Hatred is not just the title of Destructive Creations' provocative twin-stick shooter, it's also a mission statement. Hate is the solitary emotion displayed by its slab-like protagonist as he guns down innocent people. More than that, hatred is the reaction the game itself so openly craves.
This is a game that wants to have the wider world clutching its pearls, wringing its hands and demanding something must be done to protect us from such a mean and nasty experience. It so desperately wants to be notorious and dangerous, but it's really the gaming equivalent of a stroppy 14-year-old slamming his bedroom door because his parents won't let him wear his Cradle of Filth t-shirt to Grandma's house for Sunday lunch.
"My name isn't important," growls our monotone lank-haired anti-hero as he tools up. "What is important is what I'm going to do". And what he's going to do is shuffle his way through a below average shoot-em-up in which most of the enemies don't shoot back.
Following a brief tutorial in your hilariously grungy basement dungeon, you emerge onto the streets and people immediately begin screaming and running away from you. After the obligatory pause during which the angel on your shoulder asks "Really? We're doing this?" you start shooting and the people fall down. You can wander wherever you like during your spree, but your attention is drawn to the mini map where specific locations are highlighted.
In the first of the game's seven levels, that means a house party, a funeral procession and a supermarket - basically, anywhere that might offer more targets for your impotent fury than just random passers-by. You can also steal certain cars and drive them, awkwardly, to get around faster. Inevitably, the more mayhem you cause, by shooting or lobbing grenades and molotovs around, the more attention you attract from the authorities and the harder they try to put you down.
Health is topped up by executing "people in agony" which supposedly sounded awesome and hardcore to the developers, but proves to be a clunky and tiresome business in practice. Aiming is twitchy and imprecise, so the chances of intentionally wounding someone to set them up for a life-affirming execution are minimal. Worse, if playing on a controller, the button for an execution is the same as the one for changing weapons. You'll find yourself wandering around, standing over bodies tapping the loosely context-sensitive button trying to top up health, only to find that what you've actually done is swap from your assault rifle to a pistol just as a SWAT team arrives.
The combat, for what it's worth, is horribly clumsy. Movement is stiff and sticky, and you're constantly getting snagged or blocked by scenery. The heavy-handed black and white visual style, enlivened only by admittedly impressive explosions and the occasional spurt of blood, means that it's often impossible to see what's in your way. That's assuming you can even see where your character is, of course. Even with the gamma settings whacked all the way to the top, this is a murky and incomprehensible game. The freedom of movement is welcome, but the world is so flat and empty that there's no pleasure in exploring.
AI is uniformly terrible, with civilians who stand around oblivious, and cops who line up to enter the same room in which you've already gunned down 30 of their comrades. What difficulty there is comes from the dubious design as enemies will often shoot you from off-screen, and damage indicators are feeble. There's virtually no indication that you're taking hits, let alone where they might be coming from. The red dots on the mini map are a better guide to what's happening that the main gameplay area of the screen. The fact there's a button that highlights enemies and items says it all. Something that should be basic player information is treated as an optional ability.
There's really not much more to it than that. As you progress through the levels, you'll find some new weapons and face increasingly tougher foes. Eventually, the game just spams you with heavily armed soldiers, at which point the gluey combat and directionless violence becomes wearying. In the end, it's boredom rather than nausea that will drive you to the quit button.
It's this simple unvarnished truth that really sinks Hatred's delusions of infamy: it's just not a very good game. If it were polished and fun to play, its free-roaming slaughter could possibly lead the player into some murky ethical corners, but it wouldn't even be the first game to manage that. As it stands, the only people likely to suffer through the lumpen control and one-note gameplay are those already attuned to its juvenile power fantasy.
Is the game trying to make any kind of statement? Possibly. If so, Destructive Creations has buried its satire so deep down that you'd need a pneumatic drill to find. In fact, a pneumatic drill might liven the game up a little. Considering its supposedly pre-packaged fearsome reputation, Hatred is actually laughably tame. Some of the execution animations are a bit vicious, and some the snarled one-liners use ugly language not often used in games, but the shock factor comes more from context than action.
And that's pretty weird. There's no reason games like Hatred shouldn't exist. In fact, for all their reputation as the modern medium most likely to lead kids astray, games have a spectacularly poor track record when it comes to exploitation, and developers seem unusually reluctant to venture into seriously grotty territory. Even the great cultural bete noire Grand Theft Auto sells millions of copies, and masks its transgressions under thick layers of winking irony.
It's a shame, as exploitation is important. We need art that doesn't just push comfortable boundaries, but steamrollers through them. That's part of how we define boundaries in the first place. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes "too far", and we don't know what that is until we've gone beyond it.
There are thousands of hours of exploitation cinema, from foul rape revenge flicks to grubby grindhouse efforts full of cannibalism, Nazis and torture. There are millions of nasty dimestore paperbacks, offering tawdry titillation and cheap thrills galore. There are entire music genres, from black metal to the dirtiest rap, dedicated to saying the unsayable and wallowing in offensive imagery.
In games? We have adolescent twaddle like Hatred, and when stacked up against true exploitation media it's revealed as rather pathetic. It has nothing to say, but more than that it's not even particularly bold or interesting in the way it timidly tiptoes over the line of good taste. It's not even worth branding with the Avoid badge, not least because you suspect the developers would take that as a vindication of their supposedly confrontational ideas and not a condemnation of their sluggish mechanics.
There have been more shocking and provocative things portrayed in the biggest blockbuster games than you'll see and do in Hatred. Maybe that's the point. Maybe this is all a garbled commentary on how normalised extreme violence has become in gaming. If so, it'll take something better than this tedious, glitchy shooter to ram the point home.