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8  |  A Mile Past The Line (Manhunt Review, XBox)
JAnderson , 3/12/2005 12:38:51 AM
Games have always pushed the envelope, from Death Race 2000 in the 1960s arcades, to Mortal Kombat and Doom in the 1990s, and the Grand Theft Auto games of today, there's always that faint line of decency that games dare to cross. Rockstar's Manhunt, a pseudo-related game to the GTA series, crossed that line and kept running well beyond.

Manhunt was not made for the casual gamer or even most hardcore gamers. The GTA crowd hated it especially, but I don't think Rockstar much gave a damn. They knew it would be a hated title on many fronts and that's why we have it. Rockstar pushes things, it's what they do.

The game starts simply enough. Carcer City, a run-down municipality somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where the police are owned and the streets a playground to a man known only as the Director. James Earl Cash was executed six hours ago by lethal injection. But he wakes up in Carcer, the effects of a paid drugging. Cash is the star of snuff films. The world thinks he's dead and will not be looking for him. His death will be pointless, and no one will mourn over the trash he is told to kill. Manhunt is short of heroes. No one plays the good guy here. Everyone, including Cash, is the villain.

The GTA engine with the cars srtipped away and controls tweaked, playing is simple enough. Walking is either dual- or single-thumbstick. You won't jump but you can run, with a meter for your stamina, which refills when you stand still. And you can punch and flatten against walls. You'll find a weapon soon enough, and that's the meat of the game. Find a weapon, get behind the guy hunting you, and kill him for the camera. Weapons come in a variety, from stabbing, hitting, or simple choking. Executions come in one of three types- Quick are fast, Violent are a bit messier, and Greusome are far bloodier. The worse the kill, the longer the setup. Merely get behind your target, hold your button, then let go according to the color of the icon. Guns will come into play later, but are not execution weapons.

Greusome nets you a better score but takes longer to perform. Of course, you are also being hunted, and discovery leads to a chase. You must hide from those hunting you and kill them from behind. If you are gutsy, you can fight in hand-to-hand combat, which is more dangerous especially against an armed opponent. However, as you are supposed to execute the hunters, not simply fight them to death, executions are better rewarded. Hunters are smart, but dumb, too. They follow noise as well as sight. Throw something to send them away to another spot, or tap the wall to bring them to you. Your radar shows enemy position, facing direction, and alertness. Yellow is calm, orange is suspicious, and red is alerted. If your own icon is flashing red, you have been spotted or heard and they know where you are.

ManhuntYour first area is in the middle of the city, targeted by the Hoodz, a street gang composed of idiots and malcontents, and a few cowards. Once trained, you are shipped off by the Director's guards to the junkyard to hunt down a band of white supremacists- who want you dead too, as Cash is half white, half black. Once cleared, you are again hauled to the zoo to take on the Wardogs, a band of militants. In the zoo, you are also ordered to save several captive members of Cash's own family- be spotted, and they will execute a family member. Once dealt with, you are carried off to a run-down mall in the business district to face the Innocentz, a street gang with a strict "no sane people" admittance policy.

But in a revenge play, once through the mall and led to the mystery video tape, Cash watches his family die at the Director's own orders. Now out and into the business district, Cash is ordered to protect a drunken hobo, who the Innocentz will kill on sight. Once done here, cash is again shipped to the local, abandoned prison where all the mental patients have escaped. Make your way through, and... Cash is ordered killed. But he runs.

Once out, Cash learns that Lionel Starkweather, disgraced Hollywood director, is behind this. The reporter, the only other one who knows Cash is alive, recovers her evidence on Starkweather, but rather than running, Cash chooses revenge, following his way to the Starkweather compound for a showdown, through a path of crooked, trigger-happy cops and Starkweather's own personal Cerberus guards, in an ending that homages Ocarina of Time in a bloodier manner.

The game is dark and moody. Every level is at night, and by default, the noise filter is on, making your screen look like a cheap security camera. Turning this off reveals some very nice grapics, however. Music is scarce, from the opening tune to the end credits. The levels rely on ambient sound. Pickups are common, from the weapons to health. Weapons come in four classes- green are one-time use execution weapons, blue are weaker weapons, red are stronger(but noisier), and yellow are throwing objects. You can also shoot at explosive tanks for that extra kill factor, and in the junkyard, operate a crane and drop a fridge on some unsuspecting hunter. Saving is handled at save points, so save when you can. This is also a game that gets progressively harder with each level, and you can die as easily as your victims, especially at the hands of a small army of Starkweather's guards. And for those who like a challenge and found Fetish mode too easy, Hardcore strips your enemy radar.

Hardcore also offers players a chance to unlock bonuses. After each level, you are given a rating out of five stars(four in Fetish- you get a free star for playing Hardcore), rathed on time through the level, number of kills, and variety of your kills. Gaining a bare minimum of three stars in either difficulty unlocks a bonus picture in the gallery. Gain a full five stars, and each picture will contain half a code. Unlock two successive pictures and you will earn the ability to use that code.
Every five levels you beat will also unlock one of four bonus rounds.

Bonus Round one places you as the hunter, with various Hoodz hunting and running from you in a warehouse. Round two pits you in a run down building, with a constant flood of Hoodz coming your way, to see how many you can kill with a bat and a nail gun. Round three places you in a basketball court in an endurance killing fight against two Hoodz, two Innocentz, and two supremacists. Health powerups appear after only so many kills, but your three enemy types will also try to kill each other. Each death sends in another fighter. Round four sends you back to the zoo, where the monkeys have gone mad and have armed themselves. you must escape the zoo, alive. There are no special rewards for finishing these, they exist as bonus levels for those who have completed the game.

One nice feature, for those with the live communicator headset, is the ability to use this headset in play. While wearing it, Starkweather's commands will come over the earpiece. Making noise into the mic will equal noise in the game, useful for luring hunters.

Voice acting is plentiful even if Cash barely says a word. the hunters will all mumble to themselves, usually very funny sayings as they look for you("I shoulda brought somethin' to read.... Hell, I should learn how to read!"). The big name here is Brian Cox, aka the original Hannibal Lecter, as Starkweather.

It's not a perfect game, and can be a bit hard at times, albeit satisfyingly long at twenty levels. It's a dark game with no kindness to it whatsoever. Only one character has any redeeming quality and she is quickly shoved aside. There are no heroes, no promises, no victory for good. This is a Manhunt.

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