Manhunt is a video game from Rockstar Games -- the same company that made the Grand Theft Auto series. It's not as fun as those games, nor as addicting, but Manhunt is a game that has been made by people who take games seriously, and it was designed for gamers who want some of their favorite game genres to take a step forward. It's not the next GTA, but coming from the same company, it's a good glimpse of where games may be headed.
In Manhunt (Rated: M), you take charge of a character with the implausible name of James Earl Cash. Mr. Cash was condemned to death, but saved at the last minute by the sadistic maker of a snuff film. This person -- a creepy voice for most of the game -- has taken the opportunity to put Cash in a situation in which he needs to aggressively defend his life. The more aggressive the better. It turns out that Cash's actions are being filmed, and the bloodier he makes his battle for freedom, the happier his captor will be.
The killing spree that Cash undertakes is certainly on par with some of the goriest action in video games. Not a gruesome detail is spared, and since Cash is trying to make his killings as horrific as possible, players have the ongoing challenge of seeing what new atrocities they can commit. It's not lightweight stuff, but the label on the front of the game says "M," for mature players, and as long as that warning is heeded, players will find a lot to enjoy under the blood.
Manhunt takes small, discrete levels and makes them strategically complex. At first, Cash needs to be sneaky and take advantage of cover and obstacles. But as the game progresses, it becomes clear that each objective (usually killing someone) has several possible solutions, and occasionally dozens of variations. While sports games have long rewarded players for their flair, Manhunt is one of the first single-player action games that allows players to develop a style.
If this is where the next Grand Theft Auto is headed, the world of video games will be changing shortly. Simple shoot-'em-ups seem like a letdown after Manhunt, and the level design makes dozens of recent games seem bland. Certainly, Manhunt has its problems -- it's too short, avoids anything resembling a complicated story and can get boring if played unimaginatively. But for the engaged gamer, Manhunt is a great appetizer. Let's hope Rockstar hurries with the main course.
Publication date: 05/06/04