When Hatred was announced in October last year, I knew it was going to be something special. In January, I wrote down my thoughts on it. The post blew up, and was the first thing I ever wrote to be linked to on Xenosystems. I even got recognition from outside the reactosphere when the award-winning developer Adrian Chmielarz of The Astronauts linked it. Now that it’s been released, I feel obligated to give a full review of the game. I don’t really have a set review rubric, so I’ll try to break it down into general categories.
First, for my #GamerGate followers and try to disclose as much as I think I need to. I was gifted this game by a friend. I have no ties to Destructive Creations outside of my voting to greenlight the game. I am perfectly conscious of my political and social biases. I’m going to assume that if you read my blog, you more than likely are too. So without further ado, let’s take a good look at Hatred!
THE STORY: SHORT, SWEET, TO THE POINT.
Hatred shows its arcade roots by keeping the story to an absolute bare minimum. The player character, a tall, long and dark-haired man only known as either “the Antagonist”, “the Crusader”, “Hatred Guy”, or “Notim Portant”, commences a mission to kill as many people as possible. The story starts off with the tutorial, where the Antagonist does some final practicing for his rampage: some obstacle course running, shooting and grenade drills, and finally murdering a drugged-up captive just to get the feel for taking life. From there, we’re treated to a brief monologue, the (in)famous one from the very first trailer. The Antagonist steps out of his house, and the first level immediately begins. He starts in rural New York, but after hopping on a train to evade police learns of a nearby nuclear powerplant, which he then sets his sights on.
And that’s it. There’s no twists or turns to his story, no supporting characters, nothing. Hatred is very “old school”. The game, as I’ll elaborate later on, is a throwback to old arcade twin-stick shooters like Smash TV, Mercs, and Robotron 2084. Likewise, so is the story. You learn pretty much everything you need to know about the main character and his goals in the first cutscene. The other cutscenes, barring the ending, only serve to conclude the level you just finished and introduce the next one. The ending caps off the game and provides a solid conclusion to the story.
And really, that’s just fine for a simple game like Hatred. Twin-stick shooters don’t need complex, deep plots. We don’t need to know why the Antagonist wants to kill everyone and why he loves it. In fact, the game would probably be worse off if he did. Nuance in this case would take away from the stark, brutal simplicity of the game’s overall aesthetic. Hatred is a very blunt game that never really strays from the core of the subject matter: the Antagonist’s mission to kill as many people as humanly possible.
THE VISUALS: UP IS DOWN, BLACK IS WHITE
I didn’t like Unreal Engine 3. Everything just looked ugly, both in stills and in motion. Some of the ugliest-looking games of the last generation that I can recall used Unreal 3. So when I saw the Unreal Engine Logo on the first trailer, I rolled my eyes. Hatred certainly does have the characteristic ugliness of an Unreal Engine game. However, like all the other flaws, it works to Hatred‘s advantage.
See, in Hatred, the player sees the world through the eyes of the Antagonist. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. So it makes sense that the world is nothing but a dull, generic grey. How else would a mass-murderer see things? Everything is ugly and dull and you can’t help but love destroying whatever you can. Indeed, the greyscale only makes the actually quite nice fire and explosion effects look even better. Indeed, while the world looks boring by default, it looks fucking incredible when you tear it to pieces with an automatic weapon. Indeed, it almost compelled me to destroy whatever I could in hopes that it would brighten up the screen a bit.
Another issue that works out quite well for Hatred is the limited amount of NPC models. I’d imagine that since this game was made in Poland over the course of 7 months, it didn’t have the largest budget. It certainly shows in the NPCs. For all the talk of the game being a “Neo-nazi murder simulator” I couldn’t make out the race or gender of the people I was gunning down at all. The women all had short hair, more than likely due to the physics of long hair being difficult as shown by the Antagonist’s own raven locks. The greyscale world made it hard to figure out who was black and who was white. And that actually fits with the Antagonist’s views perfectly. To him, everyone looks the same. That’s why killing people is so easy to him. There’s nothing special or remarkable about his targets. There’s not supposed to be.
All of that aside, there are some visual issues I just can’t look past. When you perform an execution near a wall, the camera can get fairly glitchy, and bodies can clip into walls and debris. Hopefully this can get patched, but I’m not sure. There is also the matter of various “clever” advertisements that really take me out of the experience and kill my immersion in the game. I’ll get to them later.
The game’s physics and animations are actually excellent. It’s one of those cases where the game looks infinitely better in motion than it does in screenshots. Bodies respond fairly realistically to being shot, barring the armored enemies who will flail wildly as you continue to pump them full of lead in a darkly hilarious animation. Buildings fall apart perfectly, crumbling into rubble. Destruction hasn’t been this fun in years.
Overall, despite having some glaring flaws, the visuals for Hatred are surprisingly good, especially considering the short time it took and low budget it presumably had. In some portions, it looks just as good, if not better than Firaxis’s isometric strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There’s a certain artisianship to Hatred, and a clear theme in the design. That’s something I think a lot of games today are missing.
GAMEPLAY: A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Hatred is a classic isometric twin-stick shooter. Your goal is to either get from point A to point B, or to kill X amount of civilians/law enforcement. Along the way there are bonus objectives, where you have to kill a certain number of people at a certain location or kill a certain person, and you’re rewarded with additional respawn points. You have a limited number of respawn points before you have to start the entire level all over again.
