Retro: Manhunt

By Kieron Gillen on April 28th, 2009 at 11:59 am.

Short back and sides? Sure.
I found myself re-playing Manhunt for sheer perverseness – which is probably the best reason to play it. Some Hollywood columnist did a quick blogpost linking to a video of all the Manhunt executions chained into one another and opined that “The guy who created this needs to be put in a damp dungeon, his leg chained to the floor, a pile of straw to sleep on. For life.” And I watch the video and think – fuck it! Let’s go and and introduce a machete to a head and see how it feels.

I reviewed Manhunt when it came out, giving it a mark somewhere in the mid-seventies. Playing again after wrestling with getting it working on Vista, I suspect that may have been an axe-stroke generous. Low seventies would be nearer the point, or perhaps even high sixties… though I suspect the mark was fine, and it’s just the game’s awkward aging which makes me play the pointless hindsight game. Some bits which were just a bit iffy in 2003 are just plain horrendous now – like the cover system, which doesn’t let you do simple things like move from one adjacent piece of terrain to the next, even when they’re actually physically touching. When bullets are as brutal as they are in Manhunt, having to stand up and run over the few steps is deeply annoying. And then there’s the momentary physics-element, like an early section where you use a magnetic crane to bully enemies with a fridge. It’s about as easy as… well, trying to make a small fridge swing into someone when you’re controlling a fucking crane. Compare and contrast with a similar sequence a year later in Half-life 2 to see how quickly games development got the hang of this kind of stuff.

Of course, all of this was a bit duff then. People certainly said mean things about the shooting, and rightly so. Why were we shooting people with guns? This is a game about the aforementioned-head-slicing with machete. Stop pissing about and cut to the sheer brutality.

But the violence was only ever half of it. When it didn’t distract itself, Manhunt’s design was really a delightfully cut-down stealth game. It’s key mechanics – hide in shadows, stalk enemies, run away, repeat. Perhaps the most elegant mechanic is the actual executions itself. To get the most brutal execution – which also scores the most points – you have to stay unobserved, holding down an attack button and waiting for the cursor to change from white to yellow to red. AND THEN THE VIOLENCE. In other words, it’s a risk-reward system, encouraging increasingly risky play for the best rewards.

If I had a hammer, I'd hammer you to death. Yes.

To be honest, bar curiosity to see the executions, I barely did it once I got past the initial few levels. Part of it was a fear of failure, since the game works on an oft-punishing checkpoint system. Most of it was because I actively didn’t want to go as far as the weapons let me. I could handle the crowbar, plastic bags and slices of knives fine. But when we start getting to the aforementioned machete, the sickly wet sounds of metal forcing apart flesh and bone are actively hard to enjoy. Sure, I take great pleasure in picking up the head and using it as a tool to lure my thuggish opponents close to my hiding place, but actually doing it is fucking hard to get through. It’s a revolting game, and determinedly so.

I dunno. Part of me wants to spin off into the analysis of Manhunt as an examination of the murder-simulator nature of videogames. You set up the kill, but you never actually perform it. Each death is a cut-scene, entirely out of your actual control. It doesn’t really simulate the kill, but the stalk. I mean, it’s telling the game’s called “Manhunt” not “Mankill” (or “Manslaughter” or, more likely, “Snuff”). The game is the stalking. The killing is… something else. The game is about filming a snuff-film, with everything – from the sinister narrator urging you on to the (then, relatively novel) grainy filters to the distortions on images to the blood splattering against the camera lens – trying to capture that. The point being, that at the point of murder that the game is trying to be as close to the idea of a snuff film as possible. Like the narrator, you watch, you don’t play. How do you feel? Do you laugh? Do you wince? What is your response to this thing you’ve put in motion?

He was asking for it. He was looking at my bird.

