June 18, 2004

[floatleft][/floatleft]”Party like a Rockstar!” You may have heard the term but Rockstar Games is just that, Rockstars. Critically acclaimed, or begrudgingly dissed, Rockstar has developed some of the biggest selling games in recent years. With games like Grand Theft Auto under their belt, the publishing company can afford bad publicity. Hell they almost welcome it. Manhunt definitely delivered the bad publicity. In a game where the focus is to mutilate everyone you meet in the most violent way possible, the game earned a mature rating easily. With controversy in check, all they needed was game play that would not (in true Rockstar fashion) get redundant. Can they deliver?


Storyline is fairly simple. You are James Earl Cash, a man who has just walked the red line on death row. Only problem is you never die. Instead you wake up finding yourself at the whim of a madman looking to make demented movies of real life violence. Your objective is to make your way through a city filled with Gangs whose job it is to find you and kill you. You of course are cunning enough to be able to hide in shadows or around corners. You must make use of you surroundings and stalk the Hunters. These hunters as I mentioned before come in the forms of gangs, each with their own gimmick. It’s very reminiscent of the movie The Warriors, minus the kung fu guys. Along the way Cash picks up various items he can use as weapons such as plastic bags, shards of glass, chainsaws, crowbars, baseball bats, and of course various guns.

[floatright][/floatright]The game play is structured around stealth; as such the guns blazing approach will lead to your death. The mechanics work well as you can surprise characters for an easy kill. You are given an indicator that tells how well you are hidden in shadows to help out a bit. The game also contains a brightness adjuster so you can see shadows even better. Like most stealth games the enemy AI works in patrols, they react to noise and search the area when something is not right. Killing a victim in the open and leaving his body will alert close by hunters, so body placement is of the utmost importance. You must learn the patterns of the patrols or lure them in order to get the jump on them. When stalking a hunter the longer you hold down the attack button while near him the more gruesome the kill. The murders take place in cut scene fashion. Not to give too much away, but the murders are completely horrendous. Often times leaving brains scattered on walls, or heads cracked or severed.

The core issues of course will be noticed very early. As the game is played in third person behind the shoulder camera angle your perspective is limited. Nothing like Metal Gear Solid where you see an area with you character centered. There is a small, very small, amount of camera control; however it is not enough to be able to scan an area thoroughly. There is a simple radar which functions very well to give you the where abouts of the hunters. Your radar works just like you would assume the enemy’s would. It’s not so much a radar but rather a sensor. You can see the location of a hunter if they make noise and when not moving or making any noise they are not seen at all so stumbling onto an enemy is not unheard of. This adds the heart pounding factor that a stealth game should have. The hunters will give themselves away most of the time by talking to one another, or walking back and forth over terrain that makes noise. You should be able to navigate around them or sneak up on them with some time and practice. The system does take time to get used to, as I feel it’s anything but intuitive. One button for multiple functions will leave you confused.

[heading]Hire good actors, and smear Vaseline on the camera.[/heading]

The character design is very well done. I admire good character modeling and this game delivers. The gritty slum filled scenes are well depicted. Broken down scenery, buildings and cars leave for good environmental interaction as you can hide behind, against or in the shadows of the layout. The problem again is like GTA, the textures look absolutely horrid. Your face looks very similar to the previous models and faces look similar to the GTA series. The textures of everything scream PS2 graphics as things never seem to look crisp, but faded and blurry. I guess you can’t win them all.

[floatleft][/floatleft]Voice acting is completely top notch. From the voice of your tormentor that leads you through your horrid night via a voice peace, to the hunters. You will be taunted, mocked, and screamed at all to rouse you into revealing yourself. And to cement itself as a mature game every swear word is used in the book. Some of the conversations between hunters or when they are talking to themselves are quite humorous. Expect expletives a plenty and drug references to boot. Then again you are running about smashing skulls in, so I doubt that will faze you.

[heading]So many good points, nothing excellent[/heading]

This game, much like most Rockstar games gets very redundant. In later levels more gunfights occur but nothing in the vein of Max Paine. The tricky camera work and controls lead to frustrating moments but nothing that makes you want to turn off the PS2. While the controversy factor is high like GTA, it fails in the same respect. Not enough game for the buck. While this game has a better storyline, albeit demented, nothing relatively great stands out from Manhunt. It is well done in almost all respects, however I would consider it a good rental as you can take the game in the few days you have it. Manhunt will bring out the psycho in you. By the way, it’s just a game.