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Manhunt (PlayStation 2) artwork

Manhunt (PlayStation 2) review

"It had to come sooner or later: a game where the complete trademark revolving around all of the action is finding new and inspiring ways to remove a man’s head from his shoulders. And to think that “New Line Cinema” isn’t in the publisher’s title! Even so, you can always rely on Rockstar Games to come up with some brand new idea to push the envelope, and Manhunt is no exception. While being fueled on the concept of blood and gore, the game revolves around sneaking from one area to the next, maki..."

It had to come sooner or later: a game where the complete trademark revolving around all of the action is finding new and inspiring ways to remove a man’s head from his shoulders. And to think that “New Line Cinema” isn’t in the publisher’s title! Even so, you can always rely on Rockstar Games to come up with some brand new idea to push the envelope, and Manhunt is no exception. While being fueled on the concept of blood and gore, the game revolves around sneaking from one area to the next, making as less noise as you possibly can, in order to sneak up on an unsuspecting loon, where you will sing him a lullaby... or slice his head off. Same difference, really. As a sincere doubter of the title as a cheap cash-in, the results that I found were pleasantly surprising.

Manhunt stars James Earl Cash, a man that is sentenced to death. On the day of his execution, Cash receives a second chance at life, in the form of a death wish in itself. The Director has broken Mr. Cash free from the gas chamber, only to have him as the unsuspected star of his latest snuff film. James Earl Cash must slowly get around the enemies that have been sent to hunt him, at any cost necessary, including human life. But with every chapter of this despicable story closed, a new one begins. Like a catchy pop song... or chopping off new heads. Same difference, really.

Most will go into Manhunt expecting a cheap cash-in on the overly popular killographic genre. As long as it does something that will take the newly created genre to a new low, people will buy it, if only to figure out what all of the fuss is about. For the first hour into the game itself, we are treated to the basics of Manhunt, which are quite faulty, to say the least, and do nothing but further prove that the game is a thrill-ride for those that crave blood. However, one can deal with fairly bad controls if the actual experience is somewhat good, and despite the early flaws in the game, the world that is created for James Earl Cash to roam about within is breathtaking-literally.

As stated, as the game begins, the cliché name-calling is only proven guilty. This is a good thing to those that purchased the title based on the gimmick alone, or the Senator that will use one of the ten hours of gameplay as direct, mindless evidence against the current state of the industry. But as the game rolls along, so will the pacing, which is unlike any other game to date. Along with the ability to call out to the enemies that lurk on the opposite side of the wall using the Headset peripheral, get ready for the most unique stealth-based experience known to man, as you must knock on walls, throw bricks or dismantled heads, or even run on gravel to distract your soon-to-be victim into searching for you. Just be sure to hide in those shadows before they spot you.

Yes, stealth is the main pleasure point to the game, not the gruesome kills themselves, surprisingly enough. There is no other feeling like being within walking distance to the checkpoint, and having a psycho racist with a nail gun standing in your way, slowly leering towards your character as you lean against the wall in hopes of going unnoticed. If you choose to provoke melee combat in Manhunt, you are likely, to be blunt, screwed. The enemies will call on their buddies to gang up on poor Cash until he is dead. Also: you’re not Morgan Freeman, so don’t attempt to have a fistfight with the guy carrying the shotgun, buster.

This is also where one of the fatal flaws of the game comes into play: at times, when hiding in the shadows by leaning up against a wall, one of the enemies may look directly at you, yet pass you by immediately afterwards. While this benefits the gamer as a timely glitch, it also disrupts the pattern of the game’s individual stages, and how they play out. The game controls as if it were a survival horror game, and to some extent, it is. Sadly, the game also has a dull pace with a stamina meter that slowly depletes as you run, and trust me, walking talking forever when you must backtrack to an earlier point in the game.

Speaking of the backtracking, for once since the very first 3-D action game was created, it is actually enjoyable. If you die throughout a given stage, chances are that you need to think things through. Example: when escorting a civilian through a stage, you must backtrack to a safe spot, where none of the psychos will find him or her, and drop the person off until further notice. It is also wise to drop them off at your last hiding spot, as it’s likely a safe area, considering you once used it to hunt people down.

The absolute worst thing about Manhunt is the fact that the map is completely, in ever sense of the phrase, messed up. Enemies will pop up on the radar at random times, usually when they get too close for comfort, to throw your initial plan off of the tracks. This is extremely annoying, as one enemy may turn around on your radar, and when you go to quietly pursue the stalker, an unseen enemy on the radar screen will spot you, alerting his buddy of your presence. Yes, the same buddy that you’re right behind, so if that buddy has decent weaponry, you can kiss those pretty carb-infested buns of yours goodbye.

