There are no shortages of cruel jokes in this world. Remember when you thought you could do something as stupid as feign an injury in order to get your mother or father to run over in distress just to see the look on their face? James Earl Cash, a con man on death row, is given the ultimate prank of his life (no pun intended) when he's condemned to death only to wake up alive afterwards in some freak reality television like show where he must kill or be killed in order to continue to survive for sport. One has to take a moment and think whether Cash might have been better dead under the needle.
The game itself has spawned quite a bit of political controversy. If the Haitian references in Grand Theft Auto have caused Rockstar any annoyances, Manhunt is likely to be infamous for many years to come in the public's eye. It has a certain shock value. It's definitely mature subject matter. In a way, it reminds me of those survivalist death games like Governor Schwarzenegger's vintage Running Man. But this review is about the game, not about the political fallout that comes of it.
As entertainment, Manhunt is really a linear third person action game.
Rather than letting you lose on a degenerate world of criminals and corrupt law enforcement, you're ordered to kill with finesse. And finesse sometimes demands you to act more like Sam Fisher than the guy from the Postal game. Many times you will be outnumbered, especially against foes like the SWAT team so you'll have to rely on your use of weapons that come into your arsenal. These include everything from a blunt hammer to shotguns and rifles.
The most important skill, however, will be your stealthy abilities to run away and hide. Where the game bears some resemblance to Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid, it's in the use of shadows as a form of cover. Unique to the Xbox is the use of the Xbox Live microphone headset to taunt enemies and listen to instructions from your handler (essentially a television producer).
By using guerilla hit and run tactics, you'll find Cash has to act like a poorly trained version of Solid Snake. Instead of high tech gadgets,
Cash is relegated to the poverty end of the weapons scale. But low tech definitely has its own thrills and advantages. In the game, you're allowed to sneak up against enemies. Sam Fisher coaxes them to talk but Cash is capable of a variety of intimate death blows when equipped with melee weapons. Cash can quickly dispatch an enemy without a problem. The more you wait (and the more you expose your element of surprise), the more sadistic an animation you get. This is shown via an alternate camera as if it were happening on television. This, and being encouraged to commit these grisly acts, is what's probably getting most politicians out of their chairs.
These rather sophisticated moves are countered by Cash's inability to execute any of the complex moves you'd find in a game like Splinter
Cell. He can't, for example, shimmy across poles or traverse crawlspaces. The environment isn't conducive to this manner of play. Instead, running around the corner to evade is probably your best bet.
Hiding behind barrels and other objects in firefights is about as complex a dodge as you will be able to pull off.
All of this wanton violence and harsh language can be fun for awhile.
It's like the Postal game on the PC, it's there to make a statement but because the difficulty level in Manhunt is raised so high, you will no doubt become very frustrated with the trial and error gameplay. At least with that other game, you had some crass humor to fall back on.
All the missions are linear, which is strange from the makers of Grand
Theft Auto. You can't run around and do side-missions or explore the virtual wasteland until you gather the courage to tackle the main storyline again. Essentially, you're forced down like a fish in the barrel until you move on to the next sequence.
What you move on to is another series of challenges for the sake of art
- or what's left of art on television in this apocalyptic future.
There's no character development for Cash. He's just there to survive.
There's no redemption for this man or any revelation/flashback of what he did to end up like this. Nor is there any insight into why the world is dark, vengeful, and sadistic. The backdrop sounds a lot like a reality television show on steroids. But there's little commentary on how or why it has to be like this for Cash. Who are the consumers of this drivel? Why do they do it?
It's because of this limitation that prevents Manhunt from moving from a decent game to a stellar title. It possesses excellent technical qualities with a run-down view of the world that Nostradamus would be proud of. But it lacks any heart. The 'you versus the world' motif can only carry it so far before it becomes an exercise. When it was first released on the PlayStation 2, Manhunt was a great shock. But now in its subsequent release on other platforms, the concept wears a little thin. If you are looking for action for action's sake, this game's for you. Anything more and you'll want to wait for something meatier from Rockstar.