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Review By: J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Rockstar North
Publisher:  Rockstar
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  Urban Survival Horror
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, USB Headsets
Date Posted:  3-2-04

It’s impossible to review a game like Manhunt and keep it brief, so bare with me…

Everything you’ve heard about Manhunt is true - it’s sick, it’s twisted, it revels in it’s own violence, and it’s sure to be banned in a few parts of the world; but does that mean it’s fun? Well, yes and no. See, Manhunt is not for everyone. For those who can handle the subject matter and get into the tense, methodical, stealth-based manslaughter, this “Urban Survival Horror” title will stand out as the year’s most sadistic guilty pleasure. The meek, the squeamish, and the run-and-gun gamer looking for the next Grand Theft Auto should, however, find their fun elsewhere, as Manhunt has nothing they’d want to see; it’s merely an above average “third person sneaker” elevated to astronomical levels by marketing, art direction, and game design so skillfully fused and expertly executed it stumbles upon the revolutionary –what is quickly becoming the trademark of a “Rockstar Joint”.

Gaming Public to Rockstar North: “What’s left? Where can you guys go to top a controversial, politically incorrect, morally reprehensible, chart-topping success like Vice City?”

Rockstar North to World: “Further. Much, much further”.

Welcome to the world of “Fetish, Hardcore, and Brutality”, an all-too-real underground where any perverse predilection can be indulged and “violence for entertainment” takes on a whole new meaning. This is not a place you will find pleasant, but you have no say in the matter. You are James Earl Cash. You’ve been given a second chance at life, but it’s in danger of being very short lived. A man, for now known simply as ‘The Director’, plans to make you the star of his latest snuff film. He’s spared you from a lethal injection at the hands of the State and thrown you in a rat maze of decaying urban structures named Carcer City. From here he will instruct you remotely through a wireless headset, while monitoring your actions with his ever-present surveillance cameras, to brutalize and execute hired “hunters” as viciously as possible while he records it for the sexual gratification of him and his “sponsors”. There is no escape, so don’t bother. Everyone in Carcer City is in the pocket of The Director, from the Mayor on down. There’s only kill-or-be-killed, hunt-or-be-hunted, eat-or-be-eaten in the urban jungle tonight.

Do I have your attention yet? I thought so. Manhunt is genetically engineered from the ground up to grab attentions – the attention of gamers, the attention of passers-by, and especially the attentions of people who thought Vice City was about as deplorable as gaming got; in fact, Manhunt almost seems like Rockstar North’s way of saying “Hey you, politician, preacher, middle-American soccer-mom, you thought that was bad? Look what we could have done…” This is the kind of game you buy out of sheer morbid curiosity coupled with the fear (and titillation) that it could be banned at any second, and then you’d be left out of the loop forever! Except unlike other “attention grabbers”, like the woefully terrible BMX XXX, this game actually has more to offer than just shock value.

But, that “forbidden fruit” feeling does add a lot to the appeal of this game. It plays on the idea that Manhunt should be purchased anonymously online, sent to your home in a non-descript brown bag, and kept under some loose floorboard in your room; like the Feds could bust down your door any second and confiscate it. Now, for the 14 year old hiding Vice City from mommy and daddy, this is nothing new, but for those of us old enough to drink, smoke, vote, and license firearms, this is something that hasn’t been felt in a long, long time.

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