Review: Manhunt (XB)

Manhunt (Xbox)
Platform: Xbox
Rating: Mature
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 4/20/2004

One of the biggest modern urban legends is that of the snuff film. What is a snuff film? Read below for the long answer or skip ahead for the short answer. Trust me this does actually have to do with the video game.

Long answer: Snuff films are one of the biggest modern Urban Legends that exist, a controversy that started over a movie called Snuff. In 1971 two filmmakers (Roberta and Michael Findlay) produced a movie by the name Slaughter. The movie had a small theatrical run playing in only 3 theaters. A year later a research engineer/film producer named Allan Shackleton purchased the world distribution rights for the movie Slaughter. This wasn’t looking like a good purchase for Allan until 3 years later someone mistook what happened in the movie for being the real deal. Mr. Shackleton grabbed this opportunity and instead of denying the accusation he played it up. In 1975 he sent out press releases to regain public interest in the movie (now retitled as Snuff), Michael Fidley immediately recognized his movie Slaughter and met with Shackleton to renegotiate their contract, and when he didn’t get the money he wanted he almost blew the lid off of the scam that Shackleton had in the works. Shackleton ended up paying Fidley off and took the next step, he released fake newspaper clippings about the efforts against the movie by a retired attorney named Vincent Sheehan and his group Citizens for Decency. Unknown to Shackleton there really was such a group, lucky for him they never questioned whether or not they had a member by that name and rallied against the movie. Critics jumped on board and bashed the movie that they had not seen, further giving credit to the film. In 1976 the movie hit theaters amid protests and drew in a lot of people curious about the movie. The rouse was so complete that over three decades from when the original movie was made the myth of a Snuff movie still exists even without proof of a real snuff movie. The term Snuff movie implies a film where someone was unwillingly killed or mutilated, even after Shackleton had admitted that no one was killed in the making of the movie Snuff.
For more info and the source of this: CSICOP.org

Short answer: The term Snuff movie implies a film where someone was unwillingly killed or mutilated.

Much like Shackleton, Rockstar knows how to push the envelope when it comes to marketing. But what does the game have to do with Snuff films?


Story:

You play the role of James Earl Cash, a death row inmate who is about to be executed via lethal injection at the very beginning of the game. Instead of dying from the injection he is merely knocked out from it. When he wakes up he finds himself in a small cell with a man over a loudspeaker asking him to pick up the earpiece that’s nearby. Through the earpiece Cash gets introduced to his would-be ‘savior’ Lionel Starkweather who will give Cash a chance at life again, as long as he does a few things for Starkweather first. Starkweather controls a whole town by the name of Carcer City, which is filled with roaming gangs of psychopaths and video cameras. You see Starkweather makes movies, snuff movies, and wants James Earl Cash to be his new lead man.

That’s most of the story right there. While there isn’t much of a story outside of that, one of the most interesting aspects of it is that there really is no hero. Cash was about to be executed for crimes to heinous to mention, but doesn’t have enough personality outside of being a cold blooded killer to be an Anti-Hero. Starkweather has plenty of personality as he practically drops a load in his pants whenever you kill someone, but he’s a creepy psychopath that gets off on watching people die. If you can empathize with either of them it’s time to check yourself into a mental clinic. In fact that’s one of the most interesting things about this game, there really is no hero.

In fact this creates sort of a paradox in the game. There are three levels of killing various enemies with weapons you get throughout the game, Hasty, Violent, and Gruesome, the game rewards you for the hardest type of kills (Gruesome), and as a video game player I want to do my best and go for this type of kills. However every time you do a really violent kill Starkweather pipes in sounding like he just got off on what you just did. The better you do in the game the more you please the main antagonist (at least till the end).

Some of my biggest issues with the story (and game overall) have already been previously covered by Chuck Platt in an argument on the actual control you have over the main character that he made months ago for the PS2 version of this game which you can read here and a follow up to the argument here. No use for me to say some of the same things he’s already said so go read it and come back. I’ll wait”¦..

You back?

Outside of the set up, nothing much actually happens storywise till the end of the game. For most of the game, the director tells you to kill, you do it, and he gets off on it. The story of the game is still interesting on several levels, as far as the level of control you really have while playing, and that there is no real ‘good guy’ in the game.

It’s interesting and different than much of what else is out there but in the end there really is not much of a story to the game outside of the initial set up till near the end of the game.
5/10


Graphics

The visuals match the game perfectly: Dark and Gritty. There is a grainy filter in effect during the game which lends to the fact that that Cash is being watched by camera as the effect reminded me of how security displays in malls look. Carcer City is one dark disgusting place full of broken down buildings, shells of cars, and graffiti that litters the landscape.

The character designs are great. Cash looks like a bad ass motherf*cker who doesn’t show much sympathy for those he kills and the Hunters have different gangs with a specific look to them from stockings on their heads to masks, each different group has a unique look that is interesting. Every movement is animated smoothly and nothing looks stiff or out of place when walking or running, however fighting outside of the executions sometimes doesn’t look as good.

