I crouch against the wall and hold my breath, I can hear his steps growing louder as he approaches, investigating the sound of breaking glass he had heard moments ago. He steps out in front of me, not seeing me crouched in the shadows. He holds his crowbar, gripping it tight, he is ready for anything. But not for me. I leap out and plunge my glass shard into his throat once, twice, three times, before I spin him around and punch him in the face, sending him crashing to the ground in a pool of blood. The man watching me congratulates me, gleeful at the sight of such brutality. Who he is I do not know. Why I am here I do not know. All I know is if I kill he allows me to progress.
So I kill.
This is the premise for Manhunt, one of the most controversial games of all time. Your character, supposedly executed on death row, awakens to be told by a man that he must fight his way out of wherever he is and must kill, and kill violently, to be allowed to progress. As a man with no other choice available you obey and, gradually, you discover what is going on. These days the game is remembered more for its controversy, it was linked to a murder (this link was then disproved) and as a result suffered huge amounts of bad publicity. I wont dwell on this here though so go and Google it if you want details. What I want to take a look at is what a departure this was for Rockstar. Darker and more sickening than anything they had done previously, or since for that matter, Manhunt represents a gutsy experiment from the minds behind Grand Theft Auto, one that, though never living up to the heights of some of their other games, does have flashes of brilliance.
The game revolves around a simple premise, execute the men in your path so you can progress to new areas and gradually find out what the hell is going on. The catch is you must use stealth. You will be slaughtered in a fight against a group of enemies. As such the level design of Manhunt is dark, claustrophobic and apocalyptic. The settings are more often than not ruined and are filled with shadowy areas for you to hide. The city you are in is ruined and is now home to death more so than life and it fits the tone of the game superbly. Gone are Rockstar’s trademark open, living worlds, replaced by corridors of death.
And these corridors of death are populated by numerous gangs, each one wanting you dead. You must cling to the shadows, use traps to lure enemies and then execute them, should you be seen then you can fight them but you will pay dearly for too many open fights. Executions are what the man watching you wants and this is reflected in how punishing a straight fight can be. Should you become involved in a straight fight painkillers can be found to replenish health but still, stealth is essential.
Even your weapons are grouped based on stealth. The greeny/yellowey colour represents one use weapons that provide silent executions but blue weapons can be used more, though are louder. Red weapons are the most durable and deal the most damage but in an execution they are very loud and are almost guaranteed to draw unwanted attention from the gangs. Executions are easy to pull off, creep up on an enemy, hold the execute button and then release it. The longer you hold it the more savage the execution. Straight up fights are just as simple, with light and heavy attacks and a block feature that, confusingly, doesn't have a button. It takes some adjusting to but to block you simply don't press any buttons and just let your character stand there. Its an unusual idea and I personally don't like it but it does work if you get used to it.
The awkward blocking is a minor gameplay gripe but sadly there is a far bigger one. The novelty wears off. Fast. At first the suspense created by the need for stealth, the shock factor, and satisfaction, of the violence and the level design all enrapture you. The problem is it doesn't last long. Soon the levels all look too similar, the stealth becomes boring and the violence just isn't fun or shocking. This is the game’s single biggest issue and its a real shame because the game gets off to a great start, it just goes stagnant quickly. If you can keep interested then its definitely worth soldering through till the end but its perfectly understandable if you simply find the game to be too boring after an hour or so.
Its a real shame because this is the game’s only big flaw. The graphics suit the oppressive look of the game perfectly, with great animation and really moody lighting. The same can be said for the sound, with a dark soundtrack, solid voice acting and good effects. Sadly these technical features cannot support a game with bad gameplay.
Ultimately Manhunt is something that should be experienced because of how infamous it is but really, it just seems like an experiment on Rockstar’s part, one that, ultimately, falls flat.