Retro Saturdays Episode 23 :: Manhunt

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Like many of my peers, I love my violent games. Does that make me a sicko? No. Because by that logic, every guy who watches slasher flicks is a serial killer. It’s also a big bloated debate that I’d rather not get into right now, but I digress. It’s safe to say that I’ve grown fond of blasting a cluster pixels into a pulp of bloody, blocky pile of pixels in the 90s. Like I said, I love my violent video games. This trend continued towards the 2000s with Soldier of Fortune and GTA III, along with Vice City. There’s nothing more badass than blowing a terrorist’s limbs off at point blank with a shotgun in Soldier of Fortune, but this level of digitized violence would be nothing but sunshine and rainbows in front of one particular game. Join me in this week’s Retro Saturdays as I give my thoughts on Manhunt, Rockstar Games‘ controversial cult classic.

A History of Violence

Manhunt is a stealth-action game with a pinch of psychological horror, developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games for PS2 in 2003, followed by a PC and Xbox release in 2004. The game had a long and troubled development cycle, having been in on-off development since the 90s. Rockstar were no strangers to controversies surrounding their games, especially the ones caused caused by their trademark Grand Theft Auto series. But much to the disappointment of soccer moms and a particular Florida attorney, Manhunt finally saw a release in 2003.

I came upon Manhunt during a clearing sale in a nearby computer store in the mid-2000s. I was intrigued by the title and bought the game for I don’t know, 70 Rupees? Something along those lines. I remember being awfully scared to play it alone and would invite the kids from next door to witness my murderous deeds and provide me with the occasional taunts and cheers. Now that I’m thinking about it, I may have scarred those kids for life. Guess that makes me a terrible neighbor.

What makes Manhunt so controversial and violent you may ask. Well, for starters the game is basically a murder simulator, rewarding you for dispatching foes in a plethora of brutal and stomach-churning ways. But you gotta hand it to Rockstar for tackling such a controversial and polarizing topic with a unique theme and atmosphere. You see, Manhunt is made in such a way that it looks and feels like a snuff film (google the term if you don’t already know what that means). The game puts you in the shoes of  James Earl Cash, a convicted felon who miraculously escapes lethal injection thanks to a sadistic, washed out Hollywood director. In exchange for his freedom, Cash is forced to murder dozens upon dozens of crazed gang members and mercenaries, while the director shoots his actions through the conveniently placed surveillance cameras in a derelict cityscape.

Manhunt genuinely feels like an 80’s B-movie for the majority of its run time, thanks to the various gameplay and aesthetic choices. Each level in Manhunt is dubbed ‘scenes’ and is named like those low-budget direct-to-DVD flicks, such as Doorway to Hell, Fuelled by Hate, Mouth of Madness and Trained to Kill. The game also features a cinematic film grain effect and a VHS filter during executions that adds to the B-movie atmosphere. Each Scene is completed by killing Hunters and completing the scene’s objectives. But enough of that. Let’s talk about the core of the game, that is the gameplay.

Memories of Murder

Manhunt is a third-person stealth action game. The game opens with our convict cum anti-hero Cash mysteriously waking up from a lethal injection in Carcer City, an oppressive cityscape with abandoned streets, spooky malls and derelict apartments. The first voice Cash hears is that of the ‘director’, who promises Cash his freedom if he survives through the night and ‘puts on an entertaining show’ for the discreet viewers worldwide. This translates to Cash having to murder pretty much everything that has two legs and breathe in over-the-top gruesome fashion. The game’s primary focus is on stealth, with Cash being forced to sneak up on enemies to deliver gut-wrenching cinematic executions with a variety of weapons and tools. Cash is a pretty handy guy who can turn everything from polythene plastic bags to military grade assault weapons to suit his needs. This is where executions, the show-stealer of the game comes in.