Then of course there are the executions. As mentioned earlier, everytime you sneak up behind an enemy to kill them you’ll be giving three different methods of killing them depending on how long you hold a certain button. When you let go depending on which method of killing you chose to use you’ll get a different cut scene. For example if you use the plastic bag and go for a Hasty kill the game will cut to an animation of Cash wrapping the plastic bag around the guys head and choking him out. These cut away scenes are done without the gritty filter in a clear fashion as though through a video camera complete with a red record light at the top of the screen and a time counter on the bottom and are very brutal”¦.at least the first time you see them. A Violent kill will have a different cut scene, one where Cash wraps their head in a bag and starts kneeing them in the head, and the Gruesome cut scene shows him wrapping their head, delivering a couple punches then snapping the victims neck. Each weapon has three different scenes of varying cruelty.

While the scenes are sick to watch at first the initial appeal wears thin really quickly. My biggest gripe with the game is how many times you end up seeing the same canned animations for the executions and how the scenes really take you out of the action in the game.

This has to be one of the best looking Rockstar games so far when it comes to the level of details to the atmosphere that is in the game. At the same time, it is not the best looking game available on the Xbox by far.

7/10- for an Xbox game


Sound:

The sound is one of the best parts of this entire game and is directly part of the gameplay. As Cash it is important to not make very much noise so you don’t get killed, and when walking normally he makes no sound. However if you start running, walking on gravel/glass, or bump into a hanging corpse you’ll make noise. Noise brings the Hunters and subsequently death. Though you’ll also want to make noise as well in the game in order to draw the Hunters to you by knocking on a wall or hitting the wall with a bat. Sound is a key element of the game.

The guy who does Starkweather’s voice, Brian Cox, should get the most recognition here as he gives one hell of a voice acting performance in this game. Starkweather comes off as a truly creepy psychopath but still almost believable when he says that he is giving Cash a second chance by doing him a few favors. If the voice acting for this character not been as good as it had been it could’ve really killed the whole game. Cash never really speaks in the game so much of the talking is done by the Starkweather character who tells you who to kill and encourages Cash to kill even more sadistically.

The Hunters say small phrases that aren’t nearly as well done as Starkweather’s but suffice. They mostly consist of swearing, wondering where you are, and if they’re after you threatening and teasing you. And more swearing. You can only tell the location of the Hunters on your radar if they make a noise or if you can see them, luckily for the first half of the game the Hunters will do things to give away their positions such as whistling and talking to themselves.

The music is straight up horror movie music and adds to the creepy atmosphere. Also when Cash is near Hunters you’ll be able to hear his heart beating which adds another layer. All of the weapons sound great and the executions are particularly revolting to hear, full of bone crunching and wet squishy sounds that I’m used to only hearing when I plow through a bucket of KFC.

If you’ve got the Xbox Live headset (or the headsets that come with some of the squad games out there) then you’ll be able to hear Starkweather directly through the earpiece just like Cash. This really does add another layer of depth to the game with the sick freak is getting off to you killing a guy directly in your ear. Also you can yell into it to draw Hunters to you, but you’ve got to be careful about it as I’m the type of person who says things aloud while play video games (mainly ‘Shit!’) you will inadvertently get yourself killed. My favorite thing in the whole game was to yell different things into the mic to get the Hunters attention. It’s satisfying to yell ‘Yo bitch!’ to lure someone in who is trying to kill you then wipe them out.

9/10


Controls:

The game is really simple to control. Left joystick is for movement, right is for looking around and pushing it down allows more precise aiming with a gun, left trigger locks onto enemies and lets you strafe in conjunction with the right joystick which can also be done with the black/white buttons. X and A control melee attacks and stealth kills, Y lets you interact with the environment, and B lets you switch items.

There are four different types of weapons not including firearms that you can use in Manhunt and you can only carry one of each:
Yellow- Items you can throw to distract Hunters (if you cut a Hunters head off you can use it in this manner)
Green- One use only (plastic bags, glass shards)
Blue- Can use repeatedly (Crowbar, etc)
Red- Can use repeatedly, causes more damage than blue weapons (Baseball bat, etc)

There is also a variety of firearms Cash will be able to use most of which come into play during the second part of the game.

A major drawback is how little control you actually have over Cash’s actions. The executions are about as interactive as pointing and clicking then watching the cut scene. This really took me out of the game, and while I understand that they were trying to give it the appearance of a snuff movie by having you watch the killing unfold, it also takes you away from the action by giving you almost no control over it except for how gruesome the execution will be. Also I wish they had used the right joystick to turn your character, I kept trying to use it that way for some reason and I just think it would’ve felt more natural.

The shooting and fighting aspects are more interactive but don’t seem to have as much thought put into them as the executions. The fighting is barely more than button mashing and the shooting works okay but isn’t as well done as what you might find in other games. Since this game is based primarily around the stealth however, you shouldn’t be finding yourself in hand-to-hand situations very often (if so you’re doing something wrong).

7/10


Balance:

There is no easy mode to this game, only a normal difficulty and a harder one.

