Violence in videos games has always been a controversial topic, it seems plenty of gamers (and for that matter, plenty of people who don't know what god mode means) have an opinion. Some say it influences people, others say it doesn't, whatever the case, you really have to hope the pro-game advocates are right, because when a game like Manhunt comes out for public consumption, any influence can't end up pretty. Manhunt is all about blood, sweat, and more blood.
The idea behind Manhunt is a pretty unique one. James Cash, the human controller character, is a convicted murderer awaiting his fate in a lethal injection room when all of a sudden he is given a second chance by a mysterious man speaking to Cash only via an ear piece, viewing his every move through cameras - sort of a "big brother" drunk on power sort of deal. Cash must survive in a hate filled world, with street thugs and murderers alike under orders to kill Cash on sight. What entails is a bloody, gory, gruesome reality TV style show, with Cash as the star, and your mysterious dictator as the director. Lights, Cleavers, Action!
Every movement in the world of Manhunt feels very fluid and smooth. Whilst it is true the game does look and to a large extent feel like GTA, the physics and animation system has been tweaked to allow much more interaction with the environment. Infact, if you want to survive in Manhunt, you'll certainly want to take advantage of the interaction - such as using walls and objects as cover, and dark shadowy areas to hide before making the surprise kill. It is also a relief to note that the enemies (known as "hunters") in Manhunt have a good A.I. balance between being too dumb or too smart. Many previous stealth style action games either create enemies who consistently act blind, whilst others tend to create enemies who inconsistently surprise you with inhuman like awareness. Manhunt creates a balance between the two - whilst you can remain invisible by using dark areas of the environment, if they know you are around, chances are they'll track you down no matter where you go.
This fact poses quite a challenge to the gamer, as once a hunter knows where you are, it is likely he will call over some buddies to help put you away, and put you away is what they'll probably do. The chances of you surviving a 2 on 1 attack are slim, 3 on 1 almost impossible. This is no walk in the park, the hunters in Manhunt will not hold back, infact even 1 on 1 is almost impossible to win without taking a few shots of your own. Unfortunately, this can create a sense of limitation, forcing you to follow the same style of gameplay, which can get quite tiring after extended periods of time. This style basically consists of hiding in the dark, observing your target and its environment and carefully plotting an attack, all of which takes time and patience. When you do this over and over to every hunter that can be singled out, which is the majority of enemies in this game, well, you have one pretty tedious experience on your hands.
What makes this worse is the checkpoint save system. Challenging gameplay is enough as far as I'm concerned but when you accompany this with a checkpoint save system which you can't directly dictate, forcing you to reload action up to 20 minutes ago and beyond, the annoyance level simply rises. This aspects feels like more of a console feature to me which should have been scrapped when shifting over to the PC, saving your progress at any time would have prevented plenty of headaches and I don't feel it would have detracted from the challenge at all - after all, reloading a mission you died on means you're only doing the same routine over again that killed you before, so you're bound to get it right sooner or later, why not just do the gamer a favor and let it be sooner?
And just when you thought Manhunt couldn't get more frustrating, it practically keeps you in the dark so to speak about what exactly you have to do in each mission. Of course, you can't go wrong with killing hunters, but there is usually a task to do for each mission, like save your family from being executed, or kill X amount of hunters with a certain technique. It isn't like a game has to stamp the objectives permanently on the screen, however maybe a simple arrow or ingame map showing the locations of specific tasks would be nice. I often ran around in circles finding my next task even if I knew exactly what I had to do.
However, with all this aside, if there is one thing that Manhunt does manage to produce perfectly, it is the atmosphere. The world of Manhunt has long forgotten the ways of decency and the law, now riddled with gang warfare and brutality. When a game's main character is a ruthless killer himself you know you're in store for some doom and gloom, and that is what Manhunt so brilliantly creates. I guess when an entire game is played out during the night the result can't be too uplifting, but when added with elements such as rotting urban surroundings with appropriately dim colors and a semi-transparent "TV static" effect on the screen at all times, the world of Manhunt is nothing short of immersive.
Going back to the topic of violence, with all fairness, Manhunt could have been more gory and ruthless. Whilst bad language in games is not completely widespread, not even Manhunt crosses the line beyond what has already been set even if only by a few other games, and as far as the violence goes, well, some aspects are certainly very gory, although many other games have certain aspects with more gore than Manhunt. For example, Manhunt doesn't allow you to maim opponents to the extent their body parts are all over the place, some "crucial" parts can be scattered by a high powered shotgun, however for the most part dead bodies are pretty well intact with most of the brutality coming from how you killed, not how he ended up. It is safe to say Manhunt is probably the most violent and disturbed PC game out, but not by so much that it creates a whole new genre of gore like some people tend to suggest, it is still very much an acceptable mainstream game when used by the appropriate age group.
The overall problem with Manhunt is it doesn't give the gamer enough control. Whilst it would be nice to say "you can choose between action or stealth as your primary style of play", the reality is Manhunt is near impossible if you want to go in 'guns blazing' so to speak, atleast in most parts of the game. What Manhunt does is give you a few moments of brutal action with a whole lot of careful planning and movement in between. This would be ok if stealth was an effective way of moving throughout the game's task list, but in Manhunt, stealth is primarily used to single out opponents for the easy kill, which gets tiring after a while and takes the edge of any thrill stealth gameplay use to impose pretty quickly. Nevertheless, if you like your ruthless virtual gore in doses that you have to really work for, Manhunt is going to keep you occupied, and for anyone wanting a reasonably good challenge, it is certainly worth the look. Casual gamers, however, may grow tired of the tedious routine involved in killing opponents, which is basically your primary goal from the first level to finish, after all, you are the star of the show.
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