Thursday, 25 June 2015

Steam Summer Sale: Damage Report


Ori and the Blind Forest first caught my eye at E3 last year, and when I saw it on sale I decided to pick it up. I don’t typically play platform style games, but it looks bloody gorgeous and I’ve heard good things.

Life is Strange is a title I was always going to get at some point, but I’m not really fond of the episodic release schedule. My intention was to wait until the entire game was complete, but when I saw it on sale I figured it was worth buying now. The last episode is due to drop in July or August, which isn’t too far off.

Despite already owning all the Homeworld games, I decided to pick up the Homeworld Remastered Collection, if only for access to the included ‘classic’ editions without any of the compatibility issues. I’m already playing this through and though I have a few issues with the HW1 remaster, I’m enjoying it a lot.

This War of Mine is a title I thought sounded interesting, but what I saw of the gameplay looked a little dull. I wasn’t too sure about this one, but thought I’d give it a go.

And finally we have Transistor, from the same studio that created Bastion. I liked Bastion, but I didn’t love it, so I wasn’t all that excited about Transistor. But at only three quid, I figured it was worth a punt.

Overall, I think I ended up with a nicely varied selection of games to keep me busy for the immediate future. At least until they fix the new Batman. Bloody hell, thats a mess.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Now Playing: The Witcher 3

There were times when playing The Witcher 2 that I wished for more of an open world experience. Because the world of The Witcher series is a rich, fascinating world, full of interesting locations, characters and creatures. I wanted to see more of it, and The Witcher 3 undoubtedly delivers in this regard. But I must admit, I now somewhat regret this wish, because though the open world of TW3 is a joy to explore, it also proves somewhat detrimental to the overall experience.

I’ve spoken in previous reviews about quality versus quantity, about the importance of focus and pacing, about how less can be more. Though its open world is split into two major zones (Velen/Novigrad and Skellige), each of these is massive and packed to the brim with content and quests. But did The Witcher 3 need so many quests?

Many side missions in TW3 are great, typically the ones which spin off from the core quests or feature particular characters. Why? Because they feel relevant and important to the story or series. You then have slightly more elaborate side missions which, though unrelated to the overall narrative, still feel worthwhile. And then you have the side quests that can only be politely described as ‘filler’. And there’s a lot of them.

It feels wrong to complain about too much content – but in this case, it only serves to dilute the experience. Quests frequently blur into one another. By the end of the game I had over 220 quests listed in my log, but a good 60-70 of these added nothing of value to the overall experience. The Witcher 3 is sadly bloated by unnecessary content. There are many ‘quests’ which are typically completed in 2-3 minutes. Some are unique, but ultimately forgettable, and many others follow a repetitive structure of say – find body/find key/open chest.

 
Did these quests need to be tracked as such? Did they need to be treated as ‘quests’ at all? Having everything added to your log and tracked, even if it’s just to collect some junk from a chest, results in a quest log that rapidly becomes more like an ever growing check-list of tedious and repetitive tasks. Yes, you can ignore much of this content, but it still clogs up your quest log until you clear it – not to mention, you’re never quite sure when a seemingly insignificant side mission will lead to something far more elaborate.

Not everything needs to be a ‘quest’. I’d have loved it if they’d just tracked the core and the more elaborate side missions and let everything else be there for the player to discover and explore on their own. The side content is also badly balanced in terms of distribution throughout the game, but I’ll talk more about this later.

The Witcher monster contracts, which I was really looking forward to, are also something of a mixed bag. Some are elaborate and highly enjoyable, requiring an investigation or preparation of sorts, but many others follow the same basic structure of – go to where monster was last seen/follow monster tracks using Witcher sense/ kill monster. I loved seeing so many monster types, but as quests, the Witcher contracts offer a fairly simplistic and repetitive experience. But what about the core quests and story?

The opening ‘prologue’ zone (White Orchard) is fantastic at balancing core and side missions in an area that feels just the right size. It’s well paced and serves as a great introduction to the open world nature of TW3. This zone leads you onto the ‘Velen’ arc of the story involving the Bloody Baron. These are also fantastic and lead to several interesting (and related) side quests. This part of the game feels perfectly paced with an appropriate level of side content available at your level.

