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PC Review - 'Manhunt'

by Alanix on May 3, 2004 @ 1:18 a.m. PDT

Genre : Action
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: April 20, 2004

Buy 'MANHUNT': Xbox | PC | PlayStation 2

I can’t review Manhunt without first mentioning a classic 1924 story, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. This story has been the fodder for numerous films, and not a few video games. The plot is simple: While traveling on a yacht to a jaguar hunt in Brazil, Sanger Rainsford, an expert American hunter, accidentally falls overboard. He swims to a jungle-covered island. There he makes his way to a medieval-like fortress, the home of a pleasure-loving Russian, General Zaroff. General Zaroff explains that his love of hunting had been thwarted by the lack of a challenging prey until recently, when he discovered the "most dangerous game" to be hunted. He invites Rainsford to go on a hunting excursion with him....and Rainsford becomes his prey.

The concept of hunter vs. hunted is a theme as old as mankind itself. Rockstar Games and Take 2 have taken this concept to the next level in Manhunt.

You play the part of James Earl Cash, a convicted killer, on the eve of his execution. You are taken to the table, strapped in, and the lethal injection is administered. Hours later, you awaken in a nondescript room, with a disembodied voice talking to you. This voice belongs to Lionel Starkweather, a director for Valiant Video. Valiant is basically a snuff flick outlet looking for better, bloodier action for its sick fan base. You have been given a reprieve! You are now the star of Valiant Video’s newest production. You will be hunted by hordes of vicious killers. Guys just like you. Let the games begin.

From the opening credits that are eerily reminiscent of “Se7en”, Manhunt pulls you, kicking and screaming, into the sleazy world of underground video. And not the fun, order-now-and-we’ll-send-you-College-Girls-Gone-Wild-at-no-extra-cost underground video, either. If there are “Girls Gone Wild” in this world, they aren’t flashing you, they’re slicing you up. No super-tuned import cars racing on deserted streets, just bizarre hoodlums trying to take a chunk out of your hide.
Let there be no mistake; Manhunt richly deserves its hard-earned “M” rating. This is not a game for kids. This is not a game for the squeamish. This is not a game for the politically correct. This is a game for adults. The language is R-rated, the blood flows in buckets, and the executions are quite nasty. You are awarded for savagery, and praised for high body counts.

This is not to say that Manhunt doesn’t have a sense of humor. You just have to be able to appreciate that humor. If you though the Black Knight sequence from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was funny, this may be a title for you. As for me, I’m having a blast with it!

I recall a great old DOS racing game called Carmageddon. It billed itself as “A Racing Game for the Chemically Imbalanced”. Manhunt could be called “Metal Gear Solid for Psychopaths” Stealth is a key factor in this world, if you want to keep your bodily fluids on the inside. Most of the gang members you will come up against are superior in numbers, and generally have better weaponry than you. The fundamentals of modern combat are in force. Namely, divide and conquer. You’ll never be able to take out groups of these suckers in open combat, so the use of knocking on walls or dumpsters, kicking garbage cans, or hurling bricks and bottles to distract your prey become the tools of your survival. Then, when the poor unsuspecting fool turns his back on you, you are free to execute him. Cash’s stance changes when behind a target, and the longer you hold down the attack button, the nastier the execution will be. When the targeting reticle is red, you are at maximum execution. Heads are removed, bowels eviscerated, and skulls splintered. Boy Howdy! These cutscenes are presented in a grainy, jumpy, hand-held camcorder fashion, adding to the snuff video theme, and when you perform the max execution the plasma smears the screen.

At first, I thought the repetition would get old. How wrong I was! Getting a new weapon means an entire new set of execution cutscenes that are more fun to watch that ripping the wings off of flies. I hate to admit it, but there must be a touch of the amateur sadist in all of us who get off playing this sort of game. And if you disagree, I’ll spank you. As the levels progress, your enemies become more bizarre and better armed. Of course, if they are bleeding internally, they can’t use them, right? And speaking of bizarre, wait until you meet Piggsy. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it took me right back to the climax of “Motel Hell”.

Musically, Manhunt brings immediately to mind the synthesized horror movie music from the 70’s. Shock chords are in abundance, and the thrum of the bass synth flashes me back to the soundtrack from John Carpenter’s original “Halloween”. The dialogue is… well… adult to the point of being pointedly adult. The hunters’ vocabulary is akin to a sailor on his first shore leave, with 500 bucks in his pocket, and half a kilo of smack in his duffel bag. Drug references and sexual innuendo fly. When my daughter is anywhere near my office, I play Manhunt with headphones on. It could easily offend anyone not intentionally listening. But as I said before, Manhunt is an adult game. In fact, the Chicago Tribune has referred to it as “The Clockwork Orange of video games”

I first played Manhunt when it came out for the PS2 some time ago. I enjoyed it then, but the port really makes the game shine. Mouse-and-keyboard has always been my preferred method of control for this type of shooter, and I never got that natural feel from the twin sticks on the Dual Shock. The graphics also took a great shot in the arm. This is a much sharper and crisper Manhunt than its PS2 cousin. It is dark; however, you can use the gamma correct in the game to make things a little easier to see. Some of the screenshots were brightened up for publication for just that reason. But, I prefer using the recommended brightness levels, and playing the game in a darkened room. There’s something really fun about watching for the same shadows in the dark that your hunters/prey are watching for. This makes you more dependent on the sound of footsteps and voices.

The combat system, when you are not performing executions, is basic. Right Mouse Button for strong attack, Left Mouse Button for quick attack, and both buttons to grapple. Blocking is achieved by simply backing up.

The environment is not nearly as interactive as, say Breed, or Far Cry, but you can shoot propane tanks for small explosions, and things of that nature (including a very clever sequence using a crane, an electro-magnet and a refrigerator) in your quest to discover who the mysterious Starkweather really is, and why you have been chosen to be his latest star.

The computer AI is also much improved over the console version. The hunters can be quite cunning at times. Just when you think you’ve gotten away from a group, they split up and outflank you. And just like in real life, a few morons are around just to keep things honest. I particularly loved taking out the white supremacist sitting on the toilet. It’s amazing what a brick to the head can do.

In summation:

  • The storyline, while somewhat derivative, is compelling.
  • The action is a good mix of stealth and brawling.
  • The voice acting is par for the course, more Andrew Dice Clay-ish than it really had to be, but I think Rockstar was wise to put that right out front, so no parents are caught unaware. Manhunt is in your face, and you know what kind of game this is from the starting gate.
  • The music is right out of 1970’s low-budget horror flicks, giving it a nice feel of nostalgia mixed with seediness.
  • Graphically, this game just rocks! Just be sure to do a gamma correction if you find the streets and alleys too dark for your taste.
  • The controls are a solid, nothing new, mouse-and-keyboard setup which will be instantly playable to most everyone.
  • The level design is decent, though at times can be a little repetitive.

It looks like Rockstar has another hit on its hands. They revolutionized driving gameplay with GTA: Vice City, and are well on their way to revolutionizing the adult shooter with Manhunt. Add to that the upcoming release of their new Wild West shooter, Red Dead Revolver, not to mention GTA: San Andreas, and I think we’ll be seeing that Rockstar logo on a lot of splash screens for a long time to come.


Score: 8.5/10

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