Rockstar is known for its edgy, often controversial games, including Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and State of Emergency. With its newest contribution, Manhunt, hitting store shelves, the publisher is aiming to raise the bar for gory, mature video games to another level. And at that, it does not fail.
Manhunt is a voyeuristic grab bag of The Running Man meets Metal Gear Solid. You play the role of James Earl Cash, a convicted murderer sentenced to death. But instead of being lethally injected, you wake up in a run-down Carcer City with only a single objective: survive the night. Survive against the various gangs, rent-a-cops, and other slime that are the residents (and hired goons of snuff-video maker Starkweather) in Carcer. You are not alone, however, as Starkweather (or "The Director") is videotaping your every move for his line of videos. The game starts off very cinematic, not unlike its GTA brethren, and afterward you're thrust into a fairly thorough tutorial level. And I mean level, too. The game features a chapter-based system where you try to get from one objective to the next without dying.
The gameplay is standard stealth fare, albeit slow to an almost tedious pace. You're constantly hiding, tailing, or tiptoeing around the map while on the lookout for enemies. Most of the time the enemies are relatively simple-minded. All you have to do is hide in the shadows, watch their patterns, and attack at the right time. Getting into straight-up fights almost always earns a continue screen, as enemies really smack you around. If you get ganged up on (no pun intended), you might as well wait for them to finish it off because you frankly don't have much of a chance to do anything. Luckily though, enemies are basically legally blind and won't see you if you're in the shadows (your status icon turns blue when you're in a "safe zone" shadow) unless they're actively searching for you. They all apparently wear miracle ears though, as they will hear the smallest peep from you if you are within range.
The game's controls are fairly straightforward and are explained in the first chapter. You'll be breezing through the gang members once you get the hang of it. My only hang-up on the controls is the Execution meter. In order to get a more gory kill, you must hold either X or square for a certain time while shadowing the opponent. I personally thought the concept was a bit sloppy (I would have preferred an automatic meter), but it does the job.
Sound plays an integral role in Manhunt. You use sound to lure enemies towards your position, both accidentally and purposefully. If you happen to walk over some gravel or knock over a garbage can near an opponent, they'll hear it and beat you senseless. You can also use it to gain an advantage in some situations, such as breaking up a large group of gang members with a decoy weapon. With a USB headset attached, you can hear Starkweather talking to you as if you had the ear peice James Cash wears in the game, and you can use it to spook enemies with the microphone.
The graphics of Manhunt are a relatively similar to GTA (since it uses the same game engine), but much darker and cleaner. You will see all sorts of detail in the levels, such as blood spatters on the walls, graffiti, and garbage piles. Character models are much more sharp and detailed than in GTA, because the game isn't open-ended like it so it doesn't need to draw stuff off in the background and can focus on what's on-screen instead. Within the death cut scenes, the game uses a video-recording style that emulates you watching the execution through Starkweather's eyes - a gruesomely nice touch.
All in all, Manhunt is a game parents are going to absolutely hate, and a game that is already setting precedents around the world (it was recently banned in New Zealand.) A bit slow for my tastes, and relatively short at 15 "chapters" with 2 difficulty settings, it would be a good purchase for the die-hard Rockstar fan or any afficionado of gore and macabre scenery. Otherwise, it's good as a rental for about a week or two.
· · · Jason Jaimeson