I'm sure a lot of Steam users are familiar with the habit of buying games because they're on a really awesome sale and then letting them gather dust in the library for months on end. I expect that some of the games I picked up during this year's Summer Sale will be getting that treatment for a while longer, but the other night I finally dusted off at least one of them, Analogue: A Hate Story, a game I'd heard quite a lot about but hadn't ever gotten around to playing.
You play an investigator who is sent into space to investigate the strange reappearance of a ship that was sent off to establish an interstellar colony, but mysteriously disappeared. You're given the task of downloading whatever documents you can salvage from the ship in the hopes of uncovering why the ship disappeared in the first place. In the process of doing so, you end up accessing the ship's two remaining AIs: *Hyun-ae, controller of the log-keeping systems, and *Mute, head of security. For some reason, the AIs are unable to read what you type to them, so instead you have to communicate by showing them logs that you find so that they can give you more information. Through all this exploration, will you solve the mystery?
Gameplay consists of mostly reading the various logs that the AIs unlock for you over time. To request more information about a log, you show it to whichever AI you're speaking to and they'll tell you whatever they know, and send you a new log or two if they can. This system is a bit tricky at times, since you don't really receive very many hints. I may have just been obtuse, but I had trouble with the terminal system in the beginning, since not typing in the commands exactly as the developer intended them means the computer just yells at you. I also found it a bit arduous to scroll back through text logs trying to find the ones I hadn't yet shown to the AI. Normally, I might too have been annoyed at the inability to actually talk to the AI and tell them what you need...but that I can let slide because it winds up tying into the game's themes quite nicely. I'll expand more on that in a moment.
The only characters you meet are the previously mentioned AI girls, *Hyun-ae and *Mute. (There are numerous characters mentioned in the text logs that you don't get to meet since they're long since dead, and to be honest telling them apart gets difficult since everyone is named in Korean, but on the whole they're pretty well-done themselves.) *Hyun-ae is a very sympathetic character, especially when you learn of her backstory, and though you might think that what you learn about her would make her untrustworthy...when she asked me if I trusted her, I didn't even hesitate to click yes. *Mute I found completely insufferable at first, to the point that I debated quitting the game while talking to her. She's abrasive, unsympathetic, and blatantly misogynistic/homophobic, which I found hard to swallow despite being fully aware that she was probably just programmed that way. But going down her character path does give her some much-needed depth, and she ultimately proves that she's willing to be more open-minded than she seems initially.
Obviously, a lot of focus is placed on the story. Through the logs, you slowly uncover what kind of civilization was residing on the ship and why they're all gone. Several rather depressing stories end up converging into one, and what we're left with is pretty sad. Perhaps the most central theme is that lack of communication is something that kills...literally, in some cases. This is why I'm not so frustrated with not being able to talk to the AIs: that's part of the game's whole point. If you were able to simply talk to both AIs, you could resolve the conflict in about five minutes and find the answer to the mystery you were sent to solve relatively quickly to boot. But you can't do that so easily, and as it turns out, the characters you're reading about couldn't either.
There are five different endings depending on your choices, and while most of them are generally positively toned if bittersweet, one is designated as a sort of golden ending. There are some rather large questions left unanswered no matter what path you take, and I'm not sure whether those get answered in the sequel or not. But it does successfully make me want to actually play the sequel, so I guess it's a good thing that I got both this game and its sequel in one bundle for a very low price.
Overall, I enjoyed the game, despite being a few years late to the party, and I'm glad I finally got around to playing it. It makes me wonder what other gems are sitting in my Steam inbox. So hopefully I get around to some more soon.
Analogue: A Hate Story is available on Steam.
Final verdict: Some frustrations that occasionally pop up in gameplay aren't enough to detract from a well-written story and surprisingly deep characters, and overall Analogue: A Hate Story stands out as an exemplary game.
Analogue: A Hate Story is developed by Christine Love. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.