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game: Manhunt
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Rockstar Games
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Jun 16th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Jun 16th, 2004

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By Eric Qualls

It has been six months since I reviewed Manhunt for the PS2 and here I am again with the PC and Xbox versions of the game.  The game is every bit as enjoyable as it was back then, and it is even a little better thanks to the superior graphics on PC and Xbox.  The content is exactly the same in these new versions, so if you want the deep down nitty gritty of the gameplay go check out my review of the PS2 version.  For this review I'll highlight how the PC and Xbox versions look and play, but I also want to dig into just what makes Manhunt work and why those same things are ultimately the downfall of the game.  It'll be a different sort of review, but I already wrote about this game once.  You didn't expect ol' GF! to just slap a couple of new paragraphs onto an old review like those other sites, did you? 

In Manhunt you control James Earl Cash, a death row inmate who was supposed to be killed for his crimes but is instead entered into a twisted game of cat and mouse in a run down town called Carcer City.  The man responsible for his rebirth is a shady individual known as Starkweather and he promises Cash his freedom as long as Cash can earn it by running through Carcer City killing thugs and anyone else in the most brutal ways possible. 

The gameplay consists of a mix of stealth and shooting oriented levels.  In stealth levels you sneak around and murder people with glass shards, baseball bats, and plastic bags.  In the shooting levels the game plays pretty much like every other third person shooter out there, but the game aims for headshots automatically just to be extra gruesome.  Basically, the more brutal and disturbing the murders, the happier Starkweather is with your performance.  Sick and wrong, no?  That is a really basic run through of the game, but like I said, check out my review of the PS2 version if you want more detail.

 The only differences between the three versions of the game are the superior graphics and sound in the Xbox and PC versions and the incredible control in the PC version.  There isn't a huge difference in the graphics, since they looked pretty good anyway, but they are a lot smoother and cleaner on the Xbox and PC.  The Xbox version controls pretty much like the PS2 version, as you would expect, but thanks to the keyboard and mouse the PC version really stands out.  The shooting is a lot easier with a mouse and that makes all the difference between the three versions.  If you haven't played it yet, you really can't go wrong with any of the three versions.  If I had to make a recommendation I would say get it for Xbox or PC.  

What really stands out as you play through the game is just how believable and realistic everything is.  While the fact that the weapons, fighting, and executions are all firmly rooted in reality is a little disturbing, I think that if it had been done any other way the game would have lost its edge and not been as good.  There aren't any super powers, ray guns, robot arms, or ultimate weapons here, and that is how it should be. Another aspect of the game that stands out is the design of Carcer City.  Even though it is run down and in ruins, it still has that lived in? feel and a realistic layout that localizes the events of Manhunt in that crappy part of the next town over rather than in some far off fantasy land.

Something else that works in Manhunt's favor is just how scary it is.  It is chilling to walk into a room and see a message written in blood that is absolutely appropriate and relevant to the present situation.  I know that a programmer put that message on the wall and the enemies can't really bait you into a trap, but it gives the enemies a sense of intelligence that is downright frightening.   You are hunting other human beings, using items that you probably have sitting around your house as weapons, and you are in an environment that is designed to be just like your hometown.  To me, that is much scarier than taking a trip to Silent Hill or fighting a bunch of mutated redneck zombies (RE4 ΒΌ) because it is real.  Human beings at their worst are frightening animals and Manhunt is a showcase of the lowest rung of our society doing what they do best. 

This is going to sound strange after I spent most of the PS2 review and several paragraphs of this review praising it, but I really feel the need to comment on the violence in Manhunt.  I feel like a hypocrite for saying the game is better because of the extremely realistic violence in one paragraph and then marking it as a danger to society in another, but I honestly feel that way.  It is fun, but sick and wrong at the same time.  

Something that should be a concern for people is that because Manhunt is so deeply rooted in reality, it is quite possible for people to see these horrible acts and try to perform them in real life.  People said the same thing about Grand Theft Auto, but everything you did in that game was taken with a grain of salt and the game was presented in such a way that it wasn't trying to be realistic.  Also, you didn't have to play the game in such a way that you did anything illegal.  Manhunt not only offers you no such option, but it also does things with very little humor.  It is just kill, kill, kill for fifteen hours.  Because of this unflinching foray into the most extreme of extreme violence, I think the question of whether we really needed this game or not has to be asked.  This is a murder simulator, no two ways about it.  It teaches you to not only kill but to enjoy it and it never shows the repercussions of using such extreme violence.  Part of the attraction of Manhunt is to go from scene to scene picking up new weapons just to see what kind of disgusting acts you are going to get to see next.  There is something wrong with our society when we will willingly pay $50 to do something like this.  Don't misunderstand me, I enjoyed it (which is pretty unsettling), but I just don't think that the videogame industry really needed a game like Manhunt. 

I wrote a research paper a few years ago on violence in videogames and how it affects the behavior of children.  I found overwhelming evidence that exposure to realistic portrayals of violence have adverse effects on children.  Stomping on goombas in Super Mario Bros has little to no effect because it isn't realistic.  Playing a round of Mortal Kombat tends to make kids more aggressive, but after they punch each other and go Ow, that hurt?, they tend to not want to fight anymore.  But when you take a game like Manhunt that features realistic violence with everyday household items and shows you exactly how to do it, the act only has to be repeated once because a child is dead before they even get the chance to say Ow, that hurt?.  Lots of games are violent, and a lot of games are realistic, but even the latest first person shooter , a genre made famous by its violence and realism - doesn't show you point for point how to use a gun and kill someone in real life.  Again, did we really need a game like this?

The point I am trying to make with this little rant is that the ESRB absolutely dropped the ball when it rated Manhunt.  Had it been given an AO (Adults Only) rating I probably wouldn't worry about the violence, but Manhunt was given an M (Mature) from the ESRB and I think that they were absolutely wrong.   AO would have locked the game away from all but the most persistent kids.  With an M it is available right off the shelf at Wal-Mart and I am seriously not comfortable with that.

I told you that this review would be a little bit different.  Manhunt is a well designed and well executed game that is worth checking out for anyone that can stomach it.  The PC and Xbox versions are identical to the PS2 original except they have improved graphics and the PC version has the best controls of the three thanks to the keyboard and mouse setup.  Manhunt is fun, but it is incredibly violent and I beg you not to let your kids play it.  We have enough wackos in our society already so we definitely don't need a bunch of blood-crazed kids running around with glass shards and piano wire.