PSM - August 2003

PSM Manhunt Preview

Carcer City. Once, it might have been a gleaming, industrial metropolis, Now, it’s a cesspool. A soul-less, rotting, shell of a city, deep in the heart of the middle of no where. It’s also the perfect place to die.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what your about to do. As death-row inmate James Earl Cash, you’ve got a date with a needle, and she has one hell of a goodnight kiss. What crimes did you commit? It makes no difference. Are you even guilty? Doesn’t matter. You soon will be.

Because this town has a deep, dark secret that you’re about to learn the hard way. Carcer City is ruled from the shadows by an immensely powerful, incredibly rich, impossibly sick man. So powerful is he that he can even take a man’s death, arranging it so that a death-row inmate appears to have been executed, but has actually been secretly kidnapped instead. But this man known only as “The Director”, has no intention of setting you free.

Instead you’ve just become the un-corporative star of The Director’s own, personal snuff film, dropped unarmed into broken cityscapes specifically made for his twisted purpose. And you’re not the only rat in this maze. The Director has also hired blood-thirsty gangs of masked, deranged killers to hunt you down. They know you’re coming, and they’re waiting to slaughter you as viciously as possible, all for The Director’s viewing pleasure. The very minute the cameras start rolling, you have only two choices: kill or be killed.

Welcome, Alice, to the world as viewed through, a broken looking glass. Welcome player to the most dangerous game: hide and seek turned into a sick, deadly brutal bloodsport. Welcome, quarry, to Manhunt.

Surviving the Game

Fresh from Rockstar North, the minds behind the untouchable Grand Theft Auto series, Manhunt blends genres almost as deftly as its more well-known cousin. It boasts a seriously unsettling, urban horror vibe, and the late game offers a homicidal nod to action shooters. At its heart, though, Manhunt is a stealth action title in the vein of Metal Gear Solid 2-except that you’re a regular guy with few weapons instead of a super solider with cool toys, and your opponents are insane psychopaths instead of narcoleptic clones.

Thus, Survival in Manhunt means avoiding detection, going slowly and methodically, using Cash’s unique moves to peek around corners or crouch behind dumpsters, boxes and other objects in the environment. It also means living in the shadows. Lighting is important in any game, but in Manhunt, it is life-or-death matter. If you enemies are alive, the shadows can conceal you, enabling you to move past them in secret. Just be careful. The game also models your enemies’ line of sight, and if an enemy sees you go into the shadows, he knows you’re there and can still see you. If your enemies are already dead, you can move their bodies to the shadows to keep them from being discovered.

The Silent Scream

As crucial as shadows are to Manhunt, even their significance pales when compared to the ground-breaking impact that sound has on the game. Enemies are attracted to every noise you make. This ranges from your footsteps, which are quiet when you’re creeping, slightly louder when you walk, and very loud when you run, to noises made by various weapons.

So important is sound in Manhunt that there’s a radar screen in the lower left of the screen that will show a circular blip emanating from you, indicating just how much noise you’re making at any given time. If an enemy is within your blip, he hears you, and things get nasty.

Fortunately, sound can also work in you favor. Your enemies make noise as well, and these sounds particularly their footsteps and frequent dialogue – enable you to track them down though the level. If an enemy is silent and stationary, he’s invisible to you (unless you’re literally looking at him). But the minute he takes a step, a yellow arrow appears on the radar, showing his location and orientation. If he’s on alert and actively seeking you, the arrow turns orange.

You can create audio miscues to deceive your hunters. Throwing bottles, bricks, or cans produces a sound that can lead a nearby hunter away from your path. Similarly, punching a wall will draw a hunter closer to your waiting ambush.

There’s one additional sonic element in Manhunt, Cash wears a radio headset, which The Director himself uses to communicate directly with you, assigning level goals, goading you to violence, and commenting upon your progress like some kind of demented Otacon. He can’t necessarily be trusted – he really just wants to see as many gruesome deaths as possible – but he functions very well as the murder-minded devil on your shoulder, and serves as a frequent reminder to how twisted these proceedings are.

The Right Snuff

Of course, the best way to keep a hunter from hanging your own head on the wall is to take him out the picture – permanently. The best way to do this is to sneak up behind your enemy and execute on of the games stealth kills. There are 20 in total, one for each weapon, but all of them have two things in common: they’re executed with a single button press once you’re in position, and they’re wickedly brutal. For instance, if you’re holding a hunting knife, you’ll put your enemy in a head lock and drive the blade into his neck, triggering a fountain – like arterial spray. A crowbar results in a chokehold that ends in a broken neck. Even the lowly plastic bag can be used as a lethal weapon- Cash simply throws it over his quarry’s head and cinches it tight until they suffocate.

