Version tested: PC
It's not about hate. It's more complicated than that. It's about bigotry, and misogyny, and the dangers of cultural traditionalism. It's about people, and what they do when they're put in an isolated environment over hundreds of years. Hate is a pretty small part of it, all told. The Analogue part, though? That's pretty spot on.
If you've not played any of Christine Love's games before, they're often thrown into the 'Interactive Fiction' bracket, although they deviate in a few interesting ways. Instead of presenting the player with a story that diverges a few key choice points, they instead make the game about the information the player receives, and how they react and interact to that information.
Digital set itself in an internet forum during the dial-up days, with emails back and forth between you and the girl you fall for. Don't Take it Personal... had you as a teacher reading the private messages of your pupils, supposedly looking after them in loco parentis, providing a critique on the increasing lack of privacy our electronic selves are afforded.
Analogue: A Hate Story is nominally a sequel to Digital, but it's of the spiritual variety. There is no concrete continuation of that tale of love over a forum, only a few thematic parallels.
Both of Love's previous games stumbled between what the player wanted to do and what the game allowed the player to do. With only binary options, there was no way to properly anticipate what you wanted to say, instead leading you into situations you didn't necessarily want to be in. Ironically, Analogue takes this conceit and makes it its own, establishing a premise that makes a certain sense of your lack of choices. You're tasked with investigating a Mary Celeste-type spaceship that has suddenly shown up a few centuries after going missing. You never actually board the ship, though, instead interfacing with the ship's console, and, soon enough, the ship's AI, *Hyun-ae.
There's a bit of a malfunction (there's always a malfunction) and the AI can't parse your text, so you're limited to digital input only. Binary choices during conversations and no search function mean that as you comb through the ship's logs looking for a reason why it's empty, you can only see what the AI thinks you want to see, which introduces the main mechanic of the game.
Since you can't search or tell *Hyun-ae what you're looking for, you have to look through the logs and ping her when you'd like to know more about whatever you're reading. She'll explain a bit about the people mentioned then pull up a bunch of logs relating to the one you were reading, and you carry on following the trail. It's quickly engaging, not least because these are the letters and diary of an entire colony ship, meaning there are dozens of little narrative vignettes to follow, and the writing is more than compelling enough to tickle the itch that makes you want to find out what happens in each case.
"Analogue is a game of binary choices, which might contradict the name, but the Analogue isn't referring to your inputs, but rather the people involved."
For the first half of the game, you're given a clear directive; find the Admin password for the console so that you can start getting at all the files that *Hyun-ae can't access. It's smart, because it means that while you've got a very clear purpose, it forces you to comb the logs for any mention of the password, and at the same time get sucked into the narrative that Love has created. And you do get sucked in, because, voyeuristic as it is, these people have laid out their lives in private correspondence and journal-keeping.
There's a certain irony in the fact that you share a perspective with *Hyun-ae, a centuries-old AI, and yet you're utterly alienated by the people you're reading about, who are from a much more recent time. The society, cut off from communication with anything outside the ship, has devolved into a tribalistic patriarchy, with two major families vying for control over the captaincy or, as they put it, the Empire. When all you know is one chunk of metal floating through space, the definitions of words become elastic.
It's this familial competition that drives the narrative of Analogue. It's mirrored when a second AI turns up, representing the other patriarchy, and starts saying all sorts of things that contradict what you've already read. The interesting thing is quite how violently what you've already read is being contradicted. In the end you're forced to choose who you believe, and to be fair to Love, both sides have a certain appeal.
Analogue is a game of binary choices, which might contradict the name, but the Analogue isn't referring to your inputs, but rather the people involved. These aren't topics that have a spectrum of responses to react with. The treatment of women as political pawns and servants is something you're either entirely supportive of or emphatically opposed to. And make no mistake: you're forced to choose between the two.
The problem is that's about all you are forced to choose between. The idea of having the AI only come in when you've found something you want to chase down is a good one, and in theory it works brilliantly, but in practice it's never clear enough whether this will be the log that you need to track down or whether it will just be another dead end. So you end up bothering the AI constantly, just in the hope that you'll find the thread that unravels the whole thing.
There's also a pair of arbitrary romantic choices tacked onto the end of the game that are both unnecessary and incongruous. Don't Take it Personally... was plagued by the same problem, and while it is in keeping with the anime visuals and by and large the visual novel format, it actively works against the story the game is trying to tell.
A few other things - like optional outfit changes for one of the AIs and unlockable concept art that's drawing even more attention to the aesthetics of the character design, rather than the individual - sour things ever so slightly, especially when the story is about the mistreatment of women and the role society plays within that. It's difficult not to feel like it's pandering ever so slightly to the very things that the game is rallying against.
But if you can put those things aside and focus on what the words say rather than how they're framed, Analogue is a story that's worth reading within a system that both helps and hinders the delivery of that story. It's never particularly frustrating or even challenging. It is, however, a little flat; apart from one dramatic blip in the middle of the game there is never any genuine thrill in interacting with it.
It's a game that doesn't have the luxury of distracting you with clever mechanics and satisfying challenges to excuse its lack of narrative. It's just you and the story and how exactly you digest it. If you're interested in dystopian sci-fi and intriguing mysteries and like getting angry about patriarchal misogyny, then it's certainly something you could enjoy.
7 / 10