Velen, however, is then followed by the Novigrad arc, which is where the story runs into trouble. I’m going to keep this review as spoiler free as I can, so I’ll try to be brief. You arrive in Novigrad on the trail of a certain character. In order to find them you intend to seek out another character for help. But this character is missing. Once you find them, they point you to another character who isn’t so much missing as indisposed and requires another quest be completed before they send you to find another character. Who is also missing.

Do you see where this is going? In order to find this character you must first complete more quests in order to find another character who is also missing and in order to find them you must OH GOD PLEASE MAKE IT STOP. This is the part where I had to quit the game for a day or two because I wanted to punch it. 

The Novigrad arc has serious pacing issues and frankly, just isn’t very interesting to play. Even though it features certain characters who I was pleased to see return, the Novigrad chain is really f**king tedious and needlessly drawn out. It was the only time in the game I began skipping through dialogue because I just wanted it to be over.

 
Thankfully, things improved a lot once I’d hit Skellige, and the core and ‘main’ side quests here revolving around the island clans were great fun to play and be involved in. From here, the pace picked up significantly and the plot, which had begun to drag, started to gain momentum once again.

These three separate arcs essentially compromise the first act of the game. This is followed by two more acts, although these tend to be more linear in terms of quest structure – not necessarily a bad thing, as by the time you hit Act 2, you’ll really be wanting the story to kick into high gear. And it certainly does!

Act 2 has some of the best moments in the game, moments that will make you laugh and maybe even shed a tear or two. With one or two exceptions, everything that follows from Act 2 onwards is excellent, and the pacing issues of Act 1 are all but forgotten. Some of the final quests do feel a little rushed, and I suspect quite a bit of late-game content had to be cut due to time/budget reasons, but the way the game brings everything together at the end is fantastic.

For all the flaws of TW3, it delivers where it matters the most – by providing a satisfying ending to the series. It’s thoughtful and perhaps a little bitter-sweet. It’s an ending with three main variations determined by certain choices you’ll make towards the end. These choices aren’t really signposted as such, and may not even seem all that important at the time, but they add up in a way that feels meaningful and has genuine emotional impact.

In terms of story and characters, The Witcher 3, overall, is one of the best written games I’ve played. The Bloody Baron arc alone is incredible, especially when you factor in the variations depending on your choices. The game has a fantastic range of characters, including what is probably the strongest cast of female characters Ive seen in a game.

The only character I felt needed more work was the main villain of the piece who, somewhat unusually for this series, lacked in shades of grey. Even when we learn his motivation – which is actually reasonable to a degree – it’s a little glossed over and he’s treated very much as a straight up bad guy when there was far more room to expand and develop his character.

I also think you’ll find the story far more enjoyable if you’ve played the series from the start. There’s moments at the very end of TW3 that touch upon the end of the first game, and if you’re new to the series it may seem like certain elements of the ending are introduced a little abruptly.

There are moments in the game when you get to play as another character, but though I found these segments fun to a degree, they are very limited in terms of gameplay or narrative and overall, I considered them to be somewhat unnecessary. Some characters played less of a role in the overall story than I would have liked, and I also wish a little more attention had been granted to particular story threads still outstanding from TW2. Some aren’t even addressed at all. Something for the planned expansions, maybe?

 
The open world in terms of locations offers a good variety, and when I reached the Skellige region it almost felt like stepping into entirely new game thanks to the change in scenery and music. Navigating the world is easy thanks to the fast travel points, but riding between locations is equally enjoyable. Sailing, however, feels somewhat unnecessary and doesn’t really add much to the experience. Oh, and swimming controls are irritatingly fiddly, especially as you flail about trying to loot an underwater chest. Your horse, bless him, also has a few issues when you call – tending to get stuck on scenery, or in one instance, spawning inside a house.

The Gwent mini-game is fantastic, addictive fun but also extremely easy. I must have only lost one or two games out of more than a hundred. It’s far too easy to bait your opponents into playing their entire hand in a single round. Also, once you start building up your deck, nobody can really compete. Another mini-game of sorts – horse racing (although it’s treated more as a ‘quest’ event) – feels a little tacked on and doesn’t really offer any serious challenge. It’s a fun little diversion, however. This also applies to the fist fighting quests which are all a simple matter of counter and strike.

