If you're looking for something a little more cerebral to enjoy from your gaming this week, you could do far worse than check out Hate Plus, Christine Love's follow-up to her dark sci-fi visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story.
Analogue was a deeply interesting, thought-provoking game -- albeit a rather unconventional one, particularly for those unaccustomed to the way visual novels typically do things. Cast in the role of an anonymous, faceless space explorer, you come across a spacecraft that has been derelict for thousands of years, and are tasked with discovering the truth behind what happened to the traditional Korean-inspired culture aboard the vessel. With the assistance of one of two artificially intelligent characters, you rifle through the crew's personal logs in an attempt to figure out exactly what was going on, and why the ship never reached its destination.
Analogue was particularly remarkable for successfully weaving a number of different non-linear story threads around the player's brain while still remaining coherent. There was the "immediate" story of you interacting with the AI partners and investigating the derelict spacecraft, but just as interesting -- if not more so -- were the more subtly told parallel historical narratives that unfolded through the personal logs. By reading them all, you could uncover the truth from a variety of different perspectives, and come to your own conclusions.
Hate Plus continues where Analogue left off -- those who played the original can even import their save file for an all-but seamless continuation. Once again working alongside the AI constructs *Hyun-ae and *Mute, your job this time around is to decipher the mysterious messages left by "Old *Mute" and delve deeper into the mystery of the starship Mugunghwa and how its culture was gradually regressing into the social mores of 14th-15th century Korea. Love describes it as a "dark visual novel about transhumanism, cosplay, cake-baking, and the slow patriarchal erosion of freedoms taken for granted," which seems an apt description -- Analogue successfully blended some light-hearted banter between the player and the two AI women with the darker, more serious and occasionally horrifying tone of the truths that came to light through the log entries; we can doubtless expect something similar from Hate Plus.
If you've never played Analogue before, Love claims you can start fresh from Hate Plus, but I'd suggest playing through the previous game first to get an idea of the tone and subject matter as well as to gain some additional story context. I'll level with you: it's hard going (and Hate Plus is likely to be similarly tough) but not in the sense that it's poorly written, difficult to play or boring; rather, it deals with subject matter that we don't often see explored in games, and is very much an experience designed for mature audiences. If you have the patience (and the maturity) required to appreciate it, it's an experience well worth having, and Hate Plus will hopefully follow suit.
Hate Plus is out later today on Steam. Analogue, meanwhile, is here -- and while we're on, Love's earlier titles Digital: A Love Story and Don't Take It Personally Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story are both worth playing, too, both in their own right and as a means of seeing how Love has refined her craft over the past few years.