Regardless of which weapon you wield, each stealth kill is presented as bloodthirstily Director would see it: up close, through the grainy lens of one of the countless cameras secretly mounted throughout every level.

Then there are times when a stealth kill is impossible—when you encounter one of the games frequent boss characters, for example (plus lets face it: a sawed-off double barrel isn’t really designed for stealth). When this happens, the game locks the camera over your shoulder and adopts a more action-oriented, Zelda-style control scheme that enables you to lock onto an enemy and strafe from side to side.

This non-stealthy melee fighting is actually one of the few elements of the game still to be heavily tweaked. Right now, it’s a bit rudimentary, but it’s already deeper than the combat of MGS2.

As for the weapons themselves, there are several distinct classes. First are the one-shot weapons, like plastic bags, garrotting wire, and glass shards, which are carried in your pocket. These are all single-use items, but some are easily replenishable: for example, you can break certain windows to get more glass shards. Just realise that the noise may attract hunters.

Next come the melee weapons: the crowbar, baseball bat, machete, meat cleaver, hunting knife, black jack and even an every day hammer. They’re effective, though you’ll want to deliver a couple of extra stokes to downed enemies to ensure they don’t get up again.

Finally, there are the serious death-dealers, the firearms: .38 revolver, 9MM pistol, and pump action shotgun, in both regular and sawed-off, double barrelled flavours. Fire sticks are noisy sure, but also very effective, especially because the camera adopts a zoomed in, over-the-shoulder perspective when you’re using one. Interestingly, guns require ammo just as they would in real life, and must be reloaded in real time.

As with GTA: Vice City you can have one weapon from each class at any given time. Also, these are just the weapons we know about, and Rockstar assures us there are still plenty of surprising tools of the killing trade yet to be revealed. Finally, if you’re a total purist, you can fight with only your fists, though there is no bare hand stealth kill. After all, Cash may be brutal, but he’s not a ninja.

The Running Man

Despite your formidable arsenal don’t expect The Director’s bloodthirsty goons to go down easily. Don’t expect them all to act the same way, either. According to Rockstar, each of the game’s gangs will not only speak and dress differently, they’ll also favour different weapons and will utilise different tactics to hunt you down.

For example, we first encounter “The Hoods” These low-rent thugs all wear some sort of hood, be it sticking cap or fetish mask, and tend to be disorganized and vocally whiny (we heard one of them complaining about his boots) Later, we fought though a prison run by “The Smileys”. These psychos all wear blood-spattered smiley face masks and have a penchant for using the shadows themselves to sneak up behind you. Big difference, there. Rockstar is keeping mum about the other gangs, but the names we know – “The Innocents” and “The Skins” are enough to have us interested.

There are a few non-hunter characters, some of whom lead to a bit of variety in your mission assignments. In one late-game level called Pool of Tears, we were introduced to a fellow named The While Rabbit complete with a dingy rabbit suit. The Director then assigned us to track down and kill the Rabbit. This gave the game a different feel, because not only were we hunting down the Rabbit, but everyone else in the level was still hunting us. Having a shotgun helped, but this was definitely a messy mission.

Most Dangerous Game

To be honest, chasing the Rabbit down also made us feel a little icky. And spooked. Manhunt is among the scariest games we’ve ever played, despite the fact that there are no zombies, no ghosts, no randomly flash crafted groups of animated body parts. In fact, this lack of supernatural element is what makes the game so freaky. Manhunt is not scary because you encounter some thing unreal. It’s just the opposite. Manhunt is scary because it lives at the very edge of feasible. These enemies are real people, except they’re crazed by bloodlust and unhindered by the laws of mortality. They could be any one of us, and that’s downright chilling. This is a fact not lost on Rockstar’s Terry Donovan.

“We feel pretty confident that this is going to be uncomfortable for some people,” he relates, “However other than make great games, the one thing Rockstar has always done year in year out is take chances” And indeed, truer words were never spoken. Despite being developed by the creators of GTA. Manhunt is a gamble, its almost unfavourably dark and mature, it seems quite linear, and Rockstar north’s last non-GTA offering was wild metal for the Dreamcast-not exactly a AAA title.

When all is said and done, Manhunt is compelling enough, and atmospheric enough to have us captivated, even in the short time staying quiet, but we’re guessing that Manhunt is going to make plenty of noise on the sales charts this fall.