G4tv.com - December 22th 2003

G4tv Review

A lot has been said about violent videogames and their possible effect on young impressionable minds. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has forged an entire second career around the topic of videogame violence. He's the guy who coined the phrase "murder simulator" in reference to particularly violent or sadistic games. As popular as he is on the talk show circuit, the gaming community shrugged him off as just another wacko, anti-game crusader. Well, leave it to Rockstar to go and develop a game that turns out to be an honest-to-goodness murder simulator that provides plenty of ammunition for extremists like Grossman.

Natural born killers

In the interest of being fair and unbiased we've decided to write two separate reviews of "Manhunt" for you. The first one goes something like this:

OMG u have 2c Manhunt it roXoRZ11!! your this guy and u get 2 kill all these guys u should c the way the blood spladders when u use the crowbar on there skull itso kewl!!!11!1 I give it a 12 out of 5!!!1!

If you're happy with that review, stop reading now and go back to your Legos. OK, now that the casual demographic has been placated, we can get on with the actual review.

The most dangerous game

"Manhunt" is an homage to those fun, fun, fun snuff films that no one reading this review has ever seen because they don't really exist. You play James Earl Cash, a serial killer who is rescued from a death-row execution by Lionel Starkweather (expertly voiced by Brian Cox). Starkweather is a rogue video director who specializes in films where the protagonist is hunted for sport by an assortment of lowlifes and scumbags. As Cash, your only way out of this mess is to get them before they get you. And at the incessant urging of your director, make it as bloody and as brutal as possible.

"Manhunt" plays out like your basic run-of-the-mill stealth action game. Cash needs to move through each level quietly while staying in the shadows as much as possible. Getting noticed by one of the many goons that roam the area is a great way to get you quickly killed. Although he's a killer, Cash just isn't cut out for going toe-to-toe with the opposition. He's a little more... methodical.

Cash specializes in execution-style kills using whatever weapons or implements he happens to have on hand. By sneaking up behind an otherwise unaware foe, Cash can dispatch them with the press of a button. The executions come in three intensity levels depending on how long you wait before delivering the fatal blow. No matter what implement you use, the result is suitably gruesome. Whether you're casually chopping someone's head off with a machete, or planting the pointy end of a crowbar into a person's skull, you get to view the entire act from the lens of Starkweather's camera. Accompanying the visuals are the requisite screams and beating-meat-with-a-ball-peen-hammer sound effects.

So yeah, the game is violent, but more on that in a sec. For all the hoopla over the violence, it's important to recognize that "Manhunt" has a lot going for it. It's from the development house behind the monstrously popular "Grand Theft Auto" games. It's got solid production values. The voice acting, music, and art direction are great. For PS2 owners who have the USB headset, you can plug it in and hear Starkweather giving you direction right in your ear. You can also use the microphone to lure unsuspecting goons to their doom. It's a neat gimmick, but not necessary.

The stealth portion of the game usually behaves as you'd expect. It's very easy to tell when you're well hidden, and there are plenty of audio cues to let you know when you've been spotted. The controls are basically the same ones used in "Grand Theft Auto III," so you'll fight with the controls more than you'd like while slugging it out with a bad guy.

If there were anything that could remotely be called pacing in the game, "Manhunt" would be all the better for it. Every level plays pretty much the same. Sneak, lure, hide, kill. Sneak, lure, hide, kill. There's not much variety here. The game clearly revels in the execution-style murders, but you don't even control the action. Just hit the button and watch the cutscene. Beyond a mild interest in seeing what each weapon does, there's no big reason to use one weapon over another. Later in the game, firearms become available. This hints at greater gameplay variety, but unfortunately using guns is less fun than the stealth portion of the game thanks to the poor control.

So, back to the violence thing. The problem with "Manhunt" isn't the fact that it's built around violence. It's that the violence isn't very effective and ultimately becomes a gimmick. In the first 15 minutes of "Manhunt" you will be shocked at the carnage. No doubt about it. Clearly Rockstar is banking on the violence to carry this title, but a high school drama class will tell you that for violence to be an effective dramatic tool there needs to be some kind of contrast.... any kind of contrast. But there isn't. It's just one gruesome kill after another until the violence loses its punch. Too bad that happens after the first couple missions. If you want a stealth game, there are better ones out there. If you want blood, do yourself a favor a buy a tube of red dye #5, instead.

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