Manhunt is the most violent videogame ever made, and even I pondered whether the unflinching unpleasantness was justified, seconds before I repeatedly caved a gang member's skull in with a baseball bat until his brains spilled out. Developed by Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar North (originally for PS2), Manhunt puts you in the Death Row fatigues of James Earl Cash. He's a nasty sort: a convicted murderer who, instead of being killed by lethal injection, awakes in Career City, USA. with a direct earpiece-link to snuff movie auteur Lionel Starkweather (played by Brit actor Brian Cox).
To survive this urban nightmare, you must find any weapons you can lay your hands on to kill gang members and government agents in the nastiest way possible. This keeps your sick TV audience frothing at the mouth, and also helps you progress through Manhunt's levels or scenes with the aid of Starkweather's whispered instructions.
As a stealth game, Manhunt is simplistic, without any of Splinter Cell's ledge clambering or hanging upside-down from a roof by your toenails - you don't even have crouch or prone options. Avoiding enemies is just a matter of keeping the noise you make to a minimum and sticking to the shadows, and as long as you're hidden (represented by a shadow figure icon turning blue), the gameplay convention means any baddies can't see you, which can appear rather stupid when you're almost nose-to-nose. Also, it's sometimes difficult, even with PC mouse-look, to manoeuvre the camera when your back is against the wall to see exactly where any threat is coming from.
Another criticism is that the hand-to-hand and weapon combat system is crude, with aiming difficult and multiple adversaries almost impossible to deal with. You always have to leg it and hide behind the nearest corner, luring enemies by throwing objects, dumping corpses in full view, or making a noise by tapping on a wall as in Metal Gear Solid 2. The later action-heavy levels involving almost constant firefights are often frustrating because of this unsatisfying real-time fighting. Add the annoying checkpoint saving system too, and Manhunt can often appear as if it's designed to drive you to murder.
Fair enough, there are some genuinely tense gaming moments when you're being hunted down by enemies, with the heart-beat sound effects and John Carpenter-style electronic soundtrack adding to the superbly dark atmosphere -and it's the stealth kills that give Manhunt its raison d'etre.
Ready To Die?
Sneaking up behind enemies means you can pull off quick, nasty or gruesome executions from the POV of a hidden camera, complete with fuzzy videotape effects and blood splatters on the lens - all with improved hi-res PC graphics. All the different death moves, depending on your chosen ferocity of attack and type of weapon - ranging from plastic bag suffocations to gory axe assaults - are immensely satisfying and addictive too, willing you to discover the next piece of killing equipment.
Manhunt isn't an essential game - it has a pernickety camera, repetitive gameplay and often-frustrating real-time combat. Yet, it also has a unique atmosphere, tense moments and stylish, visceral videotaped kill cut-scenes - if you can stomach the violence. Now, where's that cheese wire?
You're no James Bond or Jackie Chan, so rather than fighting scores of bad guys with guns or kung tu in the beginning, you'll have to sneak up and eliminate them silently one by one with everyday objects. After all, the game does set you up to be on the sucker's end of a dangerous cat-and-mouse game.
Every weapon has three kill levels, each one taking longer to set up but giving you a higher score and a more violent cut-scene. A basic glass shard attack, for example, is a quick poke to the neck. A level-three glass shard attack, however, is several squishy stabs in the eyes. Later on, you'll get crowbars, baseball bats, machetes, chain saws, nail guns, and more. Yeah, don't let your kids play this one.
The controversial Grand Theft Auto series put Rockstar in a lot of heat. Manhunt spits nitroglycerin on the fire. Kudos to the gutsy game company for not bowing down to public pressure. If Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man were one big snuff film (and uh, a videogame), you'd have Manhunt. A demented movie director saves you from execution to star in his pet project: He puts you in a private hellhole of an urban jungle to kill or be killed on film. Survive long enough, and you may find out who's doing this to you and sneak in a little revenge at the same time. The plot's intriguing enough to make you want to see it through to the end--though you may be disappointed with the quickie conclusion. You'll do a lot of Splinter Cell-style sneaking around, but instead of knocking enemies out, you'll mutilate them with extreme prejudice (see sidebar). After you've seen the limited number of cinematic kills, however, you'll start wondering what, besides story line closure, your motivation is for playing through this game. All the constant hiding and tiptoeing and sneaking doesn't scream "action-packed!" after all. But Manhunt's still worth the trip down death row because of its solid engine (with great controls, camera, interface, and radar), intense and scary atmosphere, and hours of gameplay (it lasts a lot longer than you'd expect)--what's here is really well developed and finely polished. Plus, about halfway through, you get to shoot a lot more guns, which helps pick up the initially slow pace.
