“To best experience Mamhunt you should… turn off the lights… close the drapes… lock the door then get ready to kill”. This is the message you are greeted with at the brightness settings menu in Manhunt.
The game where you suffocate a guy to death with a plastic bag in the first two minutes. Manhunt is far from a family-friendly game if you hadn’t already gathered. It has been involved in its fair share of controversy and even caused some of its developers to question if they were going too far. Despite all of the controversy and the age of the game, it has its fans and I’m one of them.
Having recently reacquired a copy of Manhunt, this time for the original Xbox, I decided to give it a spin to the tray. I was curious to see how it compared to how I remember it and if the infamous violence was still as brutal and shocking today.
I did play Manhunt multiple years back and remember it being quite difficult in places and patience was a virtue. It was a good game, and I guess you could say it was quite unique, with its atmosphere and stalking your enemies. I remember enjoying it more than its equally, if not more controversial sequel and I was looking forward to revisiting it.
Judge a Game by Its Box
Before heading into my foray of virtual killing, I was intrigued by the game’s box and manual. The box art looks like a still of a masked man from some sort of CCTV footage and the back features screenshots of some well-designed enemies who look like they want to impose fear. The box gives off a horror tone, something the actual game does as well. Which surprised me initially, as I didn’t think it would feel as much like a survival horror game as it does.
The manual was what intrigued me more, however. Manuals for games always featured more information back then than they do now. Rockstar Games also usually go the extra mile with their manuals and Manhunt’s manual is a good example of this.
For context, the protagonist in Manhunt (James Earl Cash) is part of a snuff film. The manual is set out, reads like and looks like an order catalogue for snuff films. With levels (called scenes) being described and advertised for sale on VHS or DVD.
The weapon pages which delve into the sort of things you will be getting your hands on are selling said weapons. The aforementioned plastic bag is being sold for $15, or $30 for three of them. A bit steep if you ask me, I can get one for 10p.
I found the manual quite entertaining to read through. The effort that went into something like a manual shows that Manhunt is not a game that is just being made to cash in using shock factor. There are more little bits I could talk about concerning the manual but I will move on, and get to the actual game.
Lights, Camera, Action
Now it was time to boot the game up. I think it’s worth mentioning that I played the game on an Xbox 360, so it was being emulated. The game loads up, screens come and go and I was getting closer to shanking some masked goons in alleyways.
As I started a new game, I had to adjust my brightness. I altered it until the picture was barely visible as I was instructed. The quote from the start showed up here as well, helping set the mood.
The opening cutscene plays and establishes that James Earl Cash is on death row and was supposed to be executed. But he wakes up alive and finds himself the subject of a snuff film. He’s being talked to through an earpiece and is told to obey the person speaking.
The cutscene played out meaning I’m now in control and the fun can begin. “Hold up a second, I don’t remember the game being this dark,” I thought to myself as I take control. I’m not talking about dark figuratively either, I mean literally dark. I had my brightness set to how I asked to have it, but I was still having difficulty with visibility. I initially put it down to me remembering the game incorrectly and persevered with it. Maybe the darkness was supposed to enhance the horror aspect of Manhunt.
Then I tried to move and thought “hold up, why is James moving like a tank” I promptly entered the setting, where I was thankfully able to change my movement to something more modern feeling.
Going in for the Kill
I made my way through the first mission, suffocating, stabbing and beating guys to death. One particular moment that stood out was the fistfight I had. I beat the dude’s ass until he went down for the count. He didn’t taunt or insult me, instead, he cowered. This man was a human with feelings, dreams and ambitions. But I did what I had to and stamped on his head until he died. He would have done the same to me, maybe it was just an act he was putting on.
Towards the end of the first mission is a section where you use the shadows to hide and wait for an opportunity to kill while remaining unseen. I found this to be more irritating than it should have been due to my brightness issue. I also got discovered and double teamed on an attempt because I accidentally knocked over a bin. Which caused quite the racket altering the enemies to my presence. Nevertheless, I completed the mission and moved on.
A Human Side
Sometimes the enemy dialogue and behaviour seems like it is attempting to humanise them. For example, the moment I just mentioned in the first mission or when I heard someone talking about wanting some hot pasta. Maybe I’m looking into it too much, but it feels like the game is trying to make the killing more of an impact.
I feel that the developers intended for you to start seeing enemies not as humans but as objects that you should slaughter in the most savage way, the more you play the game. Especially as you’re awarded a better rating at the end of a mission if you perform more brutal kills.
