Manhunt
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Rockstar
Developer
Rockstar North
Genre
Stealth Action
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Well done hide-and-seek gameplay
• Tons of voice over
• Excellent audio

The Bad

• No map feature
• Not much mission variety
• Extreme violence may be too much for some

 
Grade
B

Manhunt is the latest game from the people who brought us the Grand Theft Auto series, and as you'd expect it's a game not intended for all audiences. In fact, Manhunt is so violent, even the most hardened gamer might get a bit queasy playing through the game. Quite possibly the most violent, disturbing game ever released for consoles, Manhunt is sure to generate controversy, but underneath all the blood and gore is a surprisingly solid game experience.

Manhunt tells the story of James Earl Cash, a death row inmate who is scheduled to die as the game begins. However, he is spared from execution by a man named Starkweather, and given a chance at life; if he can survive the night. You see, Starkweather is a director of sorts, and he wants Cash to be the star in his next production: a snuff film. Starkweather has bribed the police to let him use a run down section of Carcer City as his personal movie set, and has populated it with thugs and gang members, all waiting to take you out. He promises that if you follow instructions, and survive the ordeal, you will be set free.

Manhunt's primary gameplay is stealth, similar to games like Splinter Cell and Tenchu. Like Splinter Cell, light plays an important role in the game. Shadows provide "safe zones" from the hunters, places to hide and stalk them until the perfect moment, or places for them to hide and ambush you. Sound plays a large factor as well, you will be able to toss bricks, cans or bottles to get hunters attention, knock on walls and trash cans, or even use your own voice with a USB headset. The radar is entirely dependent on sound and sight as well; if you can't see or hear the enemy, they won't show up on the radar. However, as long as you stay silent and hidden, they won't see you either, as long as you are hidden in a safe zone, a hunter can be 3 feet from you, staring right at you, and not see you. It sounds silly, but it needs to work for the game to allow you to survive, if Cash gets ganged up on, he will not be able to win as 2-3 hunters will kill you quite quickly.

In order to move from area to area, Starkweather will give you goals, which typically involve killing everyone in the area to open a door. As mentioned, fighting enemies hand to hand is generally a bad idea, gang members will call for help, and you can be easily overwhelmed, so stealth kills are the best way to dispatch your foes. Cash can target an enemy, and then while sneaking up on them, the targeting meter will change colors, depending on the level of kill you wish to execute. White is the first level, available as soon as you are in range, and is the quickest, least messy death. Yellow appears after 3-5 seconds, with a more graphic execution. Red is the last stage, taking upwards of 6-7 seconds, and is the most gruesome. You can get by with only level one executions for most of the game, however there is one level that forces you to perform level 2 and 3 executions to advance. Also, the extras in the game are unlocked by getting better ratings in the levels; the more level 3 executions you perform, the higher your rating, so if you want the extra levels and concept art, you have to get gory.

The stealth kills are what make Manhunt different from other stealth games. Since you are "starring" in a snuff film, the executions are quite brutal, there are plenty of different ones to see, and the camera gives you a close up view each time you perform one. There are 3 different weapon types to kill with; green weapons (glass shards, plastic bags, razor wire) are silent, one-use tools. Blue weapons (crowbars, nightsticks, knives, etc.) can be re-used and are silent, so enemies nearby won't hear your killings. Red weapons (baseball bats, chainsaws) are the most brutal, and the most noisy, but also provide the best damage in a fight. Aside from melee weapons, Cash will also acquire guns, from simple pistols and shotguns to sniper and assault rifles. The guns have no stealth kills, however headshots are easy to perform and kill in one hit. Levels typically alternate between sneaking around and fighting with guns, the early levels feature almost all sneaking, while the later levels feature almost all gunplay.

Level design is decent, you move from one run down section of town to another, and they begin to look the same after a while. Occasionally some color will appear, but not until much later in the game. However, this doesn't distract you, levels look and feel like you would expect a run down town to, and the graphics are well done. Cash and the enemy player models look like beefed up versions of the GTA series characters, with better clothing and facial features. Objects cast appropriate shadows, and cars, guns and other level objects are well rendered.

Audio plays a major part in this game, and it's very well realized. Footsteps sound different on various surfaces, gravel makes noise that hunters can here, while concrete does not. Enemy characters often talk to themselves and their friends, and there are tons of different responses to them seeing you, fighting you, and even looking for you. Hunters will call you names, taunt you, and even plead for their lives. The music is mostly ambient, only getting loud when enemies are nearby or you are in a fight. Starkweather will comment on your progress often; if you are performing lots of level 3 kills he will be very supportive and happy, if you slink in the shadows and avoid hunters he will taunt you and call you names.

There are some downsides to the game, namely the lack of a map feature and lack of mission variety. At the beginning of each level, you get a short cutscene of where you are supposed to go, but after that you're on your own. There are typically many ways to get to your objective, but with no map you can often find yourself running around looking for where you need to be. Missions almost all consist of "go here, kill these guys, move on". Occasionally you'll have twists added, like escorting a drunk through the level, or having to remain out of sight for fear the hunters will kill innocent people, but those are only 3-4 of the game's 20 missions. The level of violence might be a negative for some people as well. Depending on how desensitized you are, this game might not affect you at all, or it might be too much for you to handle. I'll be frank; the executions are brutal, and some are borderline disgusting, I was shocked by some of them and I'm pretty desensitized to most violence. The fact that the game basically boils down to you virtually murdering countless people can start to get to you, I had to take breaks every 2-3 levels to take a step back from the game and clear my head. The story is almost nonexistent too, you get no explanation as to why Starkweather does this, or why you were chosen, or even why you were on death row. The ending doesn't explain much either, and there really isn't any closure to Cash's story.

In the end though, Manhunt is a very good game, it's just hidden under a coat of blood and filth. The game engine is good, and the gameplay, graphics and audio are well done. If you can stomach the disturbing images and violence, you'll find a solid stealth/action game. If you get squeamish easily though, you may want to only rent, or skip the game altogether.

- - Darken Rahl

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