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.
Character design is another aspect where the game takes a downward turn for the worst. I’m not sure about you but when I think of murderous gangsters images of the Insane Clown Posse don’t exactly rush to my mind. Most of the enemies in the game look like ICP rejects and it really ruins the atmosphere for me. I understand how a murderer in a smiley face mask could be a bit unsettling but I don’t buy the whole BDSM scene thing, especially when our protagonist looks like your garden-variety thug. It’s all very offsetting and detracts heavily from the game’s realistic and gritty atmosphere.
Since the game takes place in the span of one night all of the levels are shrouded with the cloak of darkness. This adds to the game’s already grainy and gritty look by allowing you to skulk along the shadows and darkness of the city. With a game like Max Payne
underneath its belt, the guys at Rockstar live and breathe grit. So it’s no coincidence that Manhunt features some of the most lifelike slums that you could possibly find on the face of this Earth. Nothing about the game is particularly beautiful nor is anything peculiarly eye catching, but the darkness lends credence to the game’s already creepy atmosphere. Some of the textures could have been better but for the most part the game looks pretty good. I would have liked to see some more time dedicated to the game’s vehicles and some of the objects, but what’s here is definitely serviceable.
Cash actually looks pretty good too, especially his movements and animations. In a really nice touch all of the weapons that you pick up are displayed somewhere on your body. So if you’re carrying a bat and you’re using the glass shard you’ll see Cash put the bat on his belt for later use. His movements have been captured quite nicely and he always moves and behaves in a very realistic fashion. There are times when his movements are un-natural, like when he’s going up and down stairs, but for the most part his actions look pretty good. His actual model is pretty nice too and is a major step up from the models in Rockstar’s last game, Grand Theft Auto Vice City
. His face features some nice details and the actual model is pretty beefy and appealing.
Where the visuals really excel is in the game’s highly stylized look. From time-to-time the game will shift to a shaky cam viewpoint to simulate the look and feel of a video that’s shot from a handheld camcorder. It’s here where you’ll see plenty of nice touches that you’d expect to see from a low-budget film. You’ll get lines that run across the screen, specks of dust on the print and some really low quality video. In this respect the game actually benefits from its low budget look because it helps add to the game’s already gritty and dark theme.
Audio is another strong point as the aural engineers did an excellent job with the ambient audio elements. Although the game doesn’t quite utilize the rear speakers as much as I had hoped it still did a good enough job of engulfing me in the atmosphere. As a nice little bonus anyone who has a USB headset can hook it up with the game and use it to receive instructions and to make noise for luring enemies. Some of the catcalls that the hunters use to insult you with are pretty lame and get repetitive fairly quickly though.
If you’re in the mood for a niche stealth title then go ahead and pick up Manhunt
. I wouldn’t say that it’s the best game out there, especially for little children who aren’t ready for this type of imagery, but it’s pretty entertaining if your stomach can handle it.
Taking a cue from games espionage games such as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid 2, Rockstar has effectively taken the stealth formula out of its designated confines to produce a highly entertaining, albeit niche audienced, stealth-based game that makes Grand Theft Auto look tame in comparison.