That’s not to say the game is difficult either on the normal mode. Since it is a stealth game and per the storyline the odds are against you, if you try to just run through the game you will die very quickly. All of the enemies are either Cash’s equal or stronger when it comes down to facing enemies down face to face, and if you have to face off against a group of enemies without a gun, Cash will get gang raped like he was back in prison again.

If you have patience and sneak up on enemies the first half of the game it will not be that difficult to successfully kill them. The enemies in the first half of the game will not be that intelligent, all you have to do is find a shadowy area and create some noise to draw them near. Cash is completely invisible in the shadows even if the enemy is less than a foot away from him, and most of the time the enemy will give up his search pretty quickly and turn his back to Cash leaving himself open for an easy kill. This gets progressively harder as the levels continue with enemies that will move faster than the others, and moving in packs together. Once you learn how to separate Hunters from a group than you just repeat the earlier process.

The second half of the game focuses more around gunfights that continue to grow larger and larger. Most of the difficulty here is from frustration at the impossible-to-defeat odds that the game will throw at you. At the same time the enemy AI kills some of the difficulty with easy cheese tactics that you can use against the Hunters and the fact that the Hunters will use the same pattern to charge your position no matter how many times it was unsuccessful for the others.

There are painkillers scattered around, and like in Max Payne they’ll heal Cash. They heal a lot of his life all at once, and as the levels progress you’ll find less of them. Same with the in level checkpoints, while there are many of them in the early levels, they become farther apart and there will be less of them later on. The first and second halves of the game where much different than each other and the whole game I thought would’ve benefited if they had mixed up the shooting and stealth parts more.

Most of Manhunt’s difficulty boils down to its learning curve. You’ll be introduced to how to do different things like killing a single Hunter and how to separate Hunters from a group and kill them and the first couple of times you do this the game will be lenient on you then it will place you in a situation that will have more Hunters or they’ll behave differently than the last group of Hunters and less lenient. You just end up doing the same thing over and over again against mounting odds.

5/10


Replayability:

You know how I just said that it feels like you are doing the same thing over and over again? Well that really kills the replayability of the game, who would’ve thought that? While there is another difficulty to play through and concept art to be unlocked, after you get used to how to play it there will not be very much of a reason to sit through it all again. The game is also long; well it’s around 15 hours, but it feels longer than that. Unless you really love watching the execution cut scenes over and over again (and if you do seek professional help), you wont find yourself picking the game up after you’ve beaten it.

5/10


Originality:

Rockstar set out to create a game that took the violence up to a whole new level for video games and they succeeded. They created a game with no hero and combined the worlds of Snuff movies and video games. In that way the game is different from other games available, the question is whether or not pushing the envelope is the same as being original. The game mechanics aren’t that much different than what you can find in other stealth genre games, but the brutality is on a level by itself.

Also, one can make a case that Manhunt is one of the first games to strip away the illusion that you are in control of the main character like Chuck Platt does in the links provided above go click them because I’m not rewriting what he said. I also totally agree with his point and understand it infinitely better after actually playing the game. You’re not playing the game, the game is playing you and does so in a manner that can be considered almost insulting. While this isn’t a positive thing I got to give it credit for the fact that no other game really does this like Manhunt does. For which I’m grateful.

8/10


Addictiveness:

See the whole ‘feels like you’re just repeating the same steps over and over’ part from the balance section. I just could not get into the game, there is little motivation to continue onward except for the Director yelling in your ear every other minute. I’m more of a story oriented type of guy when it comes to games and the thought of continuing to play the game for hours just so my character could keep pleasing the main bad guy didn’t appeal to me.

Even if it did there isn’t much about the gameplay that really made me want to continue to play the game for hours in a row either. The cut scenes for executions get old fast and the shooting sections of the game got repetitive as well.

5/10


Appeal:

You know and I know that Manhunt was never really made to sell on its solid stealth gameplay, it was always marketed for the amount of over the top violence that is in the game. The game will appeal to people like their games violent, who bought Mortal Kombat for the fatalities, who hack up hookers with the katana in Vice City.

My kind of people.

The game is not for everyone however. It earned its M rating, this game is NOT for kids or for anyone with a weak stomach.

7/10


Miscellaneous:

Manhunt is a well made game, I can’t argue that. The graphics and sound create a brutal atmosphere, and it’s backed up with solid controls and stealth oriented gameplay. The thing that is missing the most in this game to me can be summed up in one word: Fun. At no point did I really have fun with the game and never while playing the game felt like it was designed to be fun. It was designed to be dark, violent and push the gore envelope in video games, and if that’s what gets you off then I’m sure you’ll find the game to be fun to play.

When I think back on the time I spent playing the game I can’t remember one moment that I was truly having a good time with the game, except when I was just f*cking around with yelling different stuff into the headset. That’s what I play games for, to have a good time playing them. Manhunt was interesting to play with some suspenseful moments but nothing I can really say I enjoyed.

And since I’m writing the review, it’s my enjoyment that matters :P

5/10


Final Scores:

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 9/10
Control: 7/10
Balance: 5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal: 7/10
Misc: 5/10

Overal: 63/100