With my three fair days of time in Hate Plus up, I finally feel I can emerge and give a review not tainted by the cheating cheats like manipulating the system clock, lying to Hyun-ae about my cookery skills, and bringing in my Two Girls One Core save, and this will make my review somehow purer, more reasonable, and more able to deliver on the truth. If that sentence made you wonder if I’d taken some fairly high-class drugs before a gamejam, you’re not too far off, but if you were excited and interested, I have some great news: Hate Plus, the sequel to Analogue: A Hate Story is really, really good.
The game itself is almost barely worth mentioning; the player has an enormous number of unsorted sections of text to read, they can select the order almost without any limit, and then read through them while occasionally sharing conversations on related – or unrelated – topics with a lovely investigator-sidekick AI. There is very little you can do to ruin the game, and there is very little skill required to complete the game – or even get nearly perfect. A basic acquaintance with cooking and access to at least a microwave oven are useful, but really, the game steps you through it.
By the way, I’m not even kidding – the game does very literally ask you, the player, to go away from the computer to make a cake. The game also asks you to stop playing it for a day, and will even reward you (with an achievment) if you play the game in three full days, rather than rushing it. It’s genuinely quirky in a way that I can’t see other games doing. The forced timer – such as is expressed in games like Sword & Sorcery: Superbros and Farmville feels very different here; it’s stated and made to be part of a framing device where you are a person spending time with your friend on a journey. I didn’t like the device, but it didn’t hurt anything. A more sensitive friend seemed to revel in the chance to decompress; I found myself frustrated by the possibility of ‘missing’ a day.
Exhausting the discussion of the game’s structure and conceits, then, what remains is the content. In some games, that’s monsters, levels, arrangements of platforms; in Hate Plus, it’s the text you read. There’s an elaborate puzzle, and there’s no final test; there’s no boss battle where you have to employ all of what you understood. The game does not put you through a grand test to see if you really understand why Ryu was so important, or why Park was always a red herring; it does not talk to you about Mimi’s maid outfit. No; the boss battle is in your own mind, as you thread the pieces together. A fun exercise, for those of you who play the game, and want that feeling of resolution. Answer these questions; then try and explain them to someone else:
- How did class privilege play a role in exacerbating wealth disparity, and vice versa?
- What was the primary method of stability in the culture of the Mugungwha?
- Why was Kim So-yi fired?
- Who masterminded the revolution, and what was their motivation?
This isn’t a comprehensive list, mind you. These are just questions that you should be able to answer, to some degree or another, by the end of the game. Another way in which Hate Plus differs from conventional games is that it never smacks your hand away from its narrative. It may tell you to wait, but at no point does your AI partner sneer at you and say ‘You can’t proceed, because you’re not paying enough attention.’ This makes Hate Plus a gentle game, a kind game, one that wants to walk with you while you learn.
Hate Plus is an indie game that wants to draw on more complex ideas than base horror and nostalgia, two reservoirs of emotional language that the indie gaming industry has used too much lately (and too greedily). It shows a complex history of an amazing sequence of events from a number of perspectives, and it does so while tangling with feelings of love, loss, and sadness. It improves on its former with a better UI, and a useful set of reminders and visual cues to help us connect characters to names and faces. It’s self-aware and quirky in its humour, but that’s important: its humour, not its references. It’s not like Duke Nukem or Warcraft, where they seek to make you laugh by mentioning a thing that you may already know. The game tells you its own jokes using its own ideas – and that they are communicated, in times and places, in the language of cultures familiar to you makes them deeper, not shallower.
I ultimately think the most damning thing I can say about Hate Plus is that the game has done nothing to make you like it if you didn’t like Analogue. Normally with a videogame I can look at other, similar games, and target the core experience, and how the two games relate. The problem is there really isn’t much out there like Hate Plus and Analogue. Liking one will be the core experience of liking the other. Hate Plus is a bigger, better looking, just-as-fun Analogue.
Buy it if:
- You enjoyed Analogue.
- You want to examine interesting, different ways videogames let us interact with narrative.
- You want to support good, well-crafted games, even if you don’t personally enjoy them.
Avoid it if:
- You didn’t enjoy Analogue.
- You’re easily upset by sad stories.
- You don’t care about politics, romance, kindness, or the arc of history.
Also, as a tiny complaint, I like to cook. When Hyun-Ae asked me what was in my kitchen, I knew the answer – so having her tell me I didn’t know was a tiny bit irritating. It’d have been nice to have the option of, on the second answer, saying ‘I am sure.’ But instead I waited for ten minutes before telling her, yes, I am aware of the ingredients in my kitchen.