In terms of visuals and sound, TW3 is exceptional. As I mentioned in my First Impressions post, the game can look stunning at times. Yes, are there certain moments, animations or textures you can scrutinise but overall, The Witcher 3 builds a fantastic, living world. The VA is excellent throughout – with the exception of the bloody awful loading screen dialogue – and the music is also excellent, perfectly complementing the experience whether in combat or out. There’s certainly room for improvement in terms of performance, but it provides a solid, playable experience and it does seem to gradually be improving with each patch release.

The economy of the game world is virtually irrelevant to the experience. Aside from purchasing upgrade diagrams to various potions or bombs, I rarely spent a single coin. With the Witcher set gear being the best, overall, you can get, there’s little reason to purchase or craft alternatives – and even then, you’ll find plenty of alternatives upon dead foes or in treasure chests. Food and herbs are required on occasion, but both can also be found in the world. Junk loot is everywhere in sight and able to be sold. By the time I was level 20, I had over 30k in my pocket and nothing to spend it on.

Combat is a major piece of The Witcher 3 puzzle. You have your two swords – steel and silver, various blade oils, magic Signs, a crossbow and a variety of bombs. There are no traps this time, which is a little disappointing, but overall, TW3 offers a good variety of offensive options which can be quickly combined to devastating effect.

Combat is certainly faster paced than in TW2. In addition to his dodge roll, Geralt can now also side step. There’s more emphasis on mobility during fights – especially during group battles. And there is some strategy involved in terms of managing groups of opponents using Signs or bombs, or applying the appropriate oils. The combat system is more skill than stat based, which means you can tackle opponents of a much higher level. However, these battles tend to be more of a grind than truly exciting, as you simply dodge and strike until you whittle down their health.

 
And really, when you boil it down, that’s all the combat really is – side step and strike. The animations are great, especially the finishing moves, but there’s no great variety in terms of combat moves. You do have a parry and counterstrike mechanic, but it’s rarely needed. Thankfully, by combining different bombs and Signs, and also by taking advantage of the environment, you can create quite varied and enjoyable combat encounters – but it’s very much in the hands of the player to take advantage of these abilities and vary their tactics, even though it usually isn’t necessary.

Over time, as you unlock new skills – different sword strikes or alternate Sign abilities – it does evolve into something a little more interesting – it’s just a shame it takes so long to get there. And the way the character level system works – by assigning skills to slots – just feels needlessly restrictive.

Whilst the game has a fantastic roster of monster types to fight, they typically fall into 3 or 4 attack pattern types, and their attacks tend to be quite choreographed, making them easy to avoid. The majority of monsters, for example, have a dash and lunge strike. It might catch you out the first time or two, but once you get the hang of the side step, you’ll never be troubled by it again. The open nature of the world can also play havoc with some fights, as enemies get stuck on or in scenery.

Also, because of the somewhat limited enemy attack styles and patterns, there’s very few fights in the game that really stand out, aside from a ‘boss’ style fight or two. Although there are some story based ‘epic fights’ they sadly aren’t all that epic to actually play.

And then we have the problem with enemy ‘aggro’. Enemies tend to have a set ‘range’ at which they’ll attack. Stray just out of this range and they’ll forget you exist. What’s worse, this range tends to have a ‘sweet spot’ where enemies just stand and growl at you, allowing you to whittle them safely down with your crossbow. It’s a cheap, boring tactic and not something I recommend, but it really shouldn’t be possible.

In terms of difficulty, the Easy and Normal modes aren’t worth your time. I played on Hard, but as I progressed, I began to wish I’d set it to Extreme. Fights around or above your level range offer a solid challenge, but often I was 2-3 levels above the enemies I was fighting. If you’re someone who likes to explore all content and complete all side quests, you will begin to out-level the content very rapidly. By the time I reached Act 2, the quests suggested a level of 19 or so, but I was already level 25.

Something else to note is the way TW3 handles combat preparation. Oils can only be applied out of combat, but potions (and food, bizarrely) can be used at will. These can also be fully replenished simply by meditating. Whilst I appreciated not having to scour the world constantly for herbs, with so many herbalists available, it wouldn’t have really been an issue. Why not let the player collect or use coin to purchase the herbs (which would also make money more meaningful) and create as many potions as they please?

Instead, each potion (and bomb) is limited to a set amount depending on its ‘upgrade’ level. I’m a little torn on this system, as it does encourage you to experiment with all the various potions, including the very powerful ‘decoctions’. I think I would have preferred it, however, if the more powerful, single shot decoctions were free to replenish, but the other potions were not – and only limited in number by player choice. I also found being able to only assign two potions or bombs to slots a little annoying, as it meant continually going into the menu during fights to switch things out, which only served to disrupt the flow of combat.