Manhunt rewards you on how you complete a scene. This mostly depends on the style in which you dispatch foes. Each weapon in Manhunt features three different levels of execution. Basically what you do is sneak up on enemies and hold down your right mouse button as you wait for the desired execution indicator to show up. The three levels of executions are indicated by the colors white, green and red, with white being a relatively fast and comparatively less brutal, and red featuring viscerally brutal, gory and long animations that can make light-hearted folks faint. One of the notable one being the third tier execution for the sickle, where Cash reaches around his foes’ shoulder and covers his mouth with his left hand, and then slices the hunter from the left side to the right side of his stomach, disemboweling him.

The below video is not for the faint of heart.

The stealth system, while relatively simple, still holds up to this day. Manhunt also makes use of the PlayStation 2’s  USB Microphone and the Xbox Live microphone feature on the Xbox version of the game. Using this feature, the player can use the sound of his or her own voice to distract enemies. There are also a wide variety of firearms to be found in later levels, the presence of which kind of makes the last few levels of the game pretty bland. It doesn’t help the fact that the shooting in Manhunt is utter crap, to put it mildly.

Ugly Alice and the White Rabbit

Another notable feature in the game is the enemies themselves. While Cash is the scum of the earth, the hunters he faces throughout the game are far, far worse. They range from low-life hoodlums, to smiley mask wearing psychopaths, to a group of disciplined and organized militia. Their idle chatter and banter is pretty cool to listen to, and it’s always funny to see a rough-and-tough militia member freak out when coming upon the mutilated body of his fellow asshole. There are some noteworthy characters in the mix, such as The White Rabbit- another one of the director’s snuff superstars, The Tramp- a harmless hobo who is believed to have an alter ego called The Scarecrow, an unnamed journalist and of course the final boss, Piggsy, a crazed obese man wearing the severed head of a pig who runs around naked, armed with a scary looking chainsaw. The Piggsy encounter scared the living crap of the 12 year old that was yours truly. I remember the time when I finished him off with shaky hands, but then fell through the very same hole he fell, and died screaming. I had to replay the scary boss fight again, something I don’t wish to relive ever again.

Manhunt also makes clear that the game takes place in the same universe as the Grand Theft Auto games by referring to various GTA characters such as Gary Schaffer and Phill Cassidy. Our anti-hero Cash, while being not a big talker and a cold-blooded killer can come off as somewhat likable and of course, badass. He’s what you get if Batman underwent several psychotic episodes and started murdering folks in a brutal manner.

In Hot Water

While Manhunt was generally well received at the time of launch, it managed to piss off a lot of people. It was banned outright in several countries (of course Australia is at the top of that list) and was implicated by the media in a UK murder, although the police denied it. The game’s sequel Manhunt 2 ended up being more controversial than the first one and even managed to receive the infamous Adults Only rating. The game had to be heavily censored in order to be released on the Playstaion. But as is the case with any game, uncensored PC version can still be found online. Long thing short, the Manhunt series caused more headaches to Take Two and Rockstart more than its worth, and that may be the reason they are hesitant to make Manhunt 3. Who can blame them? In this climate of political correctness, mass shootings and unreasonable SJW protests, releasing Manhunt will be a Herculean task. However Take Two did renew the Manhunt IP a few months back, so we may yet see a sequel some day.

As of now, you can get the game for a measly sum on Steam and can follow this guide to make it run on modern systems. I’d say that the game has aged quite well, but of course almost all games from that period have aged well as far as I’m concerned (yes, I’m weird that way).

Manhunt wasn’t a revolutionary game by any means. It didn’t reinvent stealth gameplay, nor did it feature cutting edge graphics technology. It did however featured a unique theme that is quite uncommon when it comes to video games. I also like to think that it inspired stylistic ultra violent shooters such as Hotline: Miami and the deeply disturbing Condemned series. The game also has a strong cult following in many forums across the web. Whatever others might think of Manhunt, it will always have a special place in a crowded corner of my heart.


That’s it for this weeks folks. I hope you enjoyed reading my ramblings and will give the cult classic a try some day. I’ll see you guys next Saturday. Til then, enjoy the weekend and happy gaming!

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