One of the many things that can be loved about Manhunt is the fact that, if you die during a stage, it is likely your fault. While most enemies are pre-set for perfect results the entire way through, the game’s AI gets progressively smarter as the level number increases. While you can knock on a wall to distract an enemy in one of the earlier stages, the keen sense of earring, and the high awareness with side-views may be your death near the end of the game. To survive, you must evolve as a player with the game, and things so large, yet unnoticed by the common gamer, are quite rare in this day and age.

Considering the fact that Manhunt takes an interesting placement, and creates a completely different take on stealth games, it can catch most players off-guard, especially when they are expecting to see a hand-to-hand gorefest that is spotlighted by insane kills. After an hour into the gameplay, the whole gimmick regarding the grotesque deaths will soon take a backseat to the action itself. The game itself is good, but the overall experience is one of the more satisfying things in the entire action genre in the past five years or so. The gameplay has a different pacing to it than anything else on the market, so the experience is different, if nothing else. Of course, the gameplay is also pretty shoddy throughout around 70% of the game. Regardless, if you’re looking for something different, bold, and really, really just plain fun, give it a try. Hey, at least you can say that you’ve played it.

Sound: 9.0
Voice acting is top notch, as beloved veteran Brian Cox takes over as the Director. The dialogue is not for the faint at heart, however, with bad words used in nearly every other sentence. The music, when it rarely appears in the game, is in an intense-slasher-flick style that has been replicated throughout the late 80’s to early 90’s, yet sadly died out abruptly. Sound effects are a huge part of the game, as the entire system revolves around them. If Cash walks on the gravel, or on a rough spot on the walkway, you can expect trouble. Did I mention that the music itself changes when you’re under different status amongst the patrolling enemies? It will also give you the edge on those very enemies, in case they spot you, warning you a second ahead of time to pack up and get out of dodge.

Graphics: 8.0
At times, it is actually hard to decipher exactly which area in the game that you’re supposed to be at. Sure, certain areas will come across as obvious, such as the Trainyard, or the Shopping Mall, but others, such as the Zoo, are not that blatant until you actually see the structure of a zoo at hand. Regardless, the design to the levels is anywhere from brilliant to somewhat lacking, but let’s face it, who does not want to kill the crazies that take care of the mentally disturbed folks at the Insane Asylum? Character models range from very good to average, as some characters come to life as a part of the game’s depth themselves, while others look like borrowed concepts from one of the 200 action titles on the market that involve enemies with bullet proof vests.

Gameplay: 8.0
In all honesty, I came into this thing expecting some cheap cop-out that was easy to follow just so the average gamer could get their weekly blood fulfillment out of a cheap thrill in the game. I got a lot deeper of an experience in the stealth genre that is unlike anything to date. Fans of the Metal Gear Solid series will fall in love with the depth of the stealth action, as it slowly blends into guns and bullets rather than chainsaws and blades. The running and gunning could use some adjustments to perform better under stress, although the “hide behind this object and pop up to blast your hitman away” action is amongst the best created. Even so, for all of the good things in the gameplay, the bad outweigh the good, with sluggish and delayed response from the survival horror control scheme, and the God-awful map display.

Enjoyment: 9.5
One of the few games in the year 2003 that actually delivered much more than expected. As stated earlier, there is no finer feeling that a fat man with a pig’s head chasing you around with a chainsaw, and walking right by you as you lean up against a wall near the doorway that he just entered, and actually getting away without a scratch. Add the Headset option into the mix, and you can taunt the computer as much as you like with a mouth dirtier than Dennis Leary’s on St. Patrick’s Day. Just make sure your cat isn’t listening, as you do not want to make things awkward between the two of you.

Overall: 9.0 (not an average)
Surely I was expecting a six hour romp through a lackluster game filled with gore for a quick buck or two, and to just make the state of gaming look bad. I’ll be a man and admit that I was completely wrong with that assumption, like R. Kelly in a court testimony. While most of the gameplay elements that are flawed honestly do hamper the overall experience, they can be easily overlooked if you have played any survival horror title with a glitch or two that annoys you, as if it were a fly buzzing near your ears. The only unforgivable wrong is the map, which is guaranteed to kill you at least twice during your adventure. As stated earlier, the mindless violence takes a backseat to the intense action, and instead of thinking how cool the kill is or will be, you will just want the guy out of your way--dead or alive. The game’s flow can become boring after the first few stages, but once the gimmicks and stipulations are added to the latter missions, expect some strategizing, which will help your mind grow. Like milk... or lopping people’s heads off.

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Community review by zoop (February 05, 2004)

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