 
Another minor issue is the lack of storage options. I ended up carrying around all the various Witcher gear I’d crafted because I had no place to safely store it save dropping it to the floor and hoping it didn’t de-spawn. The level requirements on gear also irritated me a little – if I defeat an opponent 6-7 levels higher and then can’t use the reward because it’s rated 6-7 levels higher, that’s just annoying. And (due to the lack of storage) because I don’t want to lug the bloody thing around for 6-7 more levels taking up inventory weight, I usually just sell it.

And, as I mentioned, it’s very easy to out-level content as you progress, meaning many quest ‘rewards’ end up being completely useless. There’s also something of a shortage of side quests beyond level 28 or so. The bulk of the content seems catered to the 14-26 level range. This didn’t bother me too much because it left me free to focus almost entirely on the core story missions towards the end-game, but if you’re looking for challenging content towards the end, or even after, there won’t be much to do except sail to all those little points of interest in Skellige.

Returning to the idea of too many quests – it’s not just the number of quests, or even so many filler type quests that causes such a bloat, but more that this content is loaded throughout almost all of the first Act. If the side content had been spread more evenly throughout, rather than a massive chunk in Act 1 and barely anything in Act 3, then it would have certainly solved a lot of the game’s pacing issues.

It must seem like I’m being really hard on TW3, but when I like a game a lot, I’m all the more inclined to pick it to pieces. And there’s a lot to pick apart in a massive game like TW3. The question is, are these flaws, both large and small, seriously detrimental to the overall experience? I’d say no – but I must admit, they do impact the experience more than I would like.

Which is why, if I were to compare TW3 to TW2, I’d consider TW2 to offer a slightly better experience. Though lacking the scope of TW3, it does provider a tighter focus and a balanced pace. TW3 may be more expansive, but it’s diluted by unnecessary content and littered with small, but irritating design choices. What it does provide, however, is an emotional and satisfying conclusion to a fantastic series. And it’s interesting how each game in the series stands alone and plays in its own unique way.

The Witcher 3 provides an extensive and comprehensive Witcher experience. Even after completing the game (120 hours) I still want to keep playing. It’s flawed, but fantastic. It can be exhausting at times and occasionally overwhelming, but it always manages to pull things together and keep you on track. It’s bloated, messy, frustrating and wonderful. And for all its problems, it’s still one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

9/10

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

E3 Special 2015

It’s time for another E3 Special! I watched most of the major conferences live and caught up on the few I missed. Overall, I have to say this was a pretty good year for everyone. Let’s start with the Bethesda stuff.

They revealed the new DOOM which was met with loud cheers as the player chainsawed demons into pieces. I saw a hilarious article online condemning the ‘extreme violence’ and ‘satanic imagery’ and wondered if it was 1993 again. Are we still doing this? I mean, it’s a game about a space marine going into hell to fight cybernetic demons who shoot laser beams – what kind of twat takes this shit seriously? I guess it’s nice to know DOOM still has the power to shock.

It didn’t really shock me though. I thought it looked a little tame. Almost quaint, in fact. And I can’t say I particularly cared for what I saw. The demo had an odd piss filter to it which I didn’t really like, and player movement seemed strangely sluggish. Weapons were big, loud and as messy as you’d expect, but the constant (and not particularly varied) animated ‘kill moves’ were a bit tedious. I didn’t think the weapons, environments or enemies were particularly inspired either. Eh, Ill wait and see.

Dishonored 2! It was only a CG trailer, so there’s not much to say, but I’m pleased we’re getting a new Dishonored game. From what I understand, you can choose to play as (or will switch between?) Corvo and Emily. Which is neat, especially if they have different skills that let you approach missions in different ways.

I’m not quite sure how that will work within the story, but I was always more interested in the world of Dishonored rather than the story anyway. Also, will they be voiced this time, or will both be mute weirdos like Corvo in the original?

They unveiled a new mobile/tablet based Fallout game which looked kind of fun, but I don’t own a tablet or a smartphone, so... I was more interested in the Fallout 4 stuff which is looking pretty good. Okay, so in a lot of ways, it’s actually just looking like a somewhat prettier Fallout 3, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I liked FO3.

