Gamespy.com - March 10th 2004
Rockstar's most controversial game yet is finally expanding its horizons beyond PS2. The results are quite pretty, in a grisly sort of way.
- Superior version of the original; Genuinely tense and disturbing.
Quick, what was the most controversial game of last year? Stop talking to your monitor, we can't hear you. You would have been correct, though, if you had said Manhunt. Rockstar North's gruesomely realistic stealth game smothered, strangled and just plain murdered its way to notoriety on the PS2, and now it's on a collision course with both the Xbox and the PC. These new versions will offer significant technical improvements over the PS2 original, proving that old chestnut about good things and those who wait and something or other.
Manhunt puts you in the role of one James Earl Cash, a convicted felon set to get a lethal injection. Certain unscrupulous locals, though, arrange for the execution to be faked, and Cash wakes up in the middle of an abandoned town. Well, mostly abandoned: It's swarming with hired thugs competing for his blood. A mysterious man, known only as "The Director," speaks to Cash through an earpiece, urging him to survive and kill his hunters. And thus the game begins, with Cash in the middle of a warzone armed with only his fists, your ingenuity, and a killer instinct. It's "The Most Dangerous Game" with a modern TV twist.
Killing for Cash
Rockstar stopped by to show me the Xbox version, and the improvements are immediately apparent to anyone who's played the PS2 version of Manhunt. For starters, the game now runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, with only minimal slowdown marring the odd scene. Better yet, a majority of the textures have been redone, at up to four times their original resolution. Tattoos that were once blurry messes are now crisp and clear; colorful graffiti bursts off walls in all its vibrant glory. There are even new surround sound modes, though specifics are currently undetermined. "This is how you port a game to Xbox," I found myself thinking. It's markedly superior to its PS2 predecessor, just as I wish all Xbox ports were. The PC version will have similar upgrades, as well as the usual PC benefits of higher resolution, mouse control, and anti-aliasing (depending on hardware). The bottom line is that the resale value of the PS2 version is about to plummet.
Manhunt's trademark gameplay, meanwhile, remains mostly untouched. (I've found I prefer the Xbox version's controls over the PS2's, which is unusual.) The game starts out as an exercise in stealth. Your first weapons are shards of glass and plastic bags, but in Cash's devious hands these can be just as deadly as pistols or grenades. A large part of the game involves sneaking up on enemies to get the stealth kill, and there are three increasingly brutal kill types per weapon. (The higher-level kills take longer to perform but give you more credit at the end of the level, if you're into that unlocking stuff.)
If you're detected, you're in a world of trouble. It's not hard to get caught, either. Manhunt's enemy AI is uncommonly good, and unlike, say, Metal Gear Solid, the enemies can see further than 15 feet in front of them. Much further. Once seen, you'll need to run and hide until the coast is clear. If the enemies, who run just as fast as you, see you enter a hiding place you'll need to find another. Standing to fight isn't a good idea, as melee damage is almost unavoidable.
Later parts of the game adopt a more run'n'gun approach. The Director, duly impressed by Cash's killer instinct, ups the ante with a variety of firearms, from sawn-off shotguns to a sniper rifle. The action here is fast and furious and just as visceral, with more blown-off heads and mutilated faces each minute than just about any other game I've played. The violence can actually be a little disturbing, making Manhunt a game that definitely earns its "M" rating.
The Outer Limits
All told, Xbox and PC gamers are in for a treat ... assuming, that is, a game where you play a psychotic murderer can be classified as such. Manhunt does what it does rather well, and is a fine example of the current boundaries of pixel-based carnage. It's challenging in more ways than one, and I mean that as a compliment. Both the Xbox and PC versions are due to hit April 20th, so be on the lookout for our full reviews in the coming weeks ... assuming we're not in jail or something.
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