Hatred commits a truly heinous videogame sin.
No, I'm not talking about its controversial premise. I find the idea of playing as an innocent-murdering psychopath distasteful, but by the same token I vigorously defended its right to exist. Games should be free to cover any subject or source material, so I vowed to return and review the finished product based on its worth as a game with as few preconceptions as possible.
I try to keep my promises, so here we are and we have to face up to one surprising fact. After all the controversy, all the cynical provocation and all the knee-jerk histrionic backlash, Hatred is... boring.
As mentioned, the premise is exceptionally grim. Playing as a trench coat-clad killer, we stalk through the New York suburbs armed to the teeth and aiming to kill every living human you find -- innocent civilian or not. That might sound edgy, but it gets tedious fast.
There's no real story to speak of, no real attempt to explain or even hint at the cause of The Antagonist's nihilism. This could have made for a really interesting experience, but instead he feels one-note and actually slightly silly. He even wears a trench-coat and makes one-liners, for goodness' sake. Instead of a compelling and (dare I say it?) even disturbingly relateable character, he's a walking cliché to the point of parody despite the game taking itself deadly seriously.
What I love, however, is the art direction. Hatred looks utterly sensational thanks to its washed-out colour palette of monochrome and sepia tones punctuated by lashings of gore and some gorgeous explosions. It strikes a melancholy mood, matching The Antagonist's demeanour perfectly, while setting it apart from practically any other shooter on the market. I haven't seen a more effective use of black and white television-style visuals since Tranquility Lane.
Now let's talk about the shooting.
Hatred's structure is fairly simple. Each level has a main objective (usually "kill people") that you need to complete, while sidequests (usually "kill more people") on hand to unlock respawn tokens. There are plenty of innocent villains to gun down, knife, execute or even detonate with a limited stock of grenades, which are usually best saved for blowing up some of the destructible scenery. Though linear in terms of level progression, you can roam around some expansive environments, even if some levels lock you into battles with SWAT teams and the police.
Now, it needs to be said, I like virtually shooting people. And aliens, mechs, dreadnoughts, space fighters, tanks, evil bees, hovering burgers etc. since I've always had a soft spot for shooters. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, Hatred is not a good example of the genre.
It's not awful, in fairness. Once you've got used to the somewhat finnicky and slippery aiming, the first couple of levels are broadly satisfying. Weaponry feels meaty (especially the shotgun), tearing great chunks out of your targets, while destructible scenery is always good for a laugh. There are even a few vehicles to drive around if you can master the shonky controls. Yes, the setup might seem shocking, but on a basic level Hatred is good for blowing off a little steam.
For all of about half an hour, which is as long as it takes to realise how mediocre the whole thing turned out.
As mentioned, the aiming is clumsy but movement fares much worse. The Antagonist is slow and prone to getting hung up on the scenery, which happens just often enough to really annoy. When SWAT teams and soldiers press the attack from the second level onwards, this can easily result in cheap and frustrating deaths. Even those oh-so-controversial executions won't do much to soothe your frustrations seeing as they require precision aiming to set up. Good luck with that.
Then we come to the enemies and their cripplingly poor AI. Civilians just cower or run around erratically, whereas police and soldiers press the attack in the most brain-dead manner possible. Come back Hotline Miami 2, all is forgiven. Hatred tries to compensate for this by upping their health and damage, but all this does is to create unsatisfying bullet sponges to kill that seem to work against the whole cathartic idea of the game.
A crushing lack of variation seals Hatred's fate. It's short at only seven levels but the core gameplay never goes anywhere, rather it just instantly plateaus and refuses to present anything particularly new or interesting. Repetitious to the extreme, numerous cheap deaths will see you replaying the same stages, with only a few new weapons to look forward to in terms of progression. If you're able to stomach its basic setup long enough to play it, you'll be numbed into boredom well before the short playtime comes to a close. I often find violent games cathartic, but Hatred loses out to a small piece of bubble wrap thanks to its monotonous pacing and unwillingness to try to find fun in its edgy and shocking premise.
Then again, that Hatred isn't all that edgy and shocking. It's the same kills, the same thrills we've seen in mature-rated games for years. Manhunt and Prototype make it look like Candy Crush, while they're far superior games into the bargain. Hatred had the opportunity to make waves and make a statement, but its premise was clearly just an attempt to whip up publicity for a humdrum shooter that has very little to say.
Take that out of the equation, though, and we're left with the fact that you can buy any number of superior shooters for a fraction of Hatred's £14.99 asking price.
- Eyecatching and effective art style
- Satisfying weaponry, destructible scenery and great explosions
- Briefly cathartic for a few minutes
- Gets boring fast; samey and hyper-repetitive
- Controls feel finicky and twitchy; cumbersome movement
- Terrible AI and some frustrating bullet sponge enemies
- Isn't particularly shocking or memorable beyond the basic premise
The Short Version: Hatred delivers some fleeting sadistic satisfaction and a gorgeous art style, but quickly becomes a tedious chore. After all the controversy, it's disappointing that the finished product is mechanically flawed and otherwise completely forgettable.
4 - POOR: There's something wrong here. Games that attain a 4 might not be unplayable, but they will generally tend towards shameless mediocrity and a visible lack of development. Here we'll probably find rushed film tie-ins, skeletal games prepped for further monetisation, and copycat shovelware, devoid of charm, with only the hint of the trend it attempted to plagiarise saving it from damnation. That said, a sudden drop in price might just shift the balance enough to warrant a purchase, if only for padding one's Gamerscore.
Platform: PC (reviewed, £14.99)
Developer: Destructive Creations