The new crafting and settlement building stuff looked fun. And there’s a dog! Who I’ll probably leave at home because his AI will be shit and he’ll keep getting in my way or running into fences. And I’m not sure about the ‘voiced’ protagonist thing. It doesn’t seem quite right and I wonder how much it will limit dialogue options. I think it’s the story and quests I’m most interested in, because that’s what will really make or break the game for me.

What’s next? Microsoft! They announced X-Box One backwards compatibility with 360 titles – sorry, some 360 titles – although if it’s anything like original X-Box compatibility with the 360, half of them probably won’t bloody work or will actually run worse. It’s a nice thing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not convinced me to upgrade to an X-BOX One. Hell, I can’t remember the last time I used my 360 anyway.

They showed some Halo 5 which is…more Halo, I guess, if you like that. There was a Dark Souls 3 trailer, but I’ve not even played DS2 yet and I’m honestly in no great hurry. And do we really want to see this turn into another yearly franchise? They ended the show with a look at Gears 4, which aside from the characters and weapons, didn’t really look anything like a Gears game in terms of aesthetic. It also had the annoying ‘press Y to look at cool thing’ going on far too often.

We also saw a new Tomb Raider gameplay demo, but it was really more of a long cut-scene with the occasional ‘press X to not die’ moment. I hope it comes to PC eventually, because I would like to play it. Even though I had a lot of issues with the last one, I still enjoyed it and would like to see what they’ve done with the sequel.

The only thing that really caught my eye during the Microsoft conference was a trailer for a game called Recore. But it was just another CG trailer, so…

The EA conference was so f**king dull it nearly put me to sleep, especially the moment they rolled out Pele for a mumbled conversation about football. Of course, you can’t just tell Pele to shut up on a live stage in front of thousands, so we all had to put up with his doddery ramblings until they could politely usher him away. Who thought this was a good idea? It was almost as bad as Ubisoft wheeling out some singer I’ve never heard of, who couldn’t even bloody sing. Wasn’t this a video game show?

EA teased a new Mass Effect. The less I say about that, the better. There was lots of SPORTS but I nodded off through most of those. Thankfully, they showed off two games a lot of people have been waiting to see – Mirror’s Edge 2 (or Catalyst or whatever, because it’s not a sequel or a reboot or just f**k right off, I’m calling it ME2) and Star Wars: Battlefront.

Battlefront looked really good, except it was one of those scripted Battlefield style demos where everyone plays as a team and you know matches with real players won’t actually resemble anything like it at all. Mirror’s Edge 2 is going all open world from what I understand. And that could be kind of neat, the whole ‘no levels’ thing.

But that said, the structured missions of the original gave the game a nice variety of environments and set-pieces. This included internal environments. How will the new game handle the transition between internal and external in a single open world? Or will it all just be rooftops with the occasional sprint through a corridor? I’m open to the notion of an open world Mirror’s Edge – hell, I think I even suggested such a thing back in my review – but it was the structured missions of ME that gave the game pace and variety, and that’s not something I want to lose.

Also, what did they do to Faith? Some of the promo shots make her face look really weird. Why did they need to redesign her appearance at all? She looked fine.

Ubisoft revealed another South Park RPG, but without Obsidian at the helm. I don’t know…as much as I liked The Stick of Truth, I’m not sure I care much about a sequel. They also showed off a new game called For Honor, which was probably the highlight of their show for me. Vikings vs Samurai vs Knights? Sold!

We saw some more of The Division which looks progressively worse every year and some more of the new Rainbow Six which still looks nice if you play with friends. Because if you don’t you’ll probably be boned. We also saw a new Ghost Recon which looked okay, but I think it was another co-op focused title which is no good for me because I have no friends. Thanks for reminding me, you f**ks.

Sony probably had the best conference. The Last Guardian looked good but it was Horizon: Zero Dawn that I was most interested in. Hunting robot dinosaurs in a post-apocalyptic future? Neat! Shame I’ll probably never play it because it’s PS4 exclusive. Well, maybe I’ll pick one up eventually, but not for just one or two games. No Man’s Sky still looks okay. Oh, and they also tossed in a little bit about Shenmue 3. No big deal, or anything. 