The other part of me feels as if that’s too much for the game to carry. That aspect only shines when the game is working – as in, when you’re properly hunting. The normal, everyday game-violence (the shooting, the occasional melee) undercuts that effect. And, generally speaking, the game’s terribly crass in its approach. Its character designs are often more cartoon silly than decadent-horror. Voice-acting is Rockstar’s normal high quality, but some of the writing isn’t quite there. For a case of compare and contrast, play Manhunt’s asylum levels next to Thief’s Cradle or Shock 2 (Or Bioshock, even). The lunatic’s language and scrawled messages on walls has little of any of those game’s flair – though the grindhouse sound effects do have their dirty charm. Stepping away from the artier-side of mainstream gaming, compare it to Left 4 Dead’s dense scrawl. All too often, Manhunt feels like empty, artificial mazes.

I generally compare it to a sociopathic Pac-man. Occasionally it’s just as bare. Occasionally it’s just as purely compulsive. My finest time with Manhunt were playing at past midnight, after a few drinks. Inhibitions and caution lowered, I started playing more dangerously, pushing the kills instead of waiting for a perfect moment. And it’s here where the game shines – stepping out of the shadows, grabbing a guy’s shoulder and putting an axe through the top of your victim’s skull. A kill like this in Thief has grace. In Splinter Cell, it feels clinical. Here, it feels ruthless. The game flicks between admiration for the power of your character and disgust for exactly the same. It’s mostly its own game, and I always find that admirable.

My emotions towards you are conflicted.

I also find it a little sad, because it was a swansong of sorts. It was Rockstar North’s last new game. Since then DMA/Rockstar North have worked solely cultivating the golden-egg franchise of Grand Theft Auto – their only other credit is Manhunt 2, which they share with just about every Rockstar studio in existence. It was their last chance to be anything other than the makers of one of the most successful games in the world, and Manhunt wasn’t enough to show they were more than that. It’s the fate of many studios: you don’t make a hit, you’re closed down. If you do make the hit, you only make the hit forever. DMA were one of the best, most variable-in-approach British game developers of all time, and – as such – their passing into a new age of franchise service is to be mourned, no matter how much I like GTA.

In other words, Manhunt makes me sad as it’s the real moment they became Rockstar North, with the last of DMA snuffed out.

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48 Comments »

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  1. DMJ says:

    So a pundit feels it is unacceptable to perform virtual violent acts to not-real virtual characters, yet perfectly acceptable to state in public “The guy who created this needs to be put in a damp dungeon, his leg chained to the floor, a pile of straw to sleep on. For life.” about a real live human being?

  2. Ian says:

    I played Manhunt for the first time relatively recently and it wasn’t the brutality that put me off, it was just that it all felt so clunky. I appreciate that’s a risk when you come to a game late, but while I really liked the bits where you’re skittering around in the shadows to set up a kill, the process of actually stepping out and doing so swung wildly between very satisfying and incredibly annoying.

    In such games I find the brutality to be a sideshow, if I enjoy the hunt and the moments leading up to the death satisfying then I’m happy. It’s the preparation and planning I enjoy rather than the actual kill. I suppose that’s why I’ve always loved Hitman.

  3. Pstonie says:

    Most of the stuff coming out these days is mediocre too, and a lot of it is other people’s ideas stuck together to make a quick buck.

    And in my opinion very few of them compare well to Half-Life 2.

    @Ian: I liked this hunting element in Far Cry 2 a lot.

  4. FunkyB says:

    You know how kids play with little plastic guns, shouting ‘bang! bang!’ at each other? Is it that urge with the addition of digital processing that produces games like this?
    As a civilised person you “shouldn’t” like the idea of murder, but it seems so ingrained in us that most of us (well men anyway) do in play situations. I think what politicians need to remember though is that almost everyone can differentiate that it *is* just play.

    Edit: Regarding stalking, I liked Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory a lot more than I thought I would. People looking for that kind of gameplay should give it a look as it is cheap now.

  5. pepper says:

    It appears violence really is in our genes, together with apes, were the only species that actually gaurds it border, and attacks a member of the same species but a different group when given the opportunity. You could say apes and man are those that wage war.

  6. Ian says:

    @ Pstonie: Yeah, I did occasionally suffer from the AI suddenly becoming clairvoyant but the fact you could approach quietly through the tall grass and start creating proper havoc in a little camp when they didn’t even know you were there yet was something I enjoyed very much about the game.

