Upon release on the Playstation 2 last year, Manhunt quickly became known as one of the most violent games ever released. Six months down the track and the Xbox version has been released with little enhancement other than the graphics. However while Xbox owners won't find anything new to play with, they will find the PS2 version in tact and a highly challenging game guaranteed to test the patience of even the most veteran gamer.
In Manhunt you play as James Earl Cash, a convicted criminal sentenced to death who is about to find out that the city in which he resides, can be a very dangerous place. He wakes up a few hours after his televised 'execution' and is informed if he does as he is told, he may get a chance at freedom. From there Cash becomes the directors play toy, throughout twenty missions of gruesome action the plot unravels with a few twists for good measure.
Manhunt is a game based around stealth gaming and it requires a great deal of patience. The aim of the game can be to either please the directors desire for gruesome executions, reach a section of the city alive plus other tasks further into the story line. If you have no patience, then Manhunt is not for you as it can take quite some time for the hunters to make the mistake required for a quiet execution. Cash is in a fight for survival, whilst all the time he is being filmed.
There is three levels of execution which can be performed with each weapon. This is determined by how long you target the victim for. During executions the camera changes to a blurred, filtered vision to give the perspective of how it will look on film. This is one area of the game that does maintain a smooth frame rate, unlike the PS2 version. That's not to say the only task Cash will undertake is becoming a rampaging killer. For example in one mission, Cash is tasked with protecting one of the main plot lines characters, but it is true that the game mostly revolves around the executions and hunters.
In terms of progressing through the game there is no major advantage to going for all out gruesome kills over the basic ones, except for the ratings level. After each level you are given a rating, and this determines what bonus features are unlocked such as the ability to use cheat codes a second time through the game or bonus missions to complete.
Manhunt is a brutally difficult game but the Xbox version does feel easier at the same difficulty level than the PS2 version. During the first third of the game you come up against hunters either individually or small groups with basic weapons. Further on firearms are added into the equation and your strategy will completely change. It may sound easier to have a firearm, and it does allow you to defeat enemies from a further distance but you may find yourself stumbling into a room with double or even three times as many enemies as before, all wanting to blow Cash's head off. Whilst being discovered doesn't necessary spell the end for Cash, it is nigh on impossible to defeat two or three alerted enemies.
The Hunters themselves have some of the most advanced AI seen in a stealth game. They hunt in packs and react to any changes with the environment such as a dead body. Hiding the body of an enemy is a good idea as if they find it, they will be gunning for Cash's blood. It can work vice versa as well, using a body to lure the hunters out can be a useful way of luring them out of hiding.
The gang of hunters is changed every couple of levels, keeping both the game and challenge fresh. Each seem to have a weapon of choice and this is the way the weapon 'upgrade' system is dictated in the game. While you start off with a plastic bag, by the end you will be handling weapons with much more firepower. Towards the halfway mark of the storyline, you will discover that your enemies don't only include the foul mouthed hunters, but some of the cities most powerful men as well which then does portray Cash as the victim of this twisted video ring.
Obviously to deal with this threat Cash will have to rely on not only his fists but items he finds. As mentioned before there is a variety of weapons in the game, some more brutal then others. These weapons can also have multiple uses such as the crowbar which can break padlocks. Cash can carry one weapon for each of the categories featured, which leaves him with a maximum of about two or three at a time. Some have advantages over others, and most of the time to gain weapons Cash takes them from dead enemies. Your voice is also a useful tool with the use of the Xbox communicator. Talking to the hunters to lure them out is an option, just like on the PS2 version.
The control system from the dual shock has been ported to the Xbox controller well. The triggers are used to fight, and target enemies with the buttons performing tasks such as pressing up against a wall and hitting it or changing weapons. Something we found annoying with the PS2 setup was the right analogue stick and the problem remains. Slightly brushing it will force the game into a first person view, although due to the way the Xbox controller is designed, it is less of a problem.
Rockstar have set the game's missions in many different environments from the city although in the first few hours of play, the missions will look quite similar. About one third into the game you start visiting places such as the city zoo (minus animals) and a mental asylum, offering different challenges to the player and new tasks such as sneaking into a building. The environments are highly detailed and as expected the game looks vastly superior on the Xbox. The textures are much clearer and the frame rate, whilst not a major issue on the PS2, is rock solid on the Xbox. Even though the executions are shown via a different viewpoint, they are rendered real time and as mentioned before play out more smoothly on the Xbox version.
Obscene language is becoming more and more acceptable it seems in games and Manhunt is no doubt one of the pioneers in this field. If a word in the English language is classified as obscene, chances are the Hunters will scream it at you during some point of the game. There aren't many sound effects to talk about other then the fact that this approach adds a great deal of atmosphere to the game. The lack of music in even a cinematic fashion gives the impression you really are crawling around in the fictional city fighting for your life. The hand weapons sound brutally realistic as do the guns, which are introduced later in the game.
As we said with the PS2 version, there will be people who can't play the game due to the subject matter and level of brutality displayed. However if you're looking for your next stealth fix and can stomach the games storyline and content, then Manhunt offers an adult experience with a tough challenge for even the most seasoned gamer.
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