The gaming community has been waiting for Manhunt to hit the market. For some, particularly anti-videogame crusaders, it was waiting for the chance to attack it for its apparently excessive violence (and yet they hadnt laid their hands on the game at the time oops). For others, it was to play the next game made by the makers of Grand Theft Auto, to see if developers Rockstar North were capable of making anything else, and pulling it off with the same high quality of their previous games. And others still (like us) were simply intrigued by the games premise, and more than willing to give the game a shot. As long as the game has the substance to back up the mature content, why condemn it?
Were glad we went into Manhunt with an open mind because youll need one to be able to digest it all. Manhunt is violent, yes. Manhunt is chock full of explicit language. At times, Manhunt is positively immoral. And yet, we still see it as one of the most creative games to come out in some time.
Gameplay You play the role of death row inmate James Earl Cash, who has got a date with the needle. But instead of dying, someone by the name of Starkweather has given Cash a second chance by merely sedating him. But to everyone else in the world, Cash is dead, and gone for good. But what Cash has to endure to escape with his life may make him wish he was dead. Starkweather, apparently rich and influential enough (not to mention very sick) to basically do what he wants, has been able to pay off the police, and everyone else involved to live life as if James Earl Cash is long gone. Hes even gone so far as to section off selected areas of the rundown Carcer City in which hell play his game.
Everyone in Manhunt wants to kill you. And the objective for Cash (you) is to simply survive. So its either them or you. Throughout Manhunt Starkweather places you in situations where you must kill to survive the long night that waits. And kill again. And again. And again. But of course, the player wont last a minute by running and gunning into a fray, or by starting a skirmish against the overwhelming odds that are against him. You start off alone and nothing in which to defend yourself. Youve got to use the shadows and anything you can find on the streets of Carcer City, because Starkweather will not be of any help.
At its heart, Manhunt is a stealth game; one that executes the idea rather brilliantly in that, while effective, the mechanics are very easy to execute, and making a mistake wont end the mission on the spot, but will make getting through the game that much harder. Being caught out in the open means certain death, so sticking to the shadows is essential to your survival. As Cash, youve got a radar at the bottom left of the screen, much like what youd find in Metal Gear Solid. Enemies represent icons on this radar that differ in color depending on their state of alertness. You use this tool to navigate through the levels safely, picking off hired gang members and other goons one-by-one, using a variety of different weapons. Many of these are melee weapons that require an up close and personal encounter, which is why using the shadows is so critical. By sneaking up on an enemy, the player can pull off one of three executions per weapon, all of which are shown via a gritty cinematic camera perspective (remember, Starkweather is watching your every move), and all are particularly gruesome. Taking out the opposition in this manner is the most effective way of getting through each level, because while you can get into a tussle with these guys, two or more will far overpower you.
In many ways, its almost like designing your own slasher film, and what makes the player feel so uncomfortable at least at first is that you must be able to have a slasher mindset; the key is to stick to the shadows, strike when you get the chance, and then immediately revert back to the dark corners before anyone knows youre around. And there are several mechanics in which to help you do this. For one, you can hide the bodies. A simple press of the Triangle button when over a corpse will pick it up, in which you can then than take to a different spot to keep it out of sight from other enemies (sadly, you cant hide the bodies in the dumpsters or prop them up on toilet stalls, etc.) When enemies spot a body, they immediately revert to the Alert stage, where they will be actively looking for you. While this can be dangerous in some circumstances, in others, it can be a vital tool in helping to lure an enemy your way for you to eliminate him.
We ran a thorough preview of Manhunt back in August. At the time, gameplay elements were sketchy at best, and many of the finer tidbits of the game, as well as final decisions to things regarding the games final design, have yet to have been made. We said wed love to see the USB headset implemented, if for nothing else, than for the atmosphere alone (Yes we did! And we can prove it by clicking right here. Did Rockstar listen to GWX? Not likely, but well pretend they did, and pat ourselves in the back for it anyway.
The other play mechanic involves the environments themselves. They are full of interactive items, whether that be crushing cardboard boxes, or bumping into bodies hanging from rope, steel beams, garbage cans, etc., and even dumpsters to hide behind. Making sounds in Manhunt can help or hurt you, depending on what youre doing as opposed to what you set out to do. The environments are designed in such a way that they are actually meant to be taken advantage of by both you and your adversaries. You even have access to items meant to be lures, whether theyre metal cans, bricks, or even a head of an enemy (that youve chopped off seriously) that you can throw to either lure them your way, or to drive away undue attention. And if there is nothing to help you in the immediate vicinity, you can put your back to the wall, and strike it a la Metal Gear Solid, or merely stay hidden in the dark. When against the wall, you can even strafe, and if at a corner, Cash can whip around it when an enemy is near and strike him with a simple press of the X button.