    @ FunkyB: I haven’t played Double Agent, but of the first three Splinter Cell games Chaos Theory was the only one I liked, and the hide-and-seek gameplay of that is excellent at times.

  7. Catastrophe says:

    I bought this game and found it far too clunky. This was when it was released.

    Off Topic: Thought I’d mention theres a bit of drama on the forum.

  8. Bozzley says:

    I believe the PS2 version of Manhunt also let you use a headset with the game, so that Brian Cox was screaming at you in your ear to put you off. If you said anything into the microphone, it’d attract the hunters so they’d come looking for you. Never tried it, but it sounded like the kind of gimmick which might work. I don’t think I could play Manhunt without being able to shout “OOF! F***ING HELL!” with each new variation of killing someone.

    Also – Chaos Theory is the most flexible and well-designed Splinter Cell game up to now (IMHO, like). Double Agent was a return to linearity, and it suffered greatly for it. Chaos Theory always presents you with multiple solutions to a problem, and you can choose which one suits you best. It also lets you climb a massive Xmas tree.

  9. Markoff Chaney says:

    I have to echo the love for Chaos Theory and the issues with Manhunt’s controls. Both games are, putatively, of the same stealth genre. One has a hook of over the top executions and the other has polished and refined gameplay and controlling. It’s not that Manhunt was a bad idea, or even that it pushed too far (ThrillKill wasn’t that bad either, really) it’s that the underlying game play wasn’t fun enough to carry the hook. Maybe that sadism was part of it though. Not only did you hurt others, you hurt yourself by playing with a poor engine and poor stealth mechanics.

    Far Cry 2 had some great planning moments too. I think the majority of people who kept decrying it just kept doing the same things over and over. It’s almost like Crayon Physics, I can make some lever/fulcrum construct to brute my way past most challenges, but that’s not really the challenge, is it?

  10. obo says:

    I got really excited for a minute because I thought this might be about Manhunter.

  11. Radiant says:

    Nice article.
    I played this on the ps2, you could tell there was a good game somewhere buried under the clamour for controversy, that there were actual experienced game makers trying to work.

    I believe this game came out right around the time Rockstar North received an influx of Take Two managers/producers.
    Sort of like watchmakers asked to create digital.

    Also this game came out just after Hitman 2 and Splinter Cell came out so when I originally played it felt like a poor retread of two infinitely better murder sims.

    Maybe it was satire? Saying to the player “Hey you know all those stealth games you are playing? This is it’s natural conclusion this is actually the market you’ve been buying into.”

  12. El_MUERkO says:

    When I first moved to england and found a place of my own I shipped over my PS2, having naught else to do in the evenings I used to sit in and play games, twas then I discovered the joy that was Freedom Fighters and the incredibly disturbed monstrosity that was Manhunt.

    The game sucks you in, playing in the dark with the PS2 headset on so the director speaks into your ear was warped brilliance. Sure it had plenty of flaws but still I loved it, right up until the end, I never could get past Piggy, the bastard! :(

    [edit]HOLY SHIT WHEN DID WE GET EDIT![/edit]

  13. shon says:

    I think the best part about Manhunt was the game manual. It was printed like an underground video catalog of the greatest kills. It was very disturbing to see the catalog hyping certain weapons and kill groups as fan favorites. I thought it was a clever way to introduce how evil and brutal the game world was.

    The other thing I remember was the inclusion of two levels where you stop sneaking and it’s straight forward run, cover and gun. I hated those levels. They took an entirely different skill set to get through the game and they smelled of last minute padding of the game.

  14. Doctor Doc says:

    I really tried but I could not like this game. It just sucks.

  15. cam says:

    I actually really enjoyed manhunt, right up to the stupid “storm the castle” stage with the hedges and whatnot. I quit here, and alas! I never got to fight the pigman.

    The hammer was a lot of fun to watch from memory, but the eye-poking sequence with the shards of glass was great.

