Color me unsurprised, but Hatred has come back from the ESRB with a very rare “Adults Only” (AO) rating, something the industry rarely ever sees in favor of the far more common “M for Mature,” that most violent titles receive, including the likes of Grand Theft Auto. It’s similar to the also-rare NC-17 rating among movies that’s a step above R, and both classifications pose distribution problems for the media in question. NC-17 films have a hard time finding theatrical distribution much of the time, and few retail outlets will carry AO games.
The Hatred team seemed a bit surprised with the AO, as one dev said on their forums:
“Well, I’m not quite convinced why Hatred got AO rating while it lacks any sexual content, but it’s still some kind of achievement to have the second game in history getting AO rating for violence and harsh language only. Even if this violence isn’t really that bad and this harsh language isn’t overused.”
The only other game to receive an AO for straight violence is Manhunt 2. Other titles that have been branded with the rating had a sexual component like Indigo Prophecy, or GTA: San Andreas, once it was revealed the game contained an interactive sex minigame, the famed “Hot Coffee” mod.
In short, your game has to be practically the most brutal in existence to land an AO for violence alone, and it appears Hatred has done just that.
Similar to Manhunt, from the demo footage, Hatred does appear to feature prolonged execution sequences of extreme and horrific violence. But unlike Manhunt, many of these acts are performed on civilians. For all Manhunt’s brutality, for the most part, the other characters you were killing were also murderers or at least general “bad guys.” Hatred is all about hunting the innocent, or at best, cops that are shooting back at you.
The Hatred devs said that ESRB told them that the rating had a lot to do with “context,” meaning that it’s probably something that can’t simply be toned down to land the game an M. Given that the entire core concept of the shooter is to go on a mass killing spree in a way that mirrors many real-life national tragedies we’ve seen here in the US, it would essentially have to be an entirely different game to be reclassified, I imagine.
From the sound of it, it doesn’t seem as if Hatred will try and rework itself for an M, even if that screws up their potential plans to release on consoles. The game was famously pulled from Steam Greenlight, and then reinstated with a note of personal apology from Gabe Newell himself. But now the question is if the game will be allowed on Steam with an AO rating.
Steam does have a no-AO policy in place, which is why the service carries M-rated Manhunt but not its AO-rated sequel. After all the controversy with Hatred going up and down and up again on Steam Greenlight, it would be a long road to travel only to be turned away because of the AO. But again, dodging that rating probably would require changing the core concept of the game, which also doesn’t seem possible. Maybe given that Gabe Newell seems to have taken a personal interest in Hatred, that an exception could be made, but that would be pretty unusual and send a rather strange message.
As much as I may despise the existence of Hatred, I think this blanket ban across digital and physical retailers for AO games is just as stupid as the film industry more or less blacklisting films with an NC-17 rating. So long as children are properly, and rightly, banned from buying AO games or seeing NC-17 movies, I don’t see what the issue is with allowing adults en masse to access games or films like these. Shame, for instance, an NC-17 film starring Michael Fassbender as a sex addict, was one of the most compelling films of the year of its release, but it was an incredibly bold move for it to not recut itself down to an R, and a very unusual circumstance. It’s hard to find a similar example for an AO rated game, but that’s because the rating is such a mark of death, almost all games avoid it like the plague other than sex dating sims and the rare ultraviolent breed like Manhunt or Hatred. Indigo Prophecy might be the best and only example, I suppose.
The point is that I think the tier should be allowed to exist without being essentially a level of media that’s instantly banned because of its content. This is an age when everyone with an internet connection is two clicks away from pornography or Faces of Death videos, so I don’t understand why an artistically crafted movie or game that features intense sex or violence should be downright blacklisted, so long as a strict “no consumption by children” rule is enforced.
Ugh, here I am having to defend Hatred again for free speech reasons. This always seems to happen, yet ultimately I wish the game didn’t exist at all. Video games have had a tough enough 2014 without us having to explain away the existence of a game specifically designed to be a shooting spree simulator for the duration of 2015.
Watch below to see when Call of Duty may return to World War II: