Written by  :  Nick Drew (412)
Written on  :  Mar 08, 2007
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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Gruesomely violent stealth action outing, which is undeniably masterfully crafted and executed.

The Good

With Manhunt 2 looming on the horizon, and the current controversy surrounding its release on Nintendo’s Wii format, and people screaming “murder simulation”, provoked me to write some words about the original game. To this point I have been apprehensive about covering this game due to the highly questionable subject matter. Many wrote this game off after the first five minutes of play, and quickly reported how disgusted they were on-line or otherwise, and I can understand this mind set, but after staying with the game for the whole duration, I found it to be more than a purely contrived piece of software which only feet to stand on are its shock and controversial nature. Any mature individual to approach this as strictly escapism entertainment should find something here, as the underlying mechanics are crafted in such a way to draw the player as deep as never before into a virtual world that is believable on its own terms, and can forge a genuinely harrowing experience, and this is the first time I can admit to this, bring forward a level of immersion where you aren’t reminded your sitting at your desk with a cup of coffee, and this is a truly mean feat to accomplish in my book.

The basic premise sees the games’ anti-hero protagonist, James Earl Cash, a convict on death-row, whom is plucked from certain death by a snuff film director, and subsequently being forced against his will to participate in a city wide manhunt, effectively as the hunter hunted, with it all being caught on surveillance cameras, for the disgraced director’s final stab at making the big-time. The games’ visuals are deliberately rough around the edges, and a layer of grain has been imposed onto the display to generate the cinematic celluloid feeling, and this gives an extra level of authenticity to the proceedings. The opening sequence features a suitably heavy downbeat score, which deftly sounds like from some trashy 80's action flick, and is fluid with the overall gritty, unappealing atmosphere. The game takes place from the third-person perspective, something not so dissimilar to Max Payne 2 specifically, in terms of atmosphere and the complexity of the game engine, but no further. The entire game is effectively broken up into ‘scenes’, where upon in each you are dropped into a location in the game world, carcer city, which is rife with a gang of thugs of whom are promised a fictitious bounty so they perform convincingly for the camera. A bunch of heavy’s in gas masks, whose actions are dictated by the heinous director, drops you out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire, and you must employ all your stealth and cunning to survive.

The AI in this game particularly caught my attention, especially how the hunters operate in unity in their pursuit. They will survey the surrounding in pattern formations, and if an area is left unattended, the commanding hunter will demand a follower to check it out. If you are seen, the observing hunter will scream out to the others of your location, and promptly advance on your position quickly. Hiding, or disposing of bodies is an incorporated game facet here, and if an individual hunter finds a body, he will subsequently pair up with a teammate to assist him, making life infinitely more difficult for you. Should you find yourself in a compromised position, you can run like the wind, and retreat to some dark recesses to catch your breath, which is usually prudent. When you steal away in the shadows, you are effectively invisible to the hunters, but there is a chance grey area when a hunter could be in front of your face, and looks to be staring right at you, and he could conceivably turn around and go on with his routine, or scream out like all hell has broken loose, and attacks you viciously. When you are pursuing a hunter, there is always that risk that he will turn around suddenly, or the possibility of being spotted by an unknown party, which really builds the tension. These types of unpredictable moments really drive the games’ motive to manipulate the players’ ultimate feeling of emotional discomfort and unease.

The game often offers means of using chance things found in the environment, such for being able to collect a glass bottle, or tin can, which can be used in ways you can imagine to manipulate your aggressors. As well as this, you can also tap a wall with an object when leaning against it, or kick a barrel, and various other things to draw attention. Of course, there are also unwanted ways of creating awareness of yourself, such as walking on gravel, and other noisy uneven surfaces.

The fact that you cannot save your game at any point is a strong plus here, for if you could, it would strip the game of its great immediacy, which keeps the player on edge. Checkpoints are still employed due to the large nature of the scenes, so you don’t have to start from scratch.

In terms of the story telling aspect of the game, it does manage a semi movie like feel with the pre rendered cut-scenes in dispersed throughout the course of the game. As you would expect from a mature title of this nature, the dialogue sometimes contains profanity, but the underlying script is intelligently written, and carries the narrative with conviction.

Concerning controls, the use of the mouse, as for looking and aiming is much more intuitive than on the console versions.

The Bad

I personally didn’t derive any pleasure from the cruel and sadistic aspects of the game. The game contains levels of simulated violence of which is quite dehumanising. On the same token however, I don’t think the visualisation is quite as impact full as that of the sort of images a film can generate. Nevertheless, most certainly the content here should be restricted to the classified mature adult age group.

The Bottom Line

If with this review it seems like I am defending the deplorable subject matter, I have failed in what I set out to accomplish. Despite what Manhunt presents on the surface, the underlying factors which construct the games’ unsettling nature lay much deeper than the immediate blood and gore violence which is so superficially prominent from the unseeing eye. What makes the game effective is how it generates tension, by creating an atmosphere of loathing dread and pure fear, by putting the player in a truly visceral situation, where it is nay, too impossible not to give the game you complete attention, and be consumed by the whole experience, as if your life was really at stake. Like your first viewing of The Exorcist, Manhunt has the uncanny ability to scar upon your psyche, and it is an experience that will undoubtedly stay with you forever.