Wednesday, 09 February 2005
It’s always been the case that sex sells. I mean, does anyone think that the British newspaper “The Sun” manages to sell in such huge numbers because of fantastic journalistic qualities? Of course it doesn’t. It sells well because of the traditional “Page 3” icon, that’s been the papers calling card for a worryingly hefty number of years. However, in the video game industry it’s been more of a case that violence sells, as the younger gamers among us look to obtain games with more and more bloodshed in order to impress their classmates. But here is Manhunt. Probably one of the most violent and twisted games in the past decade. But is this evil premise hiding a poor game? Or is it simply enticing you to sample what is a gaming experience to savour?
It’s an odd premise is Manhunt. As James Earl Cash, the opening sequence sees you sentenced to death for performing some heinous crime. But, despite awaiting death by lethal injection, you’re mysteriously saved. As you awake, you find yourself in some kind of cell. Are you dead already? There’s no time to ponder this fact however, as a voice talks to you. A voice that talks to you the vast majority of the game. This voice belongs to Lionel Starkweather. Mr Starkweather is a director of “snuff films” and he’s saved your miserable life in order to become the star of his next movie. As such, you find yourself progressing through the games “scenes” slaughtering other cast members, and getting ever closer to your promised freedom.
Just because this is from the same company as the GTA and Max Payne series, this isn’t in any way a fast paced, constantly moving game. You have to be so much more methodical in your approach to Manhunt in order to progress through the games levels. For the majority of the game you’ll find yourself sticking close to the wall, eyeing up your prey from the shadows where you’ve hidden your bruised and battered body. Until eventually he reaches the perfect spot. In an instant you spring from the shadows and mercilessly insert a large glass shard into your victim's neck, blood spewing forth as he collapses to the ground in agony, and close to a painful death. Sounds quite exciting really doesn’t it? Well the tension and excitement is taken to a whole new level by the game’s well thought out gameplay mechanics. You see, when an opponent (well, victim) of yours comes close enough, a circular sign will appear around his head. At this point you hold the relevant button on your controller and the sign will flash. Let go of the button now and you’ll be treated to a nice little cut scene where you (James Earl Cash. No wonder he’s an angry man) will brutally slaughter your victim. Now, if you try the same thing again, but hold the button for a longer period of time the circular reticule will turn a more evil colour, and this time when your let go your grip Mr Earl Cash will perform an incredibly more brutal, and more violent attack on his opponent. It’s a simple premise, and one that works well as you stalk your prey for quite large amounts of time “charging up” your attack, worried that at any moment he could spin around and catch you unawares. Being caught unawares though has another draw back, and it shows the disappointing close combat system. Here the game turns into a bog standard over the shoulder fighting game. Only here it’s not even half as exciting as the “best” ways to kill your enemies. Thankfully this method of hand to hand combat will need to be used incredibly rarely during the game, otherwise the score may have been knocked down another point.
Late on in the game you’ll find yourself discarding the small hand weapons in order to take control of various projectile weapons. Here the game turns somewhat into a cross of Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto, as you trundle along, blasting your opponents from close range. You can make use an automatic targeting system, and a simple poke of the joypad changes your aim to more lethal body parts.
Your helped through the game as you walk along in the usual ways. If you come across an item that can be used, the game will make it very obvious that your meant to pick up/kick/knock something here in order to progress. It’s all very simple, and perhaps a little bit too led by the hand. However, the happy medium between freedom, and structured gameplay is one that were still yet to see appear more than incredibly rarely. The AI of your enemies is mainly at quite a high standard. Though the fact that they will merely walk along a predetermined line, only veering off course if they spot you out of the shadows means that there’s not much opportunity for flaws to make their ugly heads shown.
The thing about Manhunt is, if you manage to look past the extreme gore and violence overkill, there’s a pretty good game hidden away in there. The main problem is that Manhunt may be a victim of it’s fathers own success. The fact that Rockstar have such a reputation for developing such astonishing gaming treats (the GTA and Max Payne series), that anything less than gaming perfection with Manhunt would have been an incredible let down. The simple fact is that Manhunt is an enjoyable, if somewhat flawed title that many of you will enjoy playing through.