While on the subject of controls, we have to note how intuitive they actually are. Manipulating the control scheme and the camera at the same time will feel awkward at first, but youll be comfortable soon enough. Most actions can be done with straightforward one-button presses. For example, when backed against a wall at a corner, you can simply hold in the L1 button (if youre equipped with a gun), and youll whip around the corner, already targeted on an enemy. By releasing the button, you spin back around the corner to safety. Many of these actions are executed the same way; they are conditional, meaning certain things happen depending on the situation youre in or what weapon you are equipped with. This scheme keeps things simple, and allows the player to stay focused on the game, not the controller.
executions are a big play mechanic because this is the method in which
you learn to survive. By holding in the X or Square button, Cash will
pull off one of three executions depending on how long the X or Square
button is held in. The longer the button is held, the more grisly the
attack becomes (there is one involving the narrow tip
As we mentioned earlier, the weapons in Manhunt offer an assortment of ways to take out an enemy. But they also provide a wide variety of gameplay ideas. There are melee weapons, one-off weapons (like shards of glass or a length of wire; something that can be used only once and then is discarded), and then your bigger weapons, like firearms and baseball bats. You can only carry one of each weapon category at a time which is determined more by size than by weapon type. Because of the kind of weapons you can carry, the gameplay is mixed up a bit throughout. Carrying a sawed-off shotgun certainly isnt stealthy, so naturally there will be levels where shootouts will take place. In one level, Starkweather placed us in the backstreets of the city accompanied by a drunk. Starkweather refused to open gates and doors if the drunk was killed, so we had to keep him from dying; not an easy task, considering that the bastard would talk loud and whistle, often drawing attention of hunters.
Believe it or not, there were even levels where morals come into play, at least somewhat. At times, innocent lives were at stake, depending on how we performed. Disappointingly though, there were no rewards for saving innocents, which makes the point of having them moot other than to simply give a premise for the level.
Being a game where your stealth is largely based on sound as much as shadows (if not more), Manhunt comes with the option to use a USB headset during gameplay. This headset has two functions. The first is that the earpiece in which Starkweather barks out his orders (and seems to have orgasmic bouts of joy when you pull off an especially brutal kill) allows you to hear his orders through the headset. But in terms of gameplay mechanics, you can actually make noise via the microphone to lure enemies toward you. We actually had to get used to playing silently, instead of carelessly munching on potato chips while playing. Not only does the headset make for a more immersive experience, it actually enhances gameplay. GamingWorld X very highly recommends using the headset if you have one. It may even be worth getting one for. We really believe Manhunt isnt the same game without it.
Being that these guys out to get you are trying their hardest to take you down, theyre gonna have to be fairly intelligent in order to pull off realistic ambushes and searches. For the most part Manhunt succeeds in its task. Enemies will actively hunt you down, slowly walking your way when alert, while running at you full speed when they spot you. If an enemy feels uncomfortable going by himself to check something out, hell wait for one of his buddies to accompany him. Sometimes an enemy will seemingly pass right by you only to take position around a corner and jump out at you at the most unexpected moment. But despite all of these moments that display genuine thinking of the opposition, there are also moments that remind you youre playing a game. While an enemy will go Alert when he spots a body, a continual search for you that results in nothing will have that enemy relax again as if nothing happened. Sometimes, weve had goons chasing us down, only to watch us dart for a dark corner, and suddenly they had no idea what happened to us. While not especially annoying, its still something weve noticed.
only real gripe with the gameplay itself is that there were times when
we would kill a select gang member, or operate a certain control panel,
or maybe enter a specific building, etc., that would trigger an event
Graphics - Manhunt looks surprisingly great. Weve seen what Rockstar North did with the Renderware engine before with the GTA games, and though the huge cities in those games justified the lackluster graphics, there would be no excuse here, as the game is broken up into levels. Imagine Vice City on steroids, and youve got a pretty decent idea of how Manhunt looks in terms of design. Light and shadow are done very well here; while nothing looks Splinter Cell good, the light and shadow effects are well-executed. Character models are more meticulous in design, and you can even make out blood and wounds on Cash as he gets injured.
Graphically though, the games best asset is in the animation. Not only very fluid, the animation is very realistic. No matter what Cash or any other character is doing, you always know exactly what action it is. There is never a point when you question what it was a character model just tried to impersonate. The Xbox version of Manhunt definitely looks better than the original PS2 version, due to a higher resolution, but doesnt really showcase the Xbox. In fact, both versions look nearly identical without a side-by-side comparison.
Sound In Manhunt, the sound is the star of the show. Not only is the audio an integral gameplay mechanic, but even the aesthetics are brilliantly carried out.
For one, the voiceovers are incredible. Starkweather is voiced by Brian Cox (Manhunter; he plays the original Hannibal Lecter), and puts on one the best performances weve witnessed in a videogame. The supporting characters are equally good in most respects. The enemies for instance, are very talkative, often spewing line after line of fairly original content; you dont hear repeating lines that often (youll be hearing the F word quite often though. Our only objection is to the voice of Cash; many times, the lines feel forced. There were moments we could actually picture the actor reading directly from the script. Its a good thing then that Cash hardly says a word throughout the whole game.
Were also impressed with the music. While it doesnt sound particularly professional, thats where the beauty actually shines. The games musical score sounds a lot like an inexpensively-made slasher film, with little bits containing familiar elements that may have been inspired by John Carpenters Halloween. The music is layered; beginning with one coat, and then intensifying when youve been spotted, or another such occurrence. When you are being chased, the music is at its loudest. Its appropriate, its atmospheric, and its smart. Perfectly fitting.
Bottom Line - Violent or not, Manhunt contains substance that other games can only wish for, and does so while pulling off some excellent and original play mechanics, executed to near-perfection. Whats more, Manhunt changes the face of stealth games, giving the genre a variety that it hasnt had before. At times, the game makes you question your morality, but the mere acknowledgement that Manhunt is able to even stir emotions at all proves it can do what many other games have been failing to do for years. Manhunt is disturbingly wicked. Manhunt is our guilty pleasure. And we wouldnt have it any other way.
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