This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Hatred.
I know I don't usually use screenshots or footage of the games I review in Zero Punctuation, because I wouldn't want anyone to get some misguided impression that I know what the fuck I'm doing, but I'm going to make an exception in this case and share with you my first impression of Hatred.
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Yep, you can see what all the controversy was about now, can't you? That fiery orange text could cause some real emotional damage to a pyrophobe or an Irish separatist.
Yes, Australia continues its valiant efforts to rescue its beer-swilling, thong-wearing, spouse-beating population from moral degeneracy, and I, in turn, continue to fight the power with daring guerrilla tactics like Steam codes. Just call me "Play Guevara". Here comes my attempt to break the land speed record by going from zero to totally minge-squirtingly obvious in just eight words: "Try banny game make people wanty game more". Hatred went straight to the top of the sales chart the day it came out and you know damn well it wasn't for its innovative gameplay or its heart-warming love story about a combat boot trying in vain to reunite with a concrete pavement.
Hatred's protagonist is quick to claim that his name is not important, although I feel the teen gossip magazines would disagree so let's just call him "Jeffrey Cuddletrousers". Jeffrey has finally grown tired of people taking the piss out of his hairdo by calling him 'madam' at the checkout of the trenchcoat and death metal shop, and decides that, weighing up all the pros and cons, the logical way forward would be to murder the entire world.
So he emerges from his shack, dressed for a Texan wedding, and starts racking up the body count. You might call it a sick power fantasy and I would reply: "Well, yeah. That's why it's funny." I picture some spindly angst-ridden teenager seeing something like this in their head moments before they burst into a McDonalds, drop their dad's revolver, and shoot themselves in the kneecap, and that makes me laugh. Am I a bad person? Yes, but not because of that. Maybe if Jeffrey Cuddletrousers had had an ounce of humanity that could make him the slightest bit relatable the game might have been disturbing. But I don't see how anyone can take him seriously long enough to be disturbed, with his Cookie Monster voice and his "Cousin Itt from The Addams Family" hair.
He was certainly difficult to take seriously when I was playing as him as he seemed to have the most tremendous difficulty navigating the hated doorways of this rotting so-called civilization. Because it's isometric. So while it does very effectively replicate the appearance of The Sims going through an awkward phase, it's not so good at making it clear where everything is in relation to everything else. Which certainly isn't helped by the deliberate stark monochrome look, so interpreting the visuals can sometimes be like trying to read a Sin City comic that's been photocopied twelve times. A button to rotate the world might have been nice and might have helped us figure out if that cop is shooting because he has line of sight on us or because he's being tormented by a refrigerator that refuses to keep its hands where he can see them.
Also, the concept of jumping over things is not something that I think should still be giving anyone trouble in the field of game design; I thought we have that done from Mario 1 but 'sprint at low cover to jump over it' is the kind of design that leads to the headline "deranged killer brought down while attempting to mate with hedge".
What might also have made the game disturbing is if any of your victims showed any sign of not wanting their skulls cracked like dogfood piñatas. Sure, they scream and run away when they see Jeffrey Cuddletrousers, but when they all stand around in groups about fifty yards away like a herd of wildebeest, confident that there can't possibly be a lioness around anymore because there's all this long grass in the way.
Don't think the shitty AI makes it easy though, enemies with guns seem to be so offended by your piss-poor demonstration of kill-crazy that they need to show you how it's done, and will start shooting before they're even in your field of view. So the best way to locate the enemy is to walk out into the open and see if you end up with more holes than the average clarinet.
A large group of armed enemies becomes absolute chaos, and since enemy gunfire sounds exactly like your own, I kept running out of ammo and not noticing. So I'd be standing there pointing gun fingers at sergeant Bignuts, thinking "blimey, this guy is soaking it up", before realizing the bullets were coming out of rather than going into him, and I now had Philly cheesesteak instead of a bottom half. Here's my pro strategy though: start a big fire, then hide behind something on the far side of it and watch the entire highly trained police force enroll for Caveman Lessons 101: "Fire hot, ow".
Nevertheless, Hatred remains quite hard. In fact, it's an anagram of 'quite hard' with a Q-U-I left over for when it's quitting time. Bam! I wonder if that's rather going against the whole "revel in gleeful anarchy" thing. Yeah, you can start off mowing down innocents at your leisure, but eventually the opposition will get stiff and you'll actually have to start thinking, spree killers being well known for their sterling logic and forward planning ability. Could it be that Hatred is in fact a morally upstanding game in disguise, trying to teach us the important lesson that violence will only ever be met with more violence, as well as shitty AI and bad haircuts? Possibly, but then again, this is a game where you execute people to regain health, so I guess it's also sending the message that stamping on an innocent person's head until it bursts is the best way to appease the little pixies, who will come and plug up all your bullet holes with magic gumdrops.
Hatred's short, but it's as long as it needs to be. That is, any length at all. Jeffrey Cuddletrousers could have shot one guy and then briefly waved his bum around and the game would still be as long as it needed to be. It doesn't matter that the design's shit and that the story's inane because Hatred isn't an entity in itself. It's the latest incarnation of "The Game" that always appears when concerns about video game content enter the popular discourse. It was called Postal last time.
We live in an age where mass communication has counterintuitively turned all attempts at verbal debate into a basketball game where the teams are on different courts, and stand around a basket racking up meaningless points and throwing shit over the dividing wall. The only way an individual can safely express their politics these days is to anonymously spend money. Hence why homophobic pizza joints can mysteriously accrue a million dollars in donations. Hatred exists merely as a maypole for those wishing to defy the cultural nannies who want to tell them they can't have it until they learn to wipe their bottoms properly.
So two groups of affluent middle-class people annoy each other, Hatred makes tons of money, and the world at large gives less of a toss than a quadriplegic shot putter. Good night!
- Hated stuff before it was cool
- Thankfully we skipped the part where Jeffrey posts a YouTube video and circulates a manifesto about how much he hates people who have sex
- The obvious solution is to sell more guns and ban death metal