Hello all, and happy holidays! Today brings us the last Game of the Week before Christmas! Last week’s game was a first-person-brawler I found to be stiff, despite the idea being solid.
Today, here’s another game that also really has only one idea, although it’s a bit better than Breakdown.
I really don’t have a whole lot to say about Manhunt, Rockstar’s controversial 2003 stealth-oriented...well, I really don’t know what you call a game where the focus is explicitly on murdering other people. I guess the closest term here is survival horror. Anyway, you play as James Earl Cash, a prisoner on death row who will be spared execution if he murders members of a gang for someone known only as “The Director.”
It’s a snuff film aesthetic, as Cash (you) slinks around dark, dilapidated urban environments, sticking to the shadows and sneaking behind enemies in order to stealth-kill them. The longer you hold the button that triggers the stealth kill, the more brutal and visceral the kill is.
And Manhunt, as everyone knows, is brutal as hell. I mean, it’s the whole selling point.
Stealth kills are accompanied by a camera recording aesthetic. Also, they can be disturbing.
What I meant when comparing Manhunt to last week’s title, Breakdown, is that Manhunt’s entire idea is violence. When I played it on release, I found it a bit clunky, and, well, that clunkiness hasn’t gone anywhere. What that makes you realize is, chances are nobody would play this if it wasn’t hysterically gory. It just doesn’t control all that well—and you can tell me “well, it’s from 2003, so...” I don’t care. It plays bad when examined from a pure gameplay standpoint. It always did. Shooting in Manhunt, for example, is laughably terrible.
(Side note: Before we go any further, most people know that Manhunt was one of Those Games that got politicians, activists, etc. riled up back in the day. We won’t be discussing that here, so no mentions of That Person or That Other Politician or even That Former Lawyer. We’re talking about the game itself.)
And see, I find it difficult to find a reason to play Manhunt besides “it’s awesomely violent.” I mean, that may have appealed to younger, stupider me in high school. You get to saw a dude’s head off with a wire garrote. C’mon, that’s awesome, right? Except now, I’m older, and (probably) smarter, and most of my gaming life in the twelve years since Manhunt came out has been devoted towards looking for deeper plots, engaging gameplay, and most of all, emotional weight. Long-time readers of my little weekly series here will likely see those themes in the games I praise.
There’s a lot of cool grindhouse charm in the game.
So nowadays, it’s hard to get behind a game with a gameplay premise of “kill people brutally” and a story premise of, well, “kill people brutally.” To be fair, I love the grindhouse, exploitation film feel of the entire game, even if that feel doesn’t extend too far; Manhunt feels “same-y” after just a bit, and it goes on for a bit longer than it should. Like Breakdown, Manhunt leans on its inital selling point pretty hard, and as a result (for me, anyway), the game hasn’t aged beyond an interesting footnote. It’s clunkier than I remember, and I can’t find a reason to care about the plot. Cash is generally silent until late in the game, and nobody here is worth rooting for. It’s all very juvenile when you really sit down and examine it, kind of like Grand Theft Auto V. One could argue that’s Rockstar’s milieu, but then again, Red Dead Redemption was a mature tale.
I guess, maybe, that some people can still get a thrill out of driving a shard of glass through a guy’s head in Manhunt, but it’s really not for me anymore. I don’t mind violence in my games, but it’s much more off-putting when said violence is front-and-center and the sole reason a game exists at all. That’s really the only thing I can find here in Manhunt; it’s violent only because it would otherwise be nothing.
(BONUS—Bri’s Unpopular Opinion: I think Manhunt 2 is better; it has a more intriguing plot, better characterization, more varied environments, etc. Perhaps I’ll cover it one day?)
Thanks always for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, read more of my stuff at Current Digital (like this article on Cibele) and find me on Twitter!
Next week: Zombies? Zombies. Lots and lots (and lots) of zombies. And picture taking!