Written by  :  Dave Schenet (138)
Written on  :  Aug 03, 2003
Platform  :  DOS

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In 2002, the Orbs invaded New York....

The Good

Gotta love a game that dates itself. Reminds me of the movie Escape From New York, which was set in 1995, if memory serves.

But, I digress.

Manhunter came about during an odd "grey area" of Sierra's game development. It seems that they wanted to move away from a parser-driven interface, and make something more modern; a "point and click" game.

Problem was, mice weren't in common use at the time.

So Manhunter (and its sequel, Manhunter: San Fransisco) used a keyboard-based "mouse interface".

Basically, your cursor was a flashing orb. You moved it around the screen with the arrow keys; whenever you floated over a hotspot, the orb would turn into a grabby-hand or an arrow. You'd then click... sorry, I mean, hit enter, to confirm the "use item" or "move in this direction" action.

Now, with the interface description aside..... This game, on the surface, rocked. New York (and, presumeably, the rest of the world) have been invaded by an alien race called the Orbs. The Orbs, who look like large floating eyeballs, have bombed New York practically back into the stone age, and have enforced strict laws on mankind. No humans must ever speak. All humans will wear concealing, hooded robes, to hide their disgusting forms. Play nice with each other, and maybe we won't turn your planet into a very small, very dense sphere.

All hail our alien masters!


Anyway, in this game, you play the role of a Manhunter employed by the Orbs; your job is to track down and identify criminals, and submit their identity to the Orb Alliance. You're sort of like a police detective, and despite its setting, the game plays out like a gritty detective story. Or, it tries to, anyway.

The game takes place over four days; at the beginning of each day, you're awakened by an Orb floating into your apartment (as if it owned the place), and giving you an assignment to track down a criminal. Using your trusty laptop computer, you can view the latest tracking data for these criminals (the Orbs have oh-so-helpfully implanted all humans with tracking devices), and then start figuring out what they were doing, and who they are.

As the days pass, and as you follow various criminal's trails, you discover that maybe our new alien masters aren't so benevolent after all. What're you gonna do about it?

The Bad

Oh, man, where to begin.

First of all, while I loved this game's story, the game developers really botched the job. This game is almost nothing but mazes followed by arcade sequences, followed by mazes, followed by arcade sequences, followed by mazes.... You get the idea.

And another big gripe is the total lack of mouse support. I mean, sure, mice weren't common when this game was made, so they had to give you keyboard controls to move your cursor around. But would it have really been so difficult to actually add mouse support?! I mean, seriously, where's the logic in making a game that pretends to be mouse-based, if you don't actually support mice at all? Sheesh!

Sorry, I'm ranting. Where was I.... Ah, yes.

At one point in time, Sierra was re-releasing some of their "classics" with new interfaces. For example, Space Quest 1 was given a massive facelift, and converted from a CGA game with a text-parser interface into a VGA game with a mouse interface (using the same engine used for nearly every game after, and including, King's Quest 5.) I really, really wish Sierra had re-done Manhunter in such a fashion. Maybe add more "plot", and remove a bunch of the maze-and-arcade "filler".

But, alas, such was not to be. More's the pity.

The Bottom Line

I would say that this game has an excellent story, and a very unique world. Especially for Sierra. I'd love nothing more than to see a movie based on this game, or even a book or two. Unfortunately, the actual game experience is extremely short.

It's also maddeningly frustrating; I'd strongly suggest not even trying to solve the Central Park puzzle, and using a walkthrough instead. Trust me, you'll know it when you run into it, and you'll be glad you've consulted a walkthrough.