developers added since release is a meta-progression-based survival mode, with a trio of playable characters each with their own snippet of back-story that never comes up again, a unique appearance, and a variety of things you can unlock for them as you play progressive missions. It's a bit too grind-y for my tastes, but I can actually see some people getting rather into it. It's almost criminal it has nothing in the way of co-op play or even leaderboards though, and it feels shoe-horned into the gameplay at best, given how the text for the ending screen literally gets cut off in many resolutions.
Survival mode itself is simple but kind of elegant for it - a handful of maps, upon which you survive through progressive waves as best you can. In between each wave, you can spend some of your accumulated score for a variety of things that may help you through the next way - explosive traps, munitions, and the like. The only real complaint I have with the core design beyond the fact that it feels shoe-horned in is that the maps themselves feel quite small in comparison to the story modes, and as such, it can be rather difficult to survive in the latter waves through them, given it was the size and manoeuvring room on the story maps that basically let me live, since I could stay mobile. It doesn't take many waves before the place can be pretty blown apart, and there isn't much of a safe spot. Which makes for difficulty sure, but irrespective of that, they still feel small.
The meta progression seems decently-enough spaced out that it would offer some fair replay value to someone into that kind of thing, so I'm not very down on it, and could by the by see someone having fun in it, it's just not really my sort of thing.
- Monochromatic style probably an issue for achromatopsia.
- Constant flashing with muzzle flashes etc from guns could be an issue for epileptics.
- Fully-rebindable keyboard controls.
- Full graphics option menu, although some controls could be more descriptive.
- Subtitles option (under gameplay) - only includes spoken word though, no closed captions.