  16. Lack_26 says:

    War drove our evolution, with out war humans would be nothing. We shouldn’t shun it completely, but at the same time I don’t feel that we should exalt it in all it’s glories.

    This game offended a lot of people, but it was just building on the base nature of humans, disgusting, violent (and often brilliantly inventive). I guess the thrill of the hunt is just human.

  17. Skurmedel says:

    @DMJ: That is typical of some people with confused moral. Like Dick Cheney, “they made something horrible to us, thus we can justify doing horrible stuff ourselves.”

    I’ve heard people in the local newspapers stating that rapists should be put in a cell forever and have their balls torn off. The irony fails them.

    Anyhow, I never played Manhunt and I can see why some parts are attractive to people. I just feel that the comical look on stuff makes it all very weird. Sure I don’t wanna play a game with photo realistic beheadings, but it’s all a bit strange.

  18. phil says:

    The hunt, micro-cutscene, hunt format got old very quickly. For me hunting in games should be rewarded with funny guard dialogue, no-kill run throughs and a sense of finesse. No-one Lives Forever 2 did this sort of thing with so much more class.

  19. Real Horrorshow says:

    Blood lust is a part of the human psyche. Denying it is illogical, for lack of a better term. Only the most able, lucky, smart, and yes, brutal men passed their genes on to the next generation. Early man had to hunt for food, and fight and kill for women. It’s just a fact. And it seems to me that the ones who try to completely deny this side of themselves often turn out to be psychologically unbalanced.

    I love zombie movies.

  20. Vincent Avatar says:

    Man, this is a game that did not age well, visually.

    For fun, compare with Metal Gear Solid 2, which came out earlier but managed to age much better. It is an ugly game in more ways than one, but I think that is an important part of the experience.

    You’re playing an ugly game, doing ugly things, with ugly controls. It’s the total package of ugliness, in some ways.

  21. megaman says:

    This is way over the limit. I can’t get anything out of a game that needs to rely on scenes like that.

  22. lumpi says:

    The game was an open letter to all the censorship bureaus in the world. The letter read “Fuck you, lol”.

  23. ChaosSmurf says:

    TBH, nothing in this I found as horrifying as the death scene in Dead Space if you fail when trapped in the room with the giant bad thing. Shit is sick yo’

  24. Serondal says:

    I gotta say I played this game when it first came out expecting to love it. After killing someone with a plastic bag my stomach started to get a little twisted feeling. After hacking someone’s head off with a blunt machete I put the game down and then threw it away :P Shooting people from 100 meters is one thing, hell even swinging a sword and having a little slashy bloody bitmap play is okay, but actually showing the brutal act of randomly killing someone was just a bit much for ME personally. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the game should exist, just didn’t set well with me.

    I feel like I should also mention that I played and enjoyed Postal 2. there were times when I felt bad for enjoying burning down a gay club for example but I got over it. I dunno what the difference is. I didn’t play Postal 2 until after my girl friend cheated on me with 6 guys at the same time so maybe by that time my heart was a black husk of its former self ;P

  25. Lewis says:

    I remember reviewing Manhunt for somewhere or other when it came out. It got a generous 7/10, if memory serves me well.

    And, y’know, the fact that I’m staring at the Word document right now.

    It was a really positive review, actually, which surprises me. Remembering it now… well, all I vividly recall is how artificial Carter City felt. The environments weren’t organic; they were total set-ups for the gameplay. Which, perhaps, was the point, in a game about you being placed in these predefined situations and being forced to behave horribly. Enter new area, hide in convenient alcove, wait for thug to appear, slice him. Repeat, ad infinitum. Kinda dull and clinical, y’know?

    In the review I harped on about the relentlessly twisted atmosphere and how great that was. I can’t remember it now, meaning I should probably go back and play it to see if I was just talking nonsense.

    EDIT: still perversely pleased with this bit:

    “And then I started smashing his face against the ground, right? And he was screaming for me to stop, but I carried on anyway – and there was blood, like, /everywhere/…”

  26. Serondal says:

    I’ve read reviews like that before that swing both ways. Reviews where I’m wondering if I got the same time the reviewer was playing :P Mostly I disagree with X-play reviews, they seem kinda harsh on the games I love the most.

