Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks? This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.
Accused of being responsible for murder, banned in several countries and cited as an example of a Murder Simulator, there are few games that have received as much controversy as Manhunt, a Survival Horror game by the makers of Grand Theft Auto. Yet through the clouds of controversy stands an extremely effective, atmospheric Survival Horror game that is a must play for fans of the genre. In fact when playing through Manhunt, it becomes clear that what was decried as being a brainless exploitative game is actually an innovative, engaging and all round excellent experience that really does deserve a second look by players with a hunger to play something truly unique.
You are James Earl Cash, an inmate who is put to death only to awaken a few hours later to be told by a mysterious figure called Mr Starkweather, a snuff movie Director, that he arranged for you to be given a sedative and that he wants you to be the star of his new movie, whether you like it or not. Having little choice in the matter, you are forced to hunt down and kill the various gangs that roam the streets for the slim chance that you may just be able to escape Carcer City alive if you play along with his rules. From the get go you are thrown into a game of cat and mouse with the various forces at play within the city and as a player you constantly straddle the line between hunter and hunted. It’s made clear that you are outnumbered and outgunned and that you’re going to have to learn how to improvise and use the shadows to your advantage if you wish to have any hope of surviving.
Like all great Survival Horror games, Manhunt creates an extremely disturbing atmosphere that surrounds your every move and there is an inherent terror in knowing that at any moment you could be easily discovered and beaten to death (or worse). The city is gothic and claustrophobic and the player feels caged in as they are pursued by several unique gangs each with their distinct personalities. Some are working for the money whilst others like the Innocentz are doing it because they love to kill and Cash is their latest target. Each gang has its distinct patterns and there are a massive amount of recorded lines for each of them thus giving each one of them a unique feel, a nice break from the usual mooks found in video games that are essentially copy and pastes of each other, looking the same and saying the same things over and over again.
The game was ahead of its time when it comes to gameplay, featuring a cover based sneaking system which, although commonplace nowadays, was not often seen at the time. It’s satisfying to be able to press up against a wall and use the shadows to your advantage to avoid being seen entirely by the enemies who you can choose (and indeed are encouraged) to kill or “execute” — which has three levels, each more brutal than the last. It’s hard not to wince at some of the executions which are shocking, yet the potential guilt felt by the player is somewhat minimized considering who you’re committing the acts on.The firearms sections found later in the game, however, are distinctly average and serve as let-down considering just how effective sneaking around was, making it clear that the game was meant to be played as a stealth game.
The player can also choose to use a headset to use your voice to distract the enemies in game but must also be careful not to make any loud noises like coughing when sneaking lest you give your position away. Such use of the headset is nothing if not innovative and it ties into the general feeling that the game is testing you the player more than it is testing Cash. Indeed part of what makes the game such an effective Horror is that it gnaws in on the players mind that maybe the game is highlighting the fact that by playing it, you’re a voyeur just like Starkweather is and Cash is little more than an instrument for you to get thrills. That’s what elevates Manhunt to be a great game as it’s also a commentary upon the focus on violence in video games today, a point seemingly missed by many of its critics. As such, Manhunt can be seen to be a much deeper game than many perceive it to be and if it was any other medium, it would be called art.
Manhunt is a surprisingly deep and engaging experience with some of the most terrifying sequences to be found in Survival Horror as well as serving as an effective commentary on the nature of violent video games. It’s a must play for anybody with an even remote interest in Survival Horror or Stealth games and there won’t be a moment when playing that you won’t be sitting on the edge of your seat desperately praying for survival. Deeply nihilistic, terrifying and memorable, Manhunt is a game well worthy of your time although one play through may just be the most you can bear for the sake of your sanity.
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