Manhunt is a guilty, guilty pleasure

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Rockstar has gone too far!

I know I’ve said this many times. After all we are dealing with a developer known for creating games based on carjacking (Grand Theft Auto), illegal street racing (Midnight Club), inciting riots (State of Emergency), and of course gruesome mature noir stories (Max Payne), we should know what to expect.

However, never did I think that even Rockstar would be responsible for a game like this. With Manhunt, they have pushed their reputation as being the bad boys of gaming to a whole new low.

And yes, I love it!

Anyone who has seen the John Woo/Jean Claude Van Damme movie Hard Target will get an understanding of the general idea of the game, but at a sicker scale. Prisoner James Earl Cash is sentenced to execution by lethal injection. However, the injection turns out to only be a strong sedative, compliments of the mysterious "Director" Lionel Starkweather.

Starkweather is a snuff film producer who depends on Cash to be his latest star. Basically Cash is marked for death by several gangs that Starkweather hires to hunt him down. It is up to Cash (under vocal guidance from Starkweather) to secretly hunt and execute these "hunter" gangs in the most gruesome way possible. Kill or be killed.

Cash’s weapons include simple "one-off" weapons like plastic bags and shards of broken glass, multiple use weapons such as bats, knives, axes, sickles, and six-shot revolvers, throwing weapons such as bricks, cans, or severed heads, and even firearms such as tranquilizer rifles and shotguns. While kills can be done out in the open, the only way to receive the highest film rating (based on a five star scale) is to perform "executions."

When sneaking up to a "hunter" with either a "one off" or a non-firearm weapon, Cash will go into an execution stance, where pressing either the square or "X" button will kill the poor sap in front of him. While just tapping the button will perform a "quick" execution (marked with a white target), they can be held to increase the intensity to either a yellow "violent" kill or the more extreme red "gruesome" kills.

Executions are displayed over a "security camera" screen, and they are extremely gruesome. As an example, with a sickle, a quick kill will show Cash sticking the blade into a hunter’s neck. On the same note, a violent kill shows Cash slicing the sickle into a hunter’s "special area" and with a gruesome kill he actually slices his victim’s gut wide open. For someone who is used to graphic titles, even I ended up cringing after watching some of these kills.

Stealth is necessary, because anything you do will make a noise, and if any hunters hear you, you better locate a dark area right away because they will not leave you alone otherwise. I did find it a good ploy to stay hidden but make a little noise to bait any hunters that come near me for a well timed execution.

Each of the gangs have their own unique style. We have the simple "Hoodz," as well as the white trash redneck "Skinz," the weekend warrior commando group "Wardogz" and the creepy yet hilarious "Innocentz" to name a few. There are even signs of a scary warthog-faced chainsaw wielding terror known as Piggsy to watch out for.

Fans of both Metal Gear and definitely Splinter Cell will feel at home with the gameplay, which while difficult, is very engrossing and scary at the same time. Visually the game is dark and moody (perfect for such a title) and runs very smoothly, but what really makes the game is the sound. Stealth titles require players to use their ears more than other games, and for Manhunt it works great, as you will actually need to HEAR when hunters are near you.

Even their voices are worth listening to as some can be very funny. When idling around they might say something like "I really need to get a bong hit soon" as well as other stuff that I cannot mention in this review, but when they hunt you down they go all out, even saying stuff like "why don’t you show yourself, SO I CAN F—ING TEAR YOU APART!?"

Cash doesn’t really say much in the game, but the real standout is Starkweather himself. Voiced by Brian Cox (Col. Stryker from X2), he navigates you through each of the different "scenes" as well as praising you for good executions, or heckling you for chickening out.

One thing is for sure, while Grand Theft Auto is not meant for kids, Manhunt is DEFINTELY not meant to be seen by the little ones. This is the possibly the most graphic game ever released, both visually and aurally. It is meant truly for adults, and as so it shines. There is also no easy setting available, just "Fetish" (normal) or "Hardcore" (hard) which even removes the on-screen radar (ouch!). Even the level select provides the following advice for playing: "to truly experience Manhunt, turn off the lights, close the blinds, lock the doors, AND GO KILL SOMEONE!"

A while ago I wrote a commentary saying that Rockstar never "jumped the shark." Titles like Manhunt are the reason why. Dark and definitely sick, Manhunt is worthy of the 4 + Gem rating that it gets but I seriously think that Sam Houser’s bunch really needs to get some psychiatric help.

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