posted 1/15/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PS2
Stealth-based games are a dime a dozen nowadays so a gimmick is needed in order to elevate one of them atop the masses. We’ve seen a couple of interesting ones as of late, most notably Ubi Soft Montreal’s Splinter Cell, but it seemed to be lacking something. Sam Fisher was a good guy, the clean cut, straight forward, play-by-the-rules agent who had little room for error. Make one mistake and you kiss the success of the mission goodbye. Sometimes it’s good to be bad and this is where Manhunt really excels. Yes, stealth is a definite must but being spotted doesn’t jeopardize the mission. Why? Because your only mission is to get the hell out of the thug-infested death trap with your life. Forget about following protocols, conforming to the mission and playing by the rules because there are none.

I like to think of my executions in the same way that I think of those Ronco Rotisserie Grills, just set it and forget it. Well something went awry in this execution, James Earl Cash managed to escape death thanks to the help of a snuff film maker and he’s now indebted to him. What do you do to a man who’s already cheated death? You ask him to do it again of course and that’s exactly the premise of Manhunt. The director places you into a number of increasingly deadly scenarios where you’re forced to escape by any means possible. Now this means that you’ll have to get your hands a little dirty from time-to-time. Players will be given access to a number of practical weapons including shards of glass, plastic bags, piano wires, nail guns, bats and your usual assortment of handguns. While you can always choose to engage your enemies head-on it’s not exactly the brightest idea. You’ll need to utilize darkness and cover to your advantage; this is where Manhunt earns its M rating.

There’s no doubt about it, Manhunt is one of the most violent games available on the market. It’ll cater to all of those sick bastards out there (present company included) who have a morbid curiosity with the ways that a human can die. Look at it as the Faces of Death of video games. When securing a stealth kill you’ll be treated to some shaky-cam footage of your work. Depending on how long you hold down the attack button you’ll be treated to a wide array of kill moves. Tap the button and you just might jab your enemy in the throat with a shard of glass for a quick and clean kill. Hold it down for a bit and you’ll jam it into his side a couple of times before slitting his throat and spewing his blood all over the camera. I hate to say it but there’s just something compelling about these moves that make them worth watching over and over again. Each weapon has about three degrees of death that it can dish out. Even the relatively tame plastic bag turns into a tool of death when you wrap it around a guy’s head and then proceed to pummel him into oblivion. These are a few tame examples; more gruesome ones will cause chunks of body parts to go flying and splatter on nearby walls. Sick? Yes. Strangely satisfying? Definitely.

Underneath all of the gruesome death scenes there’s a decent stealth-based game here. I say decent because the game has a number of problems. All of the levels are of the point A to point B variety, but it actually makes sense here since you’re essentially mouse in a maze. Each of the levels has a number of goals that are practical and make sense in the scheme of things. For instance, to unlock a gate you’ll have to blow a fuse so that the guard leaves his post to check the fuse box. Most of the other goals make equal sense so it helps lend the game a very convincing sense of reality. I really liked the pacing of the levels as well, they’re challenging but they’re never overtly complex or difficult. Thankfully the designers had the foresight to place respawn points at some of the more difficult junctures in the levels.

My largest problem resides with the enemy AI which is pretty much hit-or-miss. There are times when an enemy will spot you when you think that you’re completely concealed (as evidenced by the little stealth meter in the corner) and you’ll be spotted while other times an enemy will overlook you when you’re right in front of his face. To make things worse you can actually sneak up on most enemies from the side without them spotting you in their peripheral vision. Then there are other times when you sneak up perfectly from behind only to have the enemy turn around and give you a good beating out of nowhere. It’s a tad frustrating and it really makes the game unpredictable at times. As you progress through the game the enemies become progressively harder but never to the point where you ever feel like you’re in immediate danger.
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