  27. ulix says:

    Good old DMA.

    Loved Lemmings on PC and theyr extremely awesome N64 games: Space Station Silicon valley (very surreal!) and Body Harvest (very haunting game, man, how much I loved that one).

  28. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    I really enjoyed manhunt back in the day (well.. up until the hedge maze to be perfectly honest).

    I remember taking out a fleeing enemy with a thrown brick at about 50 yards. Still one of my shining gaming awesomeness moments.

  29. Serondal says:

    How does that compare to throwing a ball of fire from your bare hands and killing an crazy monster with wings rushing at you head long at full speed from a just a few pixels away! Of course, I’m speaking of Mario Bros the ultimate snuff film adventure.

  30. DigitalSignalX says:

    He stabbed him in the ass with a hand scythe. In the ass. With a scythe.

  31. Charlie says:

    However, Bully was a brilliant game that everyone should play!

  32. whalleywhat says:

    American Government: The Game

  33. Gap Gen says:

    I… I just watched that video. Um.

  34. Gorgeras says:

    I will go back to Bully(PC) as soon as they fix the issues. On the Steam forums, a Rockstar Toronto dev even said he was going to talk to someone in charge at Rockstar Vancouver about it. That was last autumn. Pitiful.

    EDIT: Holy crap, the second after I post this I look on the Steam forums and Bully has been patched! Now to see what was actually fixed…

  35. Oak says:

    A vivid and haunting metaphor for the All-Amerikan practice of stabbing (invading) people (countries) in the neck (Middle East).

  36. malkav11 says:

    Manhunt was the game that got me to actually give stealth games a chance. I’d some notion of them as frustrating trial and error games where you were only ever allowed to memorize patrols and step from place to place at exactly the right time. Pattern memorization rather than actual gameplay. And while that’s a fair description of a few stealth games, it’s not at all accurate for many more (arbitrary stealth sections in non-stealth games can sod right off though.). Manhunt, with its explicit mandate to kill all the patrollers to proceed, brought out the joys of the mode of gameplay. Being both hunter and hunted simultaneously, especially with clear-cut stealth rules like Manhunt’s, was and is tremendously thrilling to me. It’s one of the tensest games I’ve ever played. Sneak well and you are a silent-footed dealer of death. Screw up and you -may- be able to get away, but you are certainly not going to do well out of it. The conceit, as clearly aimed at shock value as it is, is also rather brilliant, particularly with the headset/microphone mechanic (not something I ever got to experience, alas). Quit once I got to the shooty levels, mind you.

    And yes, there are better stealth games out there. I love me some Thief, these days, or Splinter Cell (to an extent. too unforgiving for me to really enjoy it wholesale), or especially Hitman (played for Silent Assassin rating, of course). I like the Metal Gear Solid games, but the mix between stealth and action is very schizophrenic there. There’s an absence of really reliable stealth mechanics (imho), having instead to rely on the aforemention patrol memorization and a healthy dose of luck, and a whole lot of clever shooty mechanics which you can only use in boss fights because during the rest of the game you trigger all but unending swarms of soldiers. It’s a series I wish would either add some reliable stealth or just go wholeheartedly into action mode.

  37. Andy`` says:

    It was their last chance to be anything other than the makers of one of the most successful games in the world, and Manhunt wasn’t enough to show they were more than that. It’s the fate of many studios: you don’t make a hit, you’re closed down. If you do make the hit, you only make the hit forever. DMA were one of the best, most variable-in-approach British game developers of all time, and – as such – their passing into a new age of franchise service is to be mourned, no matter how much I like GTA.

    I’d never realised that, nor really ever thought about it. Maybe this is the reason that (haven’t played it so I don’t really know) GTA4 went in a bit of a different direction instead of just “bigger, more, crazier” and changed the tone of the game, and such. Maybe they’re trying to set themselves up for something else that isn’t *quite* suitable for the GTA series, thus prompting the existence of a new IP? One can only hope T2 wont let them mold.