Combat is actually pretty fun- the destructive environment forces you to really think on your feet and keep moving at all times. The difficulty ramps up fast, so get used to ducking and weaving from cover to cover, keeping an eye on the radar to know where enemies and civilians (who you can execute to restore health) are. The firefights are fast-paced and frantic, and a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the gameplay has a few major issues. First off, the controls can feel clunky and awkward. The Antagonist is not as smooth and easy to control as trailers make it look. The drivable vehicles are even worse, being a major pain in the ass. Thankfully, there’s never any forced driving levels, and the ones where you start in a car you can get out at any time. Aiming is just as problematic at times: it’s nearly impossible to fire from an elevated position down to an enemy on the lower end. There’s also the matter of only being able to carry three guns at a time. For such an old-school game, it’s frustrating to see Hatred use one of my least favorite mechanics in modern shooters. Hatred does have one other flaw that comes from being a twin-stick arcade shooter: it’s repetitive as SHIT. Those objectives I listed earlier? Hope you like them because that’s pretty much all you ever do. I get that it goes with the territory, but at the very least couldn’t we have gotten something new?
Even if the missions are boring, the level design sure isn’t. Each level is either designed to feel like a real area or provide a fun break from ordinary levels. Every building can be entered, meaning that you can spend hours just exploring. The only downside is that there aren’t hidden secrets, so often times the exploring is all for nothing. It is still fun, though. Sometimes looking at the environment is great on its own.
AUDIO: A LOT FROM A LITTLE
There’s not much to say about Hatred audio-wise. The soundtrack is all dark ambient, composed by Adam Skorupa. It’s remarkably good, to the point where Destructive Creations even made a video to showcase his vision. But as good as dark ambient is, it’s still just dark ambient. I was expecting something a little less subtle, maybe a mix of industrial, death, sludge, and black metal. Instead, we only get one song in the credits by a band called Iperyt. It’s not all that great, really. Personally, I’ll hold out for mods introducing a better soundtrack.
The rest of the sound isn’t anything out of the ordinary. The guns and explosions are all nice and loud. The voice acting, done by actors whose other works I can’t find, is fairly inconsistent. Some NPCs beg for their lives convincingly, others don’t. The Antagonist’s gruff, raspy voice sometimes sounds menacing, other times it seems laughable. At one point I was pretty sure I could hear his Polish accent slipping through. It’s nothing particularly great, but hardly awful either.
A TALE OF TWO HATREDS
Ultimately, the game’s biggest issue comes from its identity crisis. There really are two Hatreds. One is a fun twin-stick shooter where you destroy everything in your path all with a flavor of grim comedy. The other is a bleak, nihilist experience designed to disturb you and make you uncomfortable. And Hatred really can’t decide which one it wants to be.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Early on in the first level, I shot a woman. She fell to the ground. I closed in for the execution. She was crying, begging not to die, and The Antagonist just casually shot her a few times, like she was nothing. As the killing continued, I heard him say “Only my weapon understands me,” a direct quote from Postal 2. So I went from a genuinely disturbing scene to a clever shout-out that made me chuckle. There was some serious mood whiplash, to say the least.
Another good example would be the shift in tone between two levels. On one level, you start in a hijacked SWAT truck with the goal of killing 100 people. You have the bonus goals of using a switchboard to trigger a train crash and disrupting an arms deal to kill everyone there. When you kill 100 people, you then have to move on to the train station, where you then need to fight off a certain number of law enforcement and national guard. The entire level feels grounded in reality- it would be quite easy to kill a large number of people at a train station if you really wanted to. There’s a feeling of discomfort.
The next level, though, is the middle of a town. You start the level by disrupting a political rally, and your goal is again to kill a certain number of people. This time, however, the bonus goals are to kill the candidate fleeing the rally, break into a bank and burn all the money in it, go to the release of the latest “aPad” and kill all the hipsters there, kill all the hipsters in the coffee shop, and raid a gun sale where people are selling automatic weapons, flamethrowers, and fucking rocket launchers (It’s pretty obvious this game was made in Poland, because good luck finding a pistol with a ten-round capacity for sale in New York). The town is plastered with ads that in turn are dripping with dry, dark humor. One that really stood out was a tobacco billboard that just said “FUCK YOUR LUNGS!”. Again, I felt like I had went from a serious game to some sort of comedy.
I’m chalking this one up to it being Destructive Creation’s first game. Hatred feels really experimental at times. It’s a very weird feeling, though, because when it isn’t feeling experimental, it feels like an old-school throwback. Had Hatred committed either to one vision or the other, the game would have flowed a lot better. But instead, we’re left with a confusing, disorienting, poorly paced game.
Hatred is a flawed, but still solid debut for Destructive Creations. It’s a bold, take-no-prisoners step forward that’s gotten a lot of eyes on the studio. Like it or not, Hatred has made a major impact on gaming. There’s a lot of issues with the game, but not enough to keep it from being an ultimately enjoyable experience. I would almost certainly recommend Hatred to anyone wanting a fun shoot-’em-up or someone looking for a grimdark experience outside of Warhammer 40,000. As of now, it’s 20 bucks on steam, which is a pretty nice price. Now then, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some old school black metal.