The ever-so-controversial Hatred is out this week, and early reviews give the impression that it’s neither as horrible nor as interesting as everyone decided it was after watching a single trailer. But it’s also this week’s highest-profile game release, which means it’s a perfect jumping-off point for Vidjagame Apocalypse. As an experiment, I thought it might be fun to talk about this week’s Top 5 before it becomes a podcast Top 5. You know, like how we used to do in The Old Days.
To be honest, I’m a little surprised by the furor Hatred managed to cause, since it doesn’t seem like anything new for this industry. Rage-filled protagonists aren’t new. Violence for the sake of violence isn’t new. And games that let you indiscriminately murder innocent nobodies have been around for as long as game characters were detailed enough to be considered “innocent nobodies.”
Here are five of my favorites!
5. Naughty Bear
I won’t go so far as to actually recommend Naughty Bear, because I know a lot of people don’t like it. It is widely considered to belong to the genus Bad Game, and I can understand why. I like Naughty Bear, though, because underneath its twee exterior beats the dark, wormy heart of Jason Voorhees.
While it’s always annoying when fans accuse critics of “not playing it right,” there is actually a right way and a wrong way to look at Naughty Bear. The wrong way is “hurr durr cute thing kills other cute things, pshhh.” The right way is to realize that it’s so gratuitously brutal, it had to recast its characters as varicolored teddy bears just to avoid an Adults Only rating. Put simply, this is a game where you play as a slasher murdering hapless teenagers in remote locations, and in that respect, it is utterly unique.
At its heart a stealth game, Naughty Bear isn’t just about killing your enemies, or sneaking to achieve a specific goal; it’s all about scaring your prey, seasoning the meat with fear before you plunge the knife in. Yes, the “meat” is a bunch of stuffing surrounded by fluffy fabric, and yes, your “prey” seems to come back to life after each level. But that doesn’t make it any less awesomely disturbing when you shout “BOO!” at your victims so hard they commit suicide. Or when you flatten their heads in car doors. Or shove them into candy-mixing vats. Or keep them from calling for help by choking them to death with telephone receivers.
It’s a different vibe from something like Manhunt, for the key reason that most of your victims here are unarmed and — ignoring the fact that they all mercilessly tease and ostracize Naughty even after they should goddamn well know better — innocent. Your goal isn’t really to survive; it’s to torment and murder everyone before they can escape. Naughty Bear is the only game to really try and capture the feeling of being a creature like Jason or Michael Meyers, so by default, it’s also the best.
4. Carmageddon 2
Roger Corman’s 1975 film Death Race 2000, starring David Carradine at his smirking best, is an amazing dark comedy that you should all go see right now. It features Sylvester Stallone as a cartoon gangster. It contains the line “Mr. and Mrs. President Frankenstein.” And it revolves around a nihilistic vision of the year 2000 in which the most popular entertainment is a real-life version of Wacky Races that awards bonus points for running people over.
Carmageddon 2 is gaming’s most earnest attempt to bring that vision to life. It doesn’t feature the same coast-to-coast challenge or outsized characters as the movie (although the cars are kinda goofy-looking), but it does encourage you to win by bashing your opponents into slag and splattering as many pedestrians as possible. In fact, that’s the best way to win, as Carmageddon’s lead artist Neil “Nobby” Barnden once pointed out when he said (and I’m paraphrasing here, because the quote was in some ancient issue of MacAddict that I probably threw out years ago) that only lame people win Carmageddon by actually racing. The true path to victory is through the silly morons standing between you and the finish line, and you’re a doofus if you try to be nonviolent about it. Nobby said so and everything.
In my experience, though, victory never really happens at all in Carmageddon. Not when there are all these distracting blood bags to run into.
First-person is best-person.
3. Jaws Unleashed
Those who know my work know that I never let an opportunity to mention Jaws Unleashed pass me by, and what an opportunity this is! If tormenting and massacring helpless, harmless people sounds like fun, few games let you do so as gruesomely as Jaws’ wonderfully stupid PS2-era open-world adventure. Made by the same developers that brought us Ecco the Dolphin, Jaws Unleashed made a half-hearted effort to cast its toothy protagonist as some kind of environmental avenger who went around destroying oil rigs and the like. But that’s only because games without structure are boring. Absolutely nobody plays Jaws Unleashed for its story; they play it because there’s something innately titillating about terrorizing swimmers as a bloody enormous shark.