    And now I miss Lemmings. Woe is I.

  38. Vincent Avatar says:

    “It’s a series I wish would either add some reliable stealth or just go wholeheartedly into action mode.”

    MGS4 is pretty much all action, save one or two bits where stealth is REQUIRED.

  39. runcrash says:

    How does it compare to the brutal kills in Lemmings?

  40. malkav11 says:

    My efforts to play MGS4 had been hindered by my lack of the (very expensive) PS3 I would need to play it.

    I do have a PS3 now, but WoW has me by the throat and MGS4 isn’t cheap enough yet to be worth buying while that’s the case. But someday.

  41. Alikchi says:

    I always giggle a little bit whenever I hear this game mentioned – because I always think of manhunt.net. ._.

  42. Somedude says:

    A friend of mine at the time said he enjoyed killing all the racist fuckers (gangs) that populate your opponents. It’s been so long that I can’t rate the accuracy, but I still remember that comment. Manhunt is a compelling game and doesn’t get enough credit for its stab at merging game design, narrative, and genre, even if its execution was–at times–very very messy.

    In 20 to 40 years, we will look back at games like Manhunt as some of the more monstrous missing links of the medium’s evolution and they’ll be more interesting for it, rather than the now current accolades poured over games like Bioshock.

  43. Barts says:

    Damn, my comment got eaten by spam protection… :(

  44. Sunjammer says:

    I just plain didn’t find the game very interesting. Much like i don’t find hollywood torture porn (Hostel, SAW) interesting. It’s just desensitizing in the extreme, and once you’re deafened by its frequent attempts to gross you out, the fact that the game is lackluster clunky stealth filled with unlikable characters (yourself included) reduces the thing to a gray goo of disinterest. You can get better violence elsewhere, you can get better gameplay elsewhere, you can get better presentation elsewhere. Manhunt didn’t truly push it then and it still doesn’t feel like it pushed it. A blip only memorable for its audacity at a time when people were still crying wolf over GTA (Oh wait, they still are).

    Beyond that, i’m still pretty much amazed that no game since Thief 2 has truly nailed the stalking aspect. It always boils down to trial and error, and developers’ fix for the error part is to give you a big gun that in the end winds up being just as effective as any other strategy. Or a quicksave. There’s a reason i keep Thief 2 installed, and there’s a reason i NEVER bother with stealth-centric games anymore. They just utterly fail at the exercise.

    Stealth game designers; Get Thief 2, study the living hell out of it. Study study study. Study the way failure can be escaped and recovered from, study the role of sound, study the transparency of the interface, study guard paths and player movement mechanics. It doesn’t have to be a rube goldberg hell of gangs of guards in tight cramped corridors where you die if the door opens. Much like playing a fighting game against the CPU on the hardest difficulty setting, overly taxing the player MAKES IT NO FUN TO PLAY.

    Why this balance is so god damn hard for designers to understand is miles beyond me.

  45. psyk says:

    ah the thief series what games.

  46. D says:

    RIDDICK MENTION HERE.

  47. Jetsetlemming says:

    That’s right fucked up of the author to say the creators should be locked up in a medieval dungeon for life. Does he feel the same way about Eli Roth or Quentin Tarentino?

  48. Dobro#1 says:

    Manhunt is about helplessness. It plays with the notion that you would be reluctant to play it. You’re a death row prisoner who wakes up from the lethal injection, the corrupt authorities of the derelict Carcer city (the motor town shithole of the GTA universe) having been paid off by the leering director. He’s a pervert and he’s not ashamed of it – in the way that only pervs are when they’re allowed to be. Everything about this game is designed to allow you to kill, but only on balance. You’re in, on the face of it, a completely unwinnable situation. Your only way out is to kill for the (as is made explicit, sexual) gratification of the director. Quitting the game condemns your character to death – you left him to rot.