Videogame-hating Senator Joe Lieberman, your wildest dream--the one that ends with you covered in Gatorade, carried off on the shoulders of jubilant, doddering legislators and soccer moms--is about to come true. Rockstar has gone and made a game so ultraviolent that for kids to be able to walk into most any store and buy it really is criminal. Shoe might congratulate the guys at Rockstar for pushing the envelope, but I'm calling bulls*** on that. Rockstar's just been paying close attention to the media-outrage-equals-money-in-our-bank phenomenon. Not that Manhunt doesn't have some good points. It starts slowly and almost demands repetition (hide, lure your foes near, then sneak in for the kill), but it's intense, building up a real feeling of dread as you play. The later levels are much more fun (thanks in part to beefier weaponry), and the enemy A.I. gets noticeably smarter. Manhunt is also probably the most cinematic-- in a good way--and immersive game that I've ever played. The graphics are intentionally grainy and washed out, as if everything you're seeing is captured on cheap digital video. But the difference is, games aren't movies: I'm controlling the dude. I don't actually want to jam a shard of glass into another guy's eye or decapitate some fool with a serrated garrote, but Manhunt demands it. That kind of violence is one thing in a movie theater when the whole audience is laughing. But in my living room, with my girlfriend looking at me like I just drop-kicked a baby? No thanks.
After seeing Manhunt through to its grisly end, this feels more like a confession than a review. I wholly admit that Manhunt has utterly desensitized me at this point. After witnessing too many shankings, gougings, and sawings, I had to watch some innocent children's programming or I would have become an even more emotionally disturbed game reviewer. I must concede, however, that Rockstar North has crafted a solid, yet unoriginal, stealth-action game. But just when I was starting to get bored of the repetitive, gory deaths, the plot twists and different mission types kept me hooked on killing. The A.I. is pretty dumb at first, but the intelligent (and morally questionable) gang you encounter later makes up for the earlier louts. If you play only the first part of Manhunt, you'll grow bored, but by the end, I'm forced to confess...! actually enjoyed the overall experience.
It is open season on you James Earl Cash, a convicted, sentenced and executed murderer. Or so you thought; your ass has been bought by a man named Starkweather and he intends on filming some really interesting films, films that depict Mr. Cash killing his way through the meanest streets of Carcer city. A lifetime of sociopathic behavior is going to come in handy.
Manhunt by Rockstar games is the latest in the studios attempt to shock and disturb us. If Grand Theft Auto III is the worst game you can think of in terms of awful behavior being exhibited by it's protagonist then Manhunt should easily leave your preconceived notions at the door. Manhunt is by far the worst of the worst thanks to over the top violent, bloody murders, very adult language and not a redeeming quality found in any of the main characters. God bless America, because it is this kind of game that pushes the boundaries of the freedom of speech. Under no circumstances should young children play this game, much less be in the same room while it's being played
Touting itself as a stealth game, players will find themselves sneaking around the nighttime shadows while being directed by Starkweather to do whatever he likes and the bloodier the better. Running through various scenes, Cash finds various weapons used for snuffing out the opposition. Weapons can be as remedial as a plastic bag or glass shard or as modern as shotguns and sniper rifles. And just in case you are wondering, Starkweather has employed every type of killer to hunt you down from skinheads to a corrupt SWAT team.
But for all this hype and excitement, I found the game to be a little boring at times. The levels are definitely forced, and the ability to explore is nearly non-existent. I remember actually stopping for stretches of time because the game's gore and blood do tend to get to you after a while and seeing the same kill over and over can be a little stale. The game does encourage you to try and improve your murdering ability by 'winding up' so to speak as you sneak up on your prey, but all this does for your score is improve Starkweather's film by adding more violence to the mix. It's the only real scoring system in the game so make sure you kill with as much variance as possible.
The game does have another glaring problem; the A.I. Gang members often implore spotty attack plans, which for the most part are easily dismantled. On more then one occasion I found myself using the same leap and kill technique as gang members come running down an alley. You would think the pile of bodies might deter them but they just keep coming.
