Hate Plus is a different kind of game, and that's not a bad thing if you are looking for something new to try. Instead of being a puzzle, adventure, or action title, it is literally an interactive novel. The only "puzzle," if you will, is attempting to piece together what happened to space vessle Mugunghwa before the events of the previous game, Analogue: A Hate Story. Because there are some concepts originally introduced in that game, it's helpful to have played it before diving into Hate Plus, but it's not essential.
If you completed Analogue, however, you have the choice of either importing data from your save files or starting clean. How the story progresses and the interaction with your on-screen sidekick is completely dependent on which of the two AIs from the previous game you are partnered with--or if you are partnered with both. *Hyun-Ae is an adorable and somewhat naive girl with a big heart and an extremely tortured history (see Analogue for the whole story); *Mute is a security AI who is much more abrasive and sometimes struggles to fit in but interesting in her own right.
The "game" aspects of Hate Plus are minimal, even more so than in Analogue. The only things you do are choose from a series of log files to read, address your AI when she wants your attention, and generally read along with your sidekick. I'm not a person who likes to read books anymore, but presented in this format, the reading is engaging and fun. But don't take this to suggest that this is a PG story for anyone to read as there are many mature themes and outright NSFW topics discussed within some of the logs.
But perhaps the most fun is with interacting with your chosen AI. She will ask you to click on her from time to time to ask a question or discuss something with you; often, you'll be presented with a wheel of possible responses. There's no right or wrong, but how you answer definitely can influence her perception of you. If *Hyun-Ae is your sidekick, you'll even have the opportunity to bake an actual CAKE for an achievement. (Unlike Portal, this cake is NOT a lie.) And if both *Hyun-Ae and *Mute are along for the ride, their banter together is really funny at times.
In a game like this, presentation is everything, and Hate Plus does not disappoint, with charming graphics for the two AI's, a nice, clean interface serving as the ship's computer console, and an excellent soundtrack by Isaac Schankler, who also composed the music for Analogue. My favorite song of the soundtrack is called "Vision," which is heavily played during the playthrough with *Hyun-Ae. It's a beautiful song, one I find myself listening to quite frequently OUTSIDE of the game. I've heard very few video game songs that I can listen to in that way (the theme "Icarus" from Deus Ex: Human Revolution being one of the only others). It's hard to imagine a better interface or a more listenable soundtrack for the content of the game.
I did find a few minor faults with the game, however. One is the fact that after you download so many logs, you have to save your progress and quit. This is a mechanism built into the game design; the number of logs you can pull is directly linked to the power remaining in your character's ship, and when it drops to 1%, you have to end the game, thus giving the batteries time to recharge for the next session. This takes 12 real-time hours; there IS a way to circumvent this if you want. It's an interesting mechanic and not entirely artificial as it's linked to the story, but it would be nice to not have to use what amounts to a cheat to bypass it if you want to spend more time reading through the story. Additionally, I found control non-responsive more than in Analogue; I'm not sure if this is a problem or if it's another mechanic linked to the whole low-power-on-the-ship aspect of the story, but it's a minor irritation, though not one that I would consider off-putting.
And then there's the possible red herring of an achievement: Level Four Revive Materia. To this day, it appears NOBODY has been able to unlock it based on Steam's global stats (I checked this again before writing this). I've researched this on-line along with a number of other players, and it appears this achievement is not actually possible. However, there has been no word from creator Christine Love about this that I am aware of. I don't consider myself an achievement snob, but for anyone who would like to 100% this game on an achievements level, this may be off-putting until a way to unlock it becomes more clear. In that regard, anyone who considers achievements to be an important part of the experience should approach with a degree of caution.
UPDATE AND SPOILER ALERT, 7-29-2014: A new article on Kotaku confirms that this achievement is 100% IMPOSSIBLE to obtain: http://kotaku.com/the-steam-achievement-that-nobody-unlocked-1610073943
Another possible turn-off for some is the straight story aspect of the game. Even Analogue presented one fairly frantic and involving puzzle around the middle of the game in which you used that game's console to enter a series of commands to stop a nuclear meltdown. Hate Plus does not include any true puzzles at all, with the possible exception of a sequence between you and the two AIs if both are accompanying you; I can't say more without revealing a MAJOR spoiler. But those looking even for minor brain-teasers or anything other than straight reading and interacting with your AI(s) may not enjoy Hate Plus as much.
But for anyone willing to approach with an open mind and take a chance on a relatively new gaming concept, there's a lot to love about Hate Plus. Put it this way: Analogue and Hate Plus are just about the ONLY games on Steam I have paid full price for without waiting for a sale, and the demo for Analogue hooked me on the idea almost immediately. Granted, the games are not expensive to start with, but the fact that I was willing to pay the release price is a testament to how much I like Love's ability to craft this type of video game. I'm looking forward to more such games from her in the future. Hate Plus is definitely a winner.
8.0 out of 10