Time.com - November 23, 2003
 

Danger In The Dark

There is no easy setting in Manhunt. Most video games have a go-easy-on-me mode suitable for little kids or work-weary older people looking to do some butt kicking with a minimum of effort. But Manhunt (for PlayStation 2; $49.99) doesn't have one — just medium and hard. Only in Manhunt, medium and hard are called Fetish and Hardcore. Somewhere in here, you should have figured out that Manhunt, a new game from Rockstar North, the team that created the controversial and wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, is not for children.

Here's the basic setup: you've been captured by a demented movie director who plops you down in an abandoned slum infested with gang members. The gang members think they're hunting you. They are sadly mistaken. You are hunting them, with whatever weapons — a plastic bag, a sawed-off 12 gauge — you can lay your ruthless, muscular hands on. Meanwhile, the director gleefully captures the gore on film.

Game play in Manhunt is a bit different from what you might expect. You don't want to go toe to toe with the roving thugs: they're tough, and if one gets in trouble, they will all mob you at once. The acme of the manhunter's art is the silent, solo kill: wait patiently in the shadows, follow stealthily, then take down your prey from behind. Manhunt is as much an audio game as a video game: you have to listen carefully to track your foes through the dark, dank alleyways. Rest assured they will be listening for you.

Manhunt is an exceptionally violent game — garrote a villain with a sharp wire, and a finely rendered mist of blood sprays from his severed carotid. Interestingly, the game's premise feels like an attempt to help you sidestep any twinges of conscience you may feel at your own sadism — hey, it's that sick director guy who's making you do this! Not that this is any excuse, but if you can make your peace with the carnage, the game play is a bracing change from the usual button-mashing slugfests: Manhunt's thrills aren't in the action; they're in the taut, panting breaks in between, the up slope of the roller coaster, the pause just before the kill. It's a game that rewards thought and patience — which is, of course, a virtue. You might mention that when you tell your kids it will be a while before they're old enough to play it.

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