- November 26th 2003

Realgamer Review

Rockstar, the guys behind Grand Theft Auto 3 have hardly been known for their child friendly video games. It’s no surprise then that Manhunt is not something you will be buying 5 year old Johnny to put in his Christmas stocking this year, even the storyline is something which would only ever appear in an 18+ certificate film.

At first play this game reminded me a little of Tom Clancy’ s Splinter Cell but in this game you don’t get to play the hero, infact the lead character isn’t very ‘cool’ at all, he starts the game been strapped to a bed and injected with what looks like the lethal injection. You see, you get to play as James Cash, a death row inmate who after having apparently been put to death awakens to be told he has a second chance. Upon waking, Cash finds himself alone in a room with an earpiece on the table, he puts it on only to be greeted by a Mr Lionel Starkweather who explains to him that his freedom is just around the corner but first he must take the leading role in a snuff movie creating as much death and gore as humanly possible.

The storyline is original enough and thankfully, whilst the game treads on familiar ground it certainly holds its own. Cash must make his way through an abandoned city executing the very hunters that have been sent to get him. The games levels are set into scenes and at the end of each scene players are given scores on their killing techniques, time taken and enemies killed. For those perfectionists out there Manhunt gives you the option to go back and re-do scenes for a higher score.

The most important part of the gameplay is stealth which brings us to the Splinter Cell comparison made earlier on, whilst it is true that the best way in both games is to sneak up, surprise and kill in Splinter Cell the majority of the time you were only required to knock people out. In Manhunt however the aim is to kill and there are a number of ways to do it. At the beginning of the game Cash uses simple weapons such as plastic bags (suffocation), baseball bats and a glass shard but later on he gets his hands on more impressive and deadly weapons such as the variety of guns which become available.

Although Cash is able to fight with his bare hands the option shouldn’t really appeal and it soon becomes obvious that this way is not the intended way. He can fight but hand to hand combat is little more than button mashing and if you happen to attract more than one hunter to the fight you’re pretty much finished. The intended route through the game is stealth and thankfully the game handles this quite well from the sneaking (although painfully slow) to the hiding and up close attacks.

As you would expect, the shadows are your friends (your only friends by the looks of things!) and the game lends itself to plenty of ‘hide and wait’ opportunities. To attract attention Cash has the ability to tap objects or throw things into the path of enemies, in one example I was hiding in a dark spot and was there for some time, to attract attention I pushed a metal shopping trolley out of the shadows into the light which enticed a hunter to come over and investigate, once in the darkness I was able to kill him silently without distracting the others.

Manhunt features pretty good controls although they are not perfect by any means, the camera control is the games weak point, you can turn to a first person perspective by using the right analogue but this often leads to confusing camera switches and fiddly controls. The games overall difficulty is very hard from the beginning, the extreme slow movement of Cash when in Sneak mode makes it impossible to actually follow an enemy until he stops walking as he will simply get too far ahead of you and turn around to walk back before you are anywhere near him. Running through fighting isn’t any easier either and is certainly no fun.

Another drawback in the gameplay is the limitations of movement Cash is capable of, he can’t jump or crouch, he can’t climb onto ledges and he has a strictly limited number of hand to hand combat moves. Obviously the levels are designed to not need Cash to do anything other than walk but it does sometimes seem that the same process of ‘sneak up and kill the bad guy’ is tediously repeated with no other purpose to the game.

The actual stealth killing is shown in cut scene format in what can only be described as a “cheap movie” feel, bad camera angles, bad lighting, lots of blood gurgling and disturbing noises. In short, it looks fantastic; the whole sleazy look to the cutscene killings fit’s the dark atmosphere of the game perfectly. Executions range from holding a plastic bad over your victims face and beating him until he suffocates to slitting his throat before kicking him to the ground in a merciless show. Whilst behind an enemy holding down the attack button for longer will produce a much more gruesome killing which is good for your relationship with Starkweather however finding the time to do this is rare and quick killings are far easier to pull off.

Enemy AI is pretty good although on some occasions the hunters saw me and came after me only for me to stand still in a shadow (which they saw me enter) resulting in them suddenly losing interest and walking away. You also have the option of hiding bodies once you acquire them however the enemy AI doesn’t really force you to do this and sometimes don’t even notice when they step on their dead friends. Walking on certain types of terrain can alert hunters to you but on the whole it seems far too easy to hide, In Splinter Cell, if an enemy got too close to you he would see you whether you were in the shadows or not, in Manhunt you can literally stand there face to face with a hunter but if you are classed as been in the shadow he wont see you. This slight bug coupled with the games overall difficulty however tends to even it out a little and makes it more accessible to newcomers to the genre.

Manhunt boasts excellent graphics with character models being brilliantly animated and looking highly realistic. There is nothing ‘cartoonish’ to take away the violent, mature approach and everything is done in high detail and sound animation. Cutscenes are excellent and have been designed to look dark and sleazy and it works brilliantly.

The games audio is also brilliantly done with a perfect soundtrack integrating itself right into the dark atmosphere. Execution cut scenes feature sickening sound effects such as the sound of a neck breaking or the sound of a man choking on his own blood. Voice acting is also done well and doesn’t come across as corny or “horror movie” like as you might expect. Sound effects such as the terrain under Cash’s feet or his heart beat thumping as the situation grows tense adds to the disturbingly realistic feel of the game.

Despite the lack of variety in gameplay, Manhunt is a pretty good game. Its original storyline keeps the game feeling fresh and the difficulty will prevent anyone from whizzing through killing everyone and becoming bored. Re-play value is a little damaged due to the predictable actions of enemies and the lack of alternative routes through the game but its fun none the less and thankfully the violence hasn’t been overdone to create a cheesy ‘controversial’ title. Manhunt is good; it’s a challenge and more importantly, its fun.

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