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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Action / Stealth

 

Publisher

Rockstar

 

Developer

Rockstar North

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q2 2004

 

 

- Yet another highly-original violence-and-obscenity-laced storyline filled with bad guys galore (including the murderous lead character) that Rockstar has become famous for
- 20+ gameplay hours
- First game I can recall that uses a plastic shopping bag as a weapon of death

 

 

- Pushes past the usual M-rated game threshold with its hyper-violently bloody and foul-language filled content
- A.I. has its share of ridiculous “I’m with stupid” moments
- Kill cut-scenes fall prey to the inherently lazy movie-and-TV usage of camera placement

 

 

Review: Manhunt (PS2)

Review: Manhunt (PC)

Review: Grand Theft Auto III - Double Pack (XB)

Review: Red Dead Revolver (XB)

 

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Manhunt

Score: 7.6 / 10

 

manhunt xbox review          manhunt xbox review

 

While playing through Manhunt, I kept on thinking about shopping for packets of ground beef at the supermarket. Raw, bloody packs of meat that came into my possession via a violent end for the source of said ground beef. I realized this had a lot to do with the inherent gameplay of Manhunt: filled with raw language, overly bloody and violent way, way beyond the boundaries of what passes as Mature-rated gameplay (and I do mean mature; don’t even think about letting anybody under the age of 18 near Manhunt), even for Rockstar, the originators of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series that pushed the M-rated envelope hard and opened the road for titles like Manhunt.

But, just as in GTA III and Vice City, the presence of this highly volatile content doesn’t mask the fact that at the core is a highly addictive game that mature audiences with a penchant for heavy blood-spilling gaming will find as a completely

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satisfying gameplay journey, albeit with a few potholes along the way.

The excellent story places you in the criminal shoes of Carcer City death row inmate James Earl Cash, a bad, bad man that’s reached the final night of his life: Cash is set to die by lethal injection in Darkwoods Penitentiary to pay for his crimes. But after the supposed execution takes place,

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Cash awakes to the realization he’s not dead, but only placed in a dark room in the prison’s deepest recesses. A voice from the earpiece he now is wearing explains his situation.

His “execution” (using drugs that made it appear that Cash had met his demise) was staged with the help of a corrupt prison warden and police chief. But there’s a catch: in order for Cash to walk free, he will have to star in a snuff film directed by Lionel Starkweather for his underground and illegal Valiant Video organization. If Cash does a good job offing bad guys while being filmed, Starkweather will let Cash go.

But once you actually do complete the filming, much to Starkweather's sick delight, he doesn’t let you go (not that you really expected him to.) His highly-outfitted Cerberus team (which looks like a Special Forces unit) captures you using extreme force and “escorts” you to the next group of degenerates that you’ll share a starring role with.

So who are you facing in these films? The nastiest of the nasty scumbags that populate Carcer City: gangs like the Smileys and Innocentz, survivalist screwballs called the Wardogs, Carcer City’s own SWAT team and police force, Cerberus, and another one of Starkweather’s stars, the “half-man/half-pig” psycho, Piggsy.

It’s really a great story as far as video games go, but remember this is written by the Rockstar scribes, so the violence written into the plot is way beyond the limits of normal video game fare. There’s blood spilling increasingly more grotesque and macabre ways at every turn and obscenity-laced dialogue at practically every utterance from each character. This isn’t even close to being acceptable gaming for the under-18 crowd, and the Joe Lieberman army of video game detractors is sure to have a field day proving their cause of banning video game violence if they ever get their hands on Manhunt.

 

manhunt xbox review          manhunt xbox review


But if you’re of legal age to purchase M-rated games and want a title with a warped GTA styling to its gameplay, only exponentially more brutal, then Manhunt’s right up your alley. Don’t let me confuse you by comparing Manhunt to GTA III and Vice City, because the core gameplay is somewhat different. There are no vehicles you can drive in Manhunt, and the gameplay is linear versus GTA’s open-ended offering. Manhunt is best described as a stealth action game instead of the vehicular action that perfectly illustrates what takes place in the GTA realm.

Eidos’ Hitman series is a much better comparison to Manhunt than GTA. As you go from each video shoot to the next, the best chance of survival is to sneak up stealthily on your victims instead of trying to take them out face-to-face, especially in latter stages where the opposition in your path is definitely more well-equipped in the weaponry department than Cash.

Every stage of the game involves taking out victims, usually one at a time, while Starkweather gleefully films your work. While you stalk a victim, there are different levels of kills from the basic quick strike to the extremely brutal. Every time you successfully get a kill, a bloody cut-scene plays. But this gets repetitive quick, because the cut-scenes don’t vary much (only in the level of violence used to off your victim).

