Manhunt came out in 2003 for the PS2. It was a highly controversial game that got banned in a number of countries. The game is considered highly controversial due to its brutally violent style, but the violence is not totally unwarranted. It’s easy to say that the violence is the whole point of the game, but it can also be thought of as a comment on modern society.
The story of the game has a convict, James Earl Cash (which is an awesome name if I’ve ever heard one) who was supposed to be executed, but instead was put into a snuff film directed by the deranged Lionel Starkweather who is expertly voice acted by Brian Cox. Brian Cox played Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter (Manhunt and Manhunter are completely unrelated) so now everytime I play Manhunt I can’t shake the feeling that it’s Hannibal Lecter telling me to kill all these people. Lecter just set up this big elaborate snuff film for a laugh.
Starkweather talks to you throughout the game over an earpiece. He orchestrates the whole ordeal and encourages you to kill people in the most violent way possible for the sake of his snuff film. That says something about society, the fact that there is an audience for these films who are getting off to all the violence. The game is hinting at our own society that we all have a violent nature and just need to unleash it. The executions in the game have 3 tiers. each successive tier being more brutal, bloody, and violent. The higher the tier the harder it is to pull off. Think about it, Players are rewarded with gorier kills, and it’s strangely compelling to get the most violent kill possible. A quick tap of the button results in a quick, not so gory kill, but take your time and charge it up and you get to the gory stuff. The game makes you work for it. There’s something profound to be had there.
Let me just say right now: Violent video games do NOT create violent people. If a guy goes out a kills someone after playing a game, he didn’t do it because of the game (or movie, two sides of the same coin) he would’ve done it anyway. If anything, violent games and movies provide an outlet to let your rage into, possibly acting as a violence impediment. I like to compare Manhunt to the final scene of Scarface. Try watching the end of “Scarface” when you’re angry. Watching Tony Montana go berserk and massacre all those f*cking cockaroaches while screaming and swearing is like watching all your inner rage melt onto the screen. The same idea can be applied to Manhunt. It’s a good stress reliever, if you’re angry go choke out a manhunt character with a plastic bag and break their neck, then you’ll feel all better.
The music is good in Manhunt. It’s subtle but effective. Right from the very opening the music sounds like it could have been composed by John Carpenter or maybe even Clint Mansell (only in the first scene for Mansell).
The game has heavy elements of stealth and some action aspects, but retains it’s grounding in horror. A realistic, dark and dirty, horror. It works because murders like this could actually happen, not on such a scale but I digress. It effectively creates a sense of dread. A fear of what’s ahead. The graphics are dark, dirty, and outdated, but that doesn’t hurt the game, in fact it works to make you perhaps even more uncomfortable. It can be absolutely terrifying getting chased by a baseball bat toting white trash psycho through a junkyard.
The game’s fighting mechanics are intentionally ineffective. If you try to go up against 2 guys you’ll almost certainly die. If you go up against just one guy there’s still a pretty good chance you’re not walking away from it. This forces you to stick to the shadows and stalk your enemies. Getting spotted sends you in a mad dash for safety, and sometimes that safety isn’t there. The brilliant banter and raving from the enemies makes for a harrowing experience. Each gang has their own personality and they are well designed and have a lot of detail. The game is made by Rockstar and they always put in a lot of effort.
There are some twisted moments in the story of Manhunt. A particular level has you roaming around a zoo, when you find out that your family has been kidnapped by the psychos and each have been tied to a cross, ready to be executed. If you get spotted, they kill your family. That is a tremendous motivation to do well and *SPOILER ALERT* They die anyway later on. That is dark and twisted and gives you a real reason to hate Starkweather if you didn’t already. *END SPOILER*
You can hide bodies, but I always preferred to leave them out for their buddies to find as an intimidation tactic.
The gameplay is very good. The dark and intense atmosphere is fun to roam through and they change up the locations often enough to stop things from getting stale. The enemies despicable personality makes killing them a treat. It can be real gratifying to bash their heads in, especially the white trash bigots. Caving their heads in with a metal baseball bat is extremely satisfying. Late in the game guns are introduced. They use a lock on system which is terrible in most games, but it actually works really well in Manhunt.
Towards the end of the game you run into Pigsy: a mentally retarded man in a pig mask who escapes from Starkweathers attic and wreaks havoc with a chainsaw. The build up to you having to fight pigsy is intense. You really dread having to come face to face with him and when you finally do… woah baby
The boss fight against Pigsy is one of the most absolutely terrifying segments in any video games ever made. Top ten at least. Probably top five. It’s intense. Try him on hardcore mode and you’ll be quivering in the dark afraid to move.
You fight pigsy in this apartment type place with the walls all caved in. It creates a labyrinth for you to run around in. You hear his chainsaw approaching and can’t tell which direction it’s coming from, if you do get spotted by Pigsy, it results in a horrifying dash for safety that is very hard to escape from. His terrifying squeal and the putter of his chainsaw chase you down the empty halls, you hope you can outrun him and find a shadow to hide in. This boss fight is incredible. It’s truly terrifying.
Manhunt is a very good game. It’s actually one of my favorites on the PS2. I like it so much that I actually bought the sequel on release day. Manhunt 2 is the only game I have ever purchased on release day.
Manhunt 2 keeps the horror flowing strong. It introduces some new aspects to the horror. There are two major ones. The first being that your character begins the game by escaping from a mental institution in a pretty horrific sequence. Your character being completely insane leads to some interesting moments regarding the pickman project and whatnot. It also leads to a very cliche plot twist, but i thought the story was rather interesting.
The 2nd development is that they have ramped up the sexuality, adding an entirely new dimension to the psychological horror elements. It gets a bit excessive actually. Gone is the social commentary from the first game, which I missed. The second Manhunt was a very good game as well. The locations play a bigger part in the second game.
In the first manhunt the locations aside from a couple served only as a different place for you to slaughter people. The second manhunt integrates the locations in the story better. This creates some stand out and memorable levels, as well as a more diverse level selection. The second manhunt has some rather stupid moments but I still think it is a terrific game.
Manhunt 2 furthers the gameplay mechanics and style of the first game rather than the story. Manhunt 2 was even more controversial and banned in ever more countries.
The first two spoken words in the game are actually “Holy f*ck!” The game was threatened with an AO rating and was almost banned in America which resulted in heavy censorship of the game. Rockstar had to put a bunch of weird filters over the executions, which make them harder to see, but you can still make out what’s happening for the most part. The Wii version was hit the hardest by the censorship.
I hold the Manhunt series close to my heart, I really love these games and I hope that Rockstar will make a Manhunt 3. They didn’t move on it at all during the PS3 age, but maybe for the PS4, some high-def slaughtering maybe?