Graphically the game looks like it should - dirty and dangerous. Carcer city is a blown out hellhole complete with garbage, burned out cars and graffiti everywhere. It's exactly what should be expected and the grainy CCTV camera look to the game really makes you want to wash your hands after playing. The audio is top notch, since Cash?s only means of communication with Starkweather is the earpiece he gets at the beginning of the game. Players can plug in an USB headset and hear Starkweather's instructions. But be careful, because the game is noise sensitive, and any noise you make into the headset's mouthpiece will directly translate into the game as if Cash is talking aloud. Otherwise, the subtle sounds of a man trying to be as sneaky as possible as he uses a hammer to crack some poor fool's head right open is just enough to make you wish you had used a plastic bag to suffocate him when his buddies come a running.
This game is just wrong on so many moral levels, but will be a popular title due to Rockstar constantly trying to one-up themselves in the offensive game category. I liked the game sometimes and other times I despised it. Then again, maybe that is what they were shooting for.
I like to think I'm a well-versed gamer when it comes to games with mature content. I've braved the scares of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, became one with my inner criminal in Grand Theft Auto , covered my ears during The Suffering's , fouled mouth interludes, and waded through the crudeness of Postal 2. So when I started up Manhunt, I didn't think it could shock me much ' but how wrong I was. While Manhunt doesn't elevate much in terms of actual gameplay, it's certainly raised the bar in other violent and bloody ways.
Manhunt has the phrase survival horror tacked on the side of the box, but that's not really an accurate description because it's a stealth game through and through. It has some staples of survival horror game like a tense atmosphere and that whole survival mentality feeling, but the core gameplay mechanics are standard stealth affair.
Like most titles from Rockstar Games, Manhunt wasn't made for the kids. In a few years, I imagine Manhunt will be the US Government's poster boy against video game violence (it always takes them a few years to catch on) since it's seemingly realistic in its brutality. However, morals aside, I can't help but feel that Manhunt is violent just to be violent. On the outset, suffocating an enemy with a plastic bag may sound cool, but when you have to use garden-variety items to finish off your enemies, it's easy to realize that it's all done for shock value.
However, when the initial shock value has worn off, boredom will inevitably set in. Unlike stealth classics like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell , the action in Manhunt is never mixed up: often the objective for each level is to just get from point A to point B while continually raising the body count. Granted, that's how it works for a lot of games, but it rarely deviates from finding a shadow, luring in an enemy, and executing said enemy. Combat just doesn't feel right either: it's clunky and altogether random, relying on hopeless button-mashing to decide the outcomes in fights.
But the one thing that really tightens up the package in Manhunt is the atmosphere. There's a filter over the entire game that gives it a dark and gritty look, much like that of a home made video ' quite a cool effect, especially considering the theme of the game. Likewise, the audio does a great job of drawing you in as well. The music is appropriately ambient and the voice acting is fantastic, especially that of Starkweather, the guy running the show.
Ultimately, there will be people out there who will love Manhunt because of the dark and disturbing imagery, and there will be people out there who hate it for the exact same reasons. It's really up to you ' the person behind the controller ' to decide whether the violent content makes or breaks Manhunt since the core gameplay mechanics of Manhunt aren't all that compelling.
Rockstar Games has released a number of mature titles to enormous success, as it's obvious they understand their target audience. Manhunt continues that trend with a dark story revolving around a convicted criminal sentenced to death. After his punishment however, he finds himself not only alive but at the mercy of a rather unique file director.
Manhunt revolves around your ability to kill before getting killed. As different 'scenes'? unfold, you'll have to survive by any means available. Plastic bags, shards of glass, and numerous guns can all be used to help keep you alive. Primarily a 3rd person stealth action game, most of your activities involve around sneaking up on your enemies and taking them out quietly.
Although Manhunt overall gives a solid performance, there are a few areas that will keep it from the success of other Rockstar Games titles. One of these is the control system, which feels stiff and cumbersome and another is the mission structure. At first the mission goals are a novelty but after awhile they can become slightly tedious.
What really helps to fill the gaps and create a full experience is the graphics and audio. Both create a dark and deadly environment that's vital to the success of Manhunt. For example, the cutscenes look great and move the story along, the characters have decent modeling, and along with sound effects that build suspense and realistic voice acting, it paints an appropriate atmosphere for this game.
Manhunt delivers a violent and disturbing experience that isn't for the weak of stomach. The foul language and large amounts of brutality should be considered before buying. It does however offer solid stealth action gameplay and a unique experience.