There are some “puzzle” type goals that you have to complete, but they are very rare and usually boil down to no more than a rudimentary “find the switch and hit it” exercise. A big letdown though, is the total idiocy of the game’s enemy A.I. Like Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell games, using the shadows is the best way to hide from enemies, and Manhunt has a meter that helps you know when you are concealed by shadow cover.

Making noise also attracts enemies to your vicinity, and you must use this to your advantage to bait enemies to come into your “kill zone.” But the A.I. suffers from a severe case of moronic meltdown. An enemy could literally be six inches in front of you, yet he won’t know your there. You would think he could hear your breathing or at least reach out and touch you to ascertain your presence, but the A.I. doesn’t operate that way. It simply isn’t smart the majority of the time, even against the SWAT, CC Police, and Cerberus forces that are the game’s toughest competition.

Even when they are practically right on top of you, you have to just wait for enemies to turn their back and whack them from behind before they ever know what hit them. It can get a bit boring doing this over and over; and until later in the game, it’s almost no challenge at all racking up these kinds of almost-too-easy kills. The only challenge lies in accomplishing the most violent kills that Starkweather loves (and he’ll let you know with his praises of approval) that also give you a higher “star” rating for each video shoot (that serve to open up game cheats.) But the conventions used to record the kills that give you a star quality fall into the same lazy camera placement techniques used by many TV and movies that alas don’t seem to know any better.

I like the use of an earpiece on Cash to explain his command issuance as to exactly what he expects on each video shoot, but the camera recording the action makes completely no sense at all. Each of the cut-scenes looks like they are recorded from a ground view, giving a perfect observation of both Cash and his victim. Logically, it would be impossible for a camera to be there each and every time. But somehow it is. It would have made more sense to have a perspective that appears to be recorded from some sort of camera on Cash’s head.

Fortunately, the story is good enough that you’ll play through the more mundane levels of the game to see how it all ends (although you can see the final conflict coming a mile away). Another feature that keeps you in the game long past the point that the weak A.I. would have is the great selection of weapons that are at your disposal to get through this adventure. Yeah, the typical shotguns, rifle, and pistol collections are here, but there’s an interesting array of everyday items that make for fine killing utensils. Baseball bats, cleavers, sickles, axes, nail guns, shards of glass, and a chainsaw are included.

But the two most utilitarian-yet-deadly-accurate are the hammer and what I believe is a first in video game history, a plastic grocery bag. The grocery bag isn’t only handy for packing your goods at the market, but as Manhunt proves it also is a suitably perfect smothering device for bad guys.

Helping replenish your ammo and health are power-ups strewn throughout the game’s landscape. You can also “borrow” the ammo from deceased victims. Although it does seem more a chore than bloodsporting entertainment occasionally, you do get approximately 20 or so hours of gameplay from Manhunt, a nice healthy and filling portion in today’s gaming world particularly if you’re into the gut-wrenching gore and mayhem Rockstar serves up on a shiny silver platter.

Controls used to operate Cash fall into an open pit of mediocrity. Just like the Hitman franchise, this is one of the most schizophrenic facets. It works well enough for a third-person game most instances, but can be frustratingly unreliable when you need it the most, especially if you are hiding behind cover like a wall. The camera can get stuck on your placement against the wall and leave you blind to the threats approaching, which can lead to your cover being blown and many times followed up by a quick death. The camera doesn’t always provide the most beneficial view of your surroundings, a crucial element in a game defined by the use of effective stealth tactics.

The graphics and sound from Manhunt are typical Rockstar, which is to say GTA-esque. You would swear this is another in the line of GTA titles from the character design to the level details, except the pastel colors of Vice City have been replaced by the dark and dank color schematic of Carcer City. Starkweather’s voice-over is done exceptionally well, but most of the others are slightly sub-par. Cash himself ironically doesn’t have much dialogue at all, being the strong and silently murderous type. The game does provide good sound quality, and that is crucial considering you really need to listen carefully to detect approaching enemies.

Rockstar knows its target audience for Manhunt is one and the same as those who played through and thoroughly enjoyed the grandiose violence of GTA III and Vice City. But there’s much more gore and gruesomeness at play here, so be forewarned if you don’t possess a strong stomach. Expect gallons of blood, tons of vulgarity, stealth action and an actual engaging (although brutally violent) story. Don’t expect non-linear gameplay, intelligent A.I. or generally the same level of brilliance of the GTA games. Nonetheless, Manhunt is a somewhat flawed but overall well devised action title that provides a gaming fix for the adult sick puppies that like their gaming raw and bloody.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(June 16, 2004)

 

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