"Hatred," the most controversial game of 2015, is here. It's been the most talked-about release of 2015 for good reason: The objective of "Hatred," from Polish developer Destructive Creations, is simply to kill as many people as possible, whether they are armed or not, to “purge” the world.
However you feel about violence in gaming -- or in media, for that matter -- the inescapable reality of "Hatred" is that controversy is about the only thing the game has going for it. "Hatred" doesn’t bring anything new, interesting or special to the table -- it has only an outmoded sense of shock value. It hasn’t been worthy of the attention it’s been given, but it will continue to infuriate and offend those who will never play it.
The game draws mechanics from classic games like "Diablo" and "Postal" (it feels like a 2015 version of the latter, quite honestly) but lacks any notion of character progression and doesn’t pretend to tell any kind of story. It’s a copycat gorefest so set on trying to shock that it’s forgotten to make a point. It tries to push its edginess in such a straightforward manner that you can’t help but laugh. The opening monologue hits you with this gem: “I just [expletive] hate this world and the human worms feasting on its carcass.”
Before we delve into politics or analyze what exactly "Hatred" represents (or why it’s been so controversial), let’s talk about the basic mechanics. You control an unnamed, burly man clad in a black trench coat in his quest to eradicate everyone he can before he dies. He arms himself with familiar weapons like pistols, rifles and shotguns, with grenades thrown in for good measure. He spits out lines so idiotic that I’m not sure if the writing is intentionally bad or the dialogue was ripped straight from the notes of an angry high school sophomore who just discovered black metal and cigarettes.
"Hatred" relies on your ability to take out members of the populace while simultaneously battling members of law enforcement who stand in the way (your character quite lovingly refers to them as “meat cans”). You’re not invincible, and you never have backup; it’s always you versus everyone else, much like a dungeon crawler/adventure game like the "Diablo" series. There are no health packs, and your hit points don’t automatically regenerate; the only way to recover is to execute someone who is “in agony” and about to die. Each time you hit the prompt button to execute someone, you’re shown a short cut scene of the killer carrying it out in any number of ways, from a simple gunshot to the head to something more personal, like a knife to the jaw.
Why? I guess because you can.
You move through a monochrome world, from residential neighborhoods to police stations, sewers to docks and forests, but the color palette ensures that the only thing that stands out is your red health meter. Environments don’t feel terribly varied, and no specific location is particularly memorable, though each does have a side quest or secondary objective of some kind (the main objective is always “Eliminate the Populace”). But even secondary quests involve killing everyone at specific locations. You rinse and repeat ad nauseum.
Indiscriminate murder is why people were so bothered by the game’s existence that Valve banned it from its Steam Greenlight program (where indie developers like Destructive Creations can garner support for upcoming/unfinished games). Or at least, the company banned it initially -- Valve’s head honcho, Gabe Newell, soon ordered the relisting of "Hatred" and issued a personal apology to the developers highlighting the importance of creative expression.
Beyond the controversy, there just isn't much there. There’s no interesting story arc, no interesting locations, no interesting tactics or weapons. An ultraviolent game can be more than just a slaughterfest: "Hotline Miami" is a challenge of reflexes, and "Grand Theft Auto" has cinematic storytelling and genius characters. "Hatred" is just trying to get under your skin with tawdry and tactless gore.
We have long accepted violence in games. Blood and murder are part of our most popular franchises -- there’s a reason Activison orders a new "Call of Duty" installment annually -- it sells. Even "Gears of War," which shows even more gruesome deaths than "Hatred" (seriously, you can cut people in half with a chainsaw) is acceptable. You can punch someone’s head off in "Mortal Kombat X." "Manhunt" was all about brutally murdering criminals.
But while the violence in these games is gratuitous, there’s one big difference: The people you kill are fighting back. There’s motivation to attack them or defend yourself in these instances. You’re fighting enemy soldiers, powerful aliens, criminals, demigods intent on taking your life if you don’t take theirs. You accept that they have malicious intentions.
"Hatred" specifically targets the unarmed, the innocent, the inept. Sure, some civilians will pick up weapons from fallen police officers to defend themselves, but they’ll still run if you point your own weapon at them. And they’ll beg for their lives as they run.
And you will have no choice but to execute them, because it’s the only way you can continue the rampage. There’s no great message here, no philosophical questions, just a sadist fantasy.