Where other shark games are content to turn eaten people into anticlimactic clouds of blood, Jaws Unleashed’s detailed dismemberment drew out the act of man-eating in ways that would eventually, probably, make you feel sorry for your victims. Jaws’ teeth could latch onto a swimmer’s limb, and with a few shakes of its giant head, tear it off as its former owner shrieked and clutched at the stump. As they awkwardly tried to swim for safety, all that remained was to lazily latch onto another extremity, tear them to pieces, and gobble those pieces down for a small health boost. And that was just for starters; even before Jaws unlocked the ability to tail-whip people into the air so that they exploded, all pretense of realism had long since escaped out a window after assuring us it was just going to the bathroom.
Nothing was safe from Jaws’ bottomless appetite; divers, swimmers, bungee jumpers, water skiers, hunters, boats, helicopters, and scientists were all fair game, so long as they fell into the water, or were within biting range of its surface. And if they weren’t, Jaws could hurl exploding oil barrels or old torpedoes at them, heralding a terrifying new age in which sharks can use tools and we’re all fucking doomed.
There are plenty of standout opportunities to create horror for the residents of Amity Island in Jaws Unleashed, but the pinnacle of the shark’s cruelty comes near the end, during the little seaside community’s Fourth of July celebrations. After taking down a heavily armed Coast Guard vessel, Jaws proceeds to munch his way through a beach’s worth of revelers. A banana boat is destroyed, its riders devoured. Amity’s mayor, who so stubbornly ignored the sharky warning signs as countless tourists turned into clouds of chum, perishes in an explosion. And as hordes of people flee the beach in terror, Amity’s fireworks display goes off without a hitch, heralding the ultimate victory of carcharodon carcharias over puny homo sapiens.
I like to think of that as the ending. It isn’t, but trust me, it’s better this way.
2. Postal 2
Postal 2 made a lot of missteps, but probably the biggest was that it gave away its most fun section for free. There’s more sadistic pleasure packed into the Postal 2 demo than there is in the entire rest of the game, because once the nominal story kicks in and your enemies all start shooting back, Postal 2 tumbles from guilty pleasure to so-so shooter. When that happens, not even the short-term thrills of unleashing deadly zoo animals, blowing up marching bands or terrorizing a mall can bring back the initial thrill.
If all you want to do is be an asshole and fuck with random civilians, however, Postal 2’s early stages – particularly the big, open playground that makes up its demo – are glorious. If you’re boring, you can run around shooting people, but the other deadly implements scattered around the world are so much more fun. Finding a shovel lets you beat people and ultimately knock their heads off. A taser can non-lethally incapacitate your neighbors so hard that they pee their pants. And as they lie there whimpering, you can douse them with gasoline, set them ablaze – and then pee on them to put out the fire. Actually, being one of the few games that lets you chase people around and pee in their faces until they throw up is kind of one of Postal 2’s chief draws.
Remember: When a stranger pees on you, stand still and vomit, then run away.
If they were rendered with today’s graphics, the actions I just described might look as horrific as they sound, but Postal 2’s dated visuals and marionette-like character models make for a silly cartoon world on which to unleash your nastiest impulses, so long as your nastiest impulses involve shovel decapitations, burning people alive, and seemingly endless high-pressure urine streams.
1. Grand Theft Auto III
Yes, Grand Theft Auto III had a story. Yes, it pushed gaming forward in exciting new ways, and yes, it did a whole hell of a lot more than provide opportunities for slaughter. You can make a pretty compelling case that it isn’t “about” murdering civilians at all. For a lot of people, though – or at least for me – the combination of passive crowds and high-powered weaponry was irresistible. Getting to rampage through a consequence-free world that closely resembled real life (at least by 2001 standards) was something angry teenagers had secretly yearned for for years, and actually being able to do it was something of a dream come true.
And who among us played it safe? Who looked at Liberty City’s crowds of polygon sheeple and said, “Can I bring myself to purposely bring violence into their humdrum lives? Dare I shoulder this dark responsibility? No! I can’t! For I am a virtuous criminal!*” I’m going to guess the answer is relatively few, because dismembering people with sniper rifles and rocket-launching crowds into flying heaps of body parts was awesome. In fact, in those early years, GTA was largely defined by giving people a chance to rampage. Nervous parents were convinced that was basically all it was. And to be fair, so were a lot of kids who ignored the story in favor of throwing grenades at ambulances.
Later GTAs brought better visuals and more inventive ways to hurt people, but bloody rampages aren’t as strong a draw in those more sophisticated games. (Speaking for myself, at least, killing my way through crowds in Vice City and San Andreas was something I did until it was “out of my system,” and by the time GTA IV rolled around, its civilians were realistic enough that I actually preferred to leave them alone.) The sheer newness of it, combined with the mute amorality of protagonist Claude Speed, just made it feel right. And maybe, thanks to graphics that look cartoonish next to Trevor Philips nonchalantly busting some poor sap’s kneecap with a wrench, it still does.
*Your actual internal monologue may have varied.