Hatred is perfect fodder for “What other people think I do/What my parents think I do” memes–memes that would include tiny boxes for “What the media thinks Hatred is,” “What 14-year-olds think Hatred is,” “What the developers think Hatred is,” and so forth. But there’s really only one box that matters, and that would be the one in the lower right: “What Hatred actually is.”
Here’s what Hatred actually is: An isometric semi-open street-level shooter in which you kill designated numbers of progressively tougher adversaries before advancing to the next area. You have three main weapons–which you aim with an analog stick on your gamepad–as well as grenades, and the ability to duck. The basics are not terribly dissimilar from the first top-down iterations of Grand Theft Auto; Hatred is, ostensibly at least, an engine for quick, unthinking bursts of multidirectional fire, as opposed to, say, Hotline Miami’s trial-and-error kinetic problem solving. You can drive various vehicles, but they control like lead; fortunately, driving is optional, save for one stage near the end in which you control a SWAT van.
Hatred’s stark, Sin City aesthetic is irreproachable, and the number of destructible objects is astonishing. In too many other respects, however, there is precious little to say about Hatred: the action is simple, levels lack painfully in variation and escalation of arms, and frequent linearity only exacerbates the tedium. You simply wander through suburban neighborhoods and other mundane locales, mowing down whomever might happen to stand between you and your assigned kill count. There is no thrilling five-star moment in which whirring helicopters or SEAL Team Six members show up; the game’s idea of variety is to introduce armored enemies who don’t die after being shot just once. Hatred has you firing almost endlessly at the same six or seven types of victims for a few hours, and then it ends. Aesthetics aside, it is thoroughly unspectacular, and any primal enjoyment you may be having wears off by the third stage.
And so you have it. Hatred is a boring ‘80s-style arcade game with excellent visuals. There are dozens of better, cheaper games that do what Hatred does, which leaves one real reason why anyone might want to play it: Your primary targets are innocent, predominantly unarmed, uncharacterized civilians who run, scream, cry, beg for mercy, and endure brutal executions in order for you–the Antagonist–to remain alive. Unlike in Grand Theft Auto V or Saints Row, there’s not even the flimsiest effort to provide a barrier of unreality. Bystanders are not simple victims of collateral damage: You are explicitly told to kill, “cleanse,” and “execute” the innocent. Problematically, Hatred isn’t fun to play. Its attempted power fantasy comes not from the exhilaration of superhumanity, but from the slaughter in and of itself, and unlike listening to a Slayer album or watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this is not a passive experience. Best of luck to anyone who can answer the question of why Hatred is meant to be, in the developer’s own words, “pure gaming pleasure.”
Yet there’s an irony to Hatred. It might almost be a game worth clutching pearls over if the Antagonist never opened his mouth. But he does. Often. And while he exhibits a detached malevolence with his early one-liners, as you progress, there’s a pronounced air of Metalocalyptic silliness, as the Antagonist grumbles about tasting the blood of innocent and proclaims everything as “stinking,” “worthless,” or “pathetic,” with the same whining conviction of children who don’t want to eat their vegetables. He growls about how the only thing he hates more than politics is politicians, expressing his rage with all the murderous intent of a petulant Oscar The Grouch. The goofiness climaxes in the game’s final moments: the acting reaches for Tommy Wiseau-level arch camp, to the point where it seems impossible to imagine that developer Destructive Creations meant for its shrug-worthy Dethgame to truly matter. Hatred isn’t going to make mass murderers of anyone, but it still wants to be every mass murderer’s favorite game. The shift in tone from horrifying psychopathy to mustache-twirling supervillainy feels like an intentional joke by the developers, an attempt to make Hatred a new generation’s Postal or Hong Kong 97–and it might have been funny if the rest of the game’s particulars weren’t a semi-monthly real-life tragedy.
But there’s an even greater irony at work here, in that having brutally killed thousands of innocents, survived police retaliation, and laid waste to everything good in the world, even while the Antagonist devours scenery behind the mic, you feel nothing. Hatred is too repetitive to be exciting, too dumb to be frightening, too basic for you to feel accomplished at its end, too dour to be violently cathartic, too self-serious to engender ironic amusement, and yet still too childish to matter. It will be given more credit than it’s worth–all a game like this can do is provide meager table scraps to a ravenous desire already deeply embedded in pre-existing monsters, and that’s not a problem that treating Hatred as Videodrome made (new) flesh will cure. The fact that the final product fails even to be worth a primal psychotic scream of victory against society at large for the people it might encourage means it laughably fails even at being dangerous.
Meaning, essentially, it’s a nothing of a game.