Anything else? Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had a trailer, but I haven’t seen any proper gameplay footage yet. And it doesn’t look like we’ll see any Total War: Warhammer footage until July. Oh well, I think that’s about it. The show is still going on so maybe I’ll see more stuff that interests me, but that’s about it for now. Like I said, a pretty good year.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Witcher 3

After 80 hours of play and clearing nearly everything in the Velen/Novigrad region, I’ve finally arrived in Skellige and it’s almost like stepping into an entirely new game. I know I’ve still got some way to go, and I think I’ll try to focus on the core missions for a bit. The problem is, every time I see a new location or point of interest, I MUST KNOW WHAT IT IS. So the review is still coming, but in the meantime here are some tasty shots -



Thursday, 4 June 2015

Free E-Book Promotion

For five days, from Friday June 5th to Tuesday June 9th, The Great Journey and Zero Sample: Fragments will be available to download for free! I really should make this more of a regular thing.

 
In other news, I’m still working through The Witcher 3. I hope to have it wrapped up and reviewed by the end of this month, but I really don’t want to rush it. It’s any easy game to lose yourself in, but also to burn out on.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Now Playing: Hatred

Hatred is an indie twin-stick shooter in which you play ‘Not Important’, a man on a ‘genocide crusade’. There are seven levels and the game can be completed relatively quickly (2-3 hours) if you ignore additional objectives and play on the easiest setting. However, this short length and lack of content is reflected in the budget friendly release price.

This also isn’t a game that really needs to be any longer. At its core, Hatred is a somewhat repetitive and simplistic shooter. It’s not The Witcher 3 – a game you’ll sit and play for a dozen hours at a time. It has more in common with arcade style titles designed for short, burst style play. As you progress through the game on one of its three difficulty settings – Easy, Hard and Extreme – you’ll unlock each level which you can then replay straight from the main menu.

There’s very little in the way of story or cut-scenes to skip (though you can do so if you wish). Even the ‘tutorial’ is kept short and sharp before throwing you straight into the action. Fortunately, Hatred does offer a solid degree of replay value as each level serves as something of a mini-sandbox, and your experience will be slightly different each time you play. The difficulty modes also offer some replay by providing a decent challenge, particularly in the last few levels.

Because though the shooting mechanics of Hatred may be rather simplistic, there is more strategy involved than you might expect. Using the sprint and dodge abilities to retreat and avoid fire is a vital part of play, as is crouching to take cover behind objects. The game often throws significant numbers of opponents at you and it’s easy to be surrounded and overwhelmed very quickly. 


Playing on Hard, I found that retreat was always a sensible option. You do have to play smart if you want to survive. And most importantly, you must use the environment to your advantage. Many buildings contain explosive materials which you can lure groups of enemies towards before triggering a chain explosion. You can also use doorways and corridors to create bottlenecks in which you can funnel your opponents in order to limit and better manage their numbers.

Ammo conservation is another important part of the strategy. It’s often wise to avoid shooting civilians unless you need to complete a particular objective, and even then, it’s actually more efficient to use your overpowered, door smashing jump kick – efficient and a little hilarious. Health regeneration must also be considered. You can only regain health by executing wounded opponents, but doing so can leave you vulnerable.

Planning how to approach each level can also be important – knowing where ammo, guns or amour are located and being ready to tackle the inevitable wave of tougher enemies in the form of SWAT or the Army. There’s an interesting checkpoint system whereby every ‘side’ objective you complete unlocks a new (single use) respawn point. This is something of a risk/reward system. By attacking each of these objective locations you’ll attract the attention of a lot of police, so it’s best to try to clear them as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to unlock the respawn point and then flee before more enemies arrive.

Once you’ve spent each respawn point you’ll have to restart the entire level, another mechanic that makes Hatred feel more like an arcade style title – the only thing that’s really missing is a score or time attack style option for each of the levels. In terms of weapon and enemy variety, you get a solid, if limited selection. Thanks to some great animations, guns feel satisfying to use and have a nice ‘punch’ to them, as you riddle your opponents with bullets or blast holes through walls. The real highlight, however, is the fantastic flame-thrower!

You also have three grenade types (and enemies will use grenades too, so be warned) including a flash-bang, which has the very nice touch of subduing all of the sound in the game when one goes off near you. It’s a neat little detail, and there are many neat little details spread throughout Hatred if you care to look – radio chatter from police, TV images, billboard signs etc.