Using the skills I had regained from the first level, I embarked on the second. The brutal trend continues in this mission, which opened up with me suffocating someone once again with a plastic bag, this time they happened to relieve themselves when I did it. To add insult to injury, if someone finds this guy’s body they might think he was into some weird shit, involving choking and the passing of urine, and it went seriously wrong. I guess he’s won’t be in much of a state to care, however.
After performing this murder I performed another. As I smacked a wall to lure someone out who I then batted to death on the spot. You can see that most things end with someone dying in Manhunt.
I completed the mission after a few attempts. I wanted to do it completely stealth apart from the fight at the end which you can’t stealth. So I went back to the last checkpoint (I had to let myself die as you can’t load the last checkpoint) when I got seen.
I suppose the idea of not having a load last checkpoint system, was to make you live with your mistakes. Make you hide and or run for your life. Which does make sense.
Caught on Camera
My merciless journey continued in the third mission, it was going mostly smooth until I was spotted by an enemy that I couldn’t see.
This was when I realised I did have a brightness issue. The enemy who spotted me was standing in my line of sight, but it was too dark to see him. I returned to the settings and bumped the brightness up quite a bit which helped with the problem. I am thinking this brightness issue may be something to do with the TV I was playing on. Using a modern TV maybe causes image problems, already it didn’t fill the entire screen.
After playing Manhunt again after all this time it still felt unique and conveyed an eerie and dirty atmosphere that not many games have done since. Though the killing was still quite graphic, I do feel it is a little less reaction inducing today.
I think the killing in Manhunt wasn’t just controversial because of the ferocious violence, but because of the more realistic and grounded feeling to it. Objects anyone can get their hands on like plastic bags and glass bottles being used to dispatch people in barbaric ways, are two instances of the more grounded nature to Manhunt’s killing. As opposed to something like Mortal Kombat where an ice ninja rips the skeleton out of a thunder god, something that wasn’t too controversial by the sixth console generation.
That’s a Wrap
I was surprised by how much of a survival horror game it felt like. Hiding from enemies and scarpering when groups of thugs came after me, seemed similar to the gameplay of some modern horror games. The heartbeat sound that plays during gameplay is a small but nice touch that adds to the uneasiness and keeps you on the edge. I’ll also say enemy designs still look great, delivering horror by making enemies feel fearsome.
Detractors of Manhunt may call me sadistic but I enjoyed revisiting Manhunt, not just because it was nostalgic, but because I think it’s a good game. The atmosphere of Manhunt still holds up, and for the most part, so does the gameplay. Its unrelenting gritty inhuman nature that hasn’t been matched by much, alongside the unique tone and atmosphere make the game stand out even today.
On the gameplay side, sneaking up on my prey and ending their life felt primal. It was me or them, survival of the fittest. I had to be patient and wait for the right time to get close and strike. Walking on certain surfaces makes noise and so does knocking over bins, I had to be aware of my environment and act accordingly. Some weapons make more noise when used, so weapon choice also came into play. The suspense that was created, along with the feelings that came out while playing manhunt made it an experience. I had fun playing Manhunt again, I think it’s a quality game that deserves its cult following.
Manhunt received a sequel in the form of Manhunt 2. Which saw difficulty being released due to being refused a classification by the BBFC twice and receiving an AO (Adults Only) rating by the ESRB. Meaning Sony and Nintendo wouldn’t let the game release on their platforms along with major retailers not stocking the game. An edited version of Manhunt 2 with reduced violence later released with an 18 rating from the BBFC and an M rating from the ESRB. Later an unedited version of Manhunt 2 would be released for PC after the PS2, PSP and Wii releases.
Get in on the Action
The original Manhunt is available digitally on the PS4. It plays in 1080p giving PS4 players a great way to experience the game, and you should if you haven’t already. And if you have, you can experience it again, something I would recommend Manhunt fans consider doing, especially with the upped visuals. A Steam version of Manhunt is also available. PS2 and Original Xbox versions can still be found physically if want to play it that way.
Not Coming Soon
I took away quite a few things from my time revisiting Manhunt. Including the validation of my thoughts regarding a possible Manhunt comeback. It made me want a new one even more, but I highly doubt we will get one anytime soon for multiple reasons.
Manhunt doesn’t have the brand recognition of other Rockstar titles. The censoring that had to be done for Manhunt 2 to receive a classification could have possibly deterred Rockstar from wanting to develop a new entry. The various controversies surrounding the franchise that would most likely come back up with a new game probably doesn’t help either. But hey, us Manhunt fans can still dream, right?