    Carrying on means you have to take lives. But what pieces of work the hunters are! Rockstar excelled themselves by making the hunters just nasty enough for you to kill them. The street toughs who are in it for the money, the racists, the dangerously insane (including perhaps the most memorable child abuser ever voiced in a game), the limp-dick gun-lovers… You can’t feel sorry for these people. Show them mercy by letting them live after you’ve given them a particularly brutal melee beating, after they beg for you to stop, and they’ll get right back up and try to kill you.

    Should you feel as though that’s not enough, at one point your family are captured and held hostage – if you are compromised at any point, one is murdered. Despite saving them all, they are murdered later anyway. Your character, Cash, is forced to watch it on a TV screen. You’re helpless, he’s helpless, reluctant voyeurs. Violence happens, but you can’t control it.

    At one point you nearly escape the confines of the ‘sets’ only to be viciously beaten up by a much harder bastard and are sent straight back to square one. The moment when you do actually escape is so, so gratifying – after 2/3rds of the game being on the run, the hunter becomes the hunted. You hook up with a reporter who has been investigating the director, eager to break a big story and (it would seem) slightly intrigued by Cash himself. You then have to protect her – which includes a trip back to her flat to collect evidence. It’s strewn with shopping bags from GTA-world fashion outlets. It’s plain to see that she’s got nothing in her life but this, the most negative of all career woman stereotypes. Every character has nothing in their lives apart from violence – Cash is outside of society as a criminal beyond rehabilitation, the hunters are damaged in their own individual ways, the director was apparently (as is revealed in a secret room) a big shot director until high-profile disputes with actors…

    These sections are particularly questionable as the game asks you to kill cops. Long before GTA4’s ‘tell my wife I love her’, these cops talk about getting back to their wives in their warm beds. They’ve been told you’re a murderous hobo. While they’re not without some element of corruption – payola is mentioned for off-duty work and some mention the possibility of giving you a serious beating… When you’re breaking the neck of a unsuspecting officer with his own baton, all adherence to authority is severed. The only authority now is your reluctance to kill, but that’s long gone. Any objection you might have had has been eroded by what you’ve been put through – this is now a revenge mission. You can’t let the director get away with all this. Continuing from this point onwards is about one thing only – resolution, deliverance.

    That’s why the game devolves into gunplay, and the entire dynamic changes. It is no longer about helplessness, you’re supposed to feel empowered. Although this dynamic is again flipped right at the last minute, as the hitherto only-glimpsed-in-cutscenes character of Piggsy is let loose in the burned out upper reaches of the director’s mansion and you have to fight him without weaponary, as the final ‘boss’ character, the actual director himself is nothing more than an ineffective, balding, fat pile of patheticism. You slice him open and the game ends. The reporter breaks the story, the director is dead, Cash disappears.

    Is that it? Manhunt stays with you for a long time. Quite apart from the controversies, the game is the logical conclusion of absurd video game violence – violence with a reason, a purpose, if ever there was one. While I was playing it, it affected me on a level that no other video game’s violence has. The first time I chopped heads with the machete, for example, I turned the game off right there and then. It was only when I got used to the animations (plus sounds), and became acutely aware that it was just a game that I continued – and you do gradually become aware of how much of a game it is. Despite that, I have to say that Rockstar excelled themselves with this game’s level design – grit, grime, urban detritus. The voice acting is, as mentioned, first rate throughout. If you go to the official website there’s a weird labyrinthine game you can play involving clicking on entrances and exits that reveals progressively more about the reporter you encounter in the game through sound clips of an interview with a psychiatrist about her ordeal. There’s a slightly sinister, disbelieving overtone to the interview that suggests that either she has lost her sanity or that she is being held against her will.

    I’ll always have a soft spot for Manhunt – it affected me in new and novel ways. It made me question on a personal level what I get out of video game violence, why I play violent games, and what is and is not acceptable. It made me appreciate how, in certain other video games, violence can be neutered, how a violent act can be stripped of its negativity and how, in an extreme case, certain violence can be seen as legitimate. For a brief period, it actually upset me due to a combination of the reasons above. I’m glad I played it, and I’m glad it was made. It was, at the time (and in some aspects, remains so) the most extreme example of video game violence. Violence not just as a means to an end, but the end in itself. It’s a bold statement.