The police and the army aren’t the only threat you’ll face though, as some civilians carry guns and will even stop and pick up dropped weapons to fight you. But mostly, civilians exist to top up your health and, aside from certain objectives to ‘kill X amount’, you’ll mostly ignore them. I mentioned how it’s important to play in an ‘efficient’ manner, and that’s also true of the health replenishing execution scenes.

It would have been very easy for the developers to make these scenes drawn out and gruesome – not so different to a Mortal Kombat fatality – but they sensibly kept them short and to the point. Hatred is quite a fast paced game, and anything that takes you out of the action for a moment can be a bit irritating. Thankfully, the scenes don’t always trigger when you execute, and there’s even the option to disable them entirely, which you may want to do as they can get a bit repetitive over time.

Mechanically, the violence on display is rather tame compared to other titles. Hatred certainly doesn’t glorify it, or justify it in any manner. It’s handled in a very cold, efficient and detached style. I’ve seen some criticism of Hatred for lacking a ‘statement’ or a ‘meaning’ to its violence, but Hatred isn’t attempting to make any kind of statement and frankly, no game should be expected to.

With regards to story, Hatred is so over the top and silly that you really can’t take it seriously. ‘Not Important’ growls cheesy one-liners, cut-scenes are hilariously bad – in particular the ending, which really should win an award. I honestly can’t remember the last time a game made me laugh so much. It plays everything pretty much completely straight, which might confuse people looking for more of a nudge/wink at the camera style experience. Hatred is very much self-aware of how ridiculous it is in terms of character/story and it absolutely revels in it.

Graphically, Hatred employs a stylish black/white colour clash of flashing lights and neon signs. There’s a slight grain across the picture giving the feeling of CCTV footage. As an aesthetic choice I like it, although at times, during the fast paced action, it can be hard to spot your targets if they’re bunched up against a dark background (although there is a key to highlight objects and enemies so it’s not a major issue). The levels have a fantastic degree of destructibility allowing you to blast (or drive!) through walls, setting off explosions that completely demolish structures. It’s a lot of fun.

In terms of sound and music, Hatred is also quite impressive. It would have been easy to drown out each level in thumping music but instead, the developers took a different approach. The soundtrack is wonderfully subdued, throbbing away in the background, creating a great sense of tension and unease. It ramps up where appropriate, but never detracts or more importantly distracts from the action.

 

Now I’ve talked a lot about the positives of the game, let’s look at some of the negatives. First up is performance. I’m running the game on High rather than Ultra and getting a solid, if not particularly impressive 30-45 FPS. Playable, but I’d expect better so I hope this gets patched. I’ve not seen too many bugs, although there are times when your character can get ‘stuck’ on scenery, and one time a vehicle I was driving flipped over for no apparent reason. Vehicle controls are also pretty awkward, but thankfully you won’t spend much time in them. 

Although I liked the respawn system it can sometimes drop you back into an area surrounded by cops resulting in an almost instant and unfair death. Some enemies, such as the army guys, can also shoot from just beyond your maximum vision range, which feels a little cheap. AI can also be a bit wonky at times it’s possible to ‘line’ enemies up in a bottleneck and get them to shoot one another.

My main issue with Hatred is really just how limited it is. Although I enjoyed it and will likely play it again a few more times, it really needed more in terms of modes, weapons and enemy variety. Like I said, some kind of score or time attack system, or perhaps an ‘endless survival’ style mode. I believe mod tools are planned, so perhaps we’ll see something along those lines in the future, if not from potential DLC, then from a fan creation.

And, uh, honestly, I can’t really find many other negatives. As a budget indie title, Hatred delivers exactly what it promises – a short, challenging, if somewhat repetitive, twin-stick shooter. If that’s all you’re expecting, then you won’t be disappointed. The gameplay mechanics are solid and there’s a limited but fair degree of replay value. The destruction physics are great and the graphics, though a matter of subjective taste, fit the tone of the game perfectly. Thanks to an element of strategy, it’s not entirely mindless, although ‘tasteless’ is another matter. Hatred certainly won’t be a game for everyone, but it’s not trying to be.

Hatred is the sort of game I’ll keep installed and play on occasion for some senseless, violent action. It’s a game to take a break with from more ‘serious’ titles. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, nor does it pretend to be. There’s no pretension here – what you see is what you get. There’s not much more to it, or for me to really say. Though a limited experience, Hatred is solid, enjoyable, harmless fun. Oh, and did I mention the flame-thrower?

6/10