When it was released for the PlayStation 2 last year, Rockstar Games' Manhunt became one of the most controversial games of 2003. Manhunt is a third-person perspective stealth action game where you play a death row inmate who's forced to play a deadly blood sport that's somewhat reminiscent of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man. The goal in Manhunt isn't just to survive. Instead, you must dispatch of your pursuers by performing bloody executions that involve whatever weapons are at your disposal. Manhunt conveys this subject matter with tense gameplay and cinematic style, but even this still didn't stop the game from being banned in New Zealand and getting an R rating in Ontario, Canada. Rockstar plans to release PC and Xbox versions of Manhunt next month, and we recently had a chance to see them in action.
You play as James Earl Cash, a death row inmate executed for his crimes at the beginning of the game. However, Cash doesn't actually die. A mysterious figure, named the Director, apparently bribed the prison warden so that he would inject you with a nonlethal agent. After being pronounced dead, your body is hustled off to the Director's urban playground. When you awake, there's an earpiece in your ear, and the Director lays out the rules of the hunt. The entire area is under electronic surveillance, so he can see your every move. There are hunters coming after you, and your only choice is to fight or die. The Director wants you to execute the hunters in extremely violent ways so that he can capture it on camera. In doing so, Manhunt then transforms itself into a visceral experience as you stab, suffocate, garrote, and pummel characters to death.
The PC and Xbox versions will feature the exact same content as the original game, but there won't be any extra levels or features introduced for either platform. The graphics have been upgraded in a number of ways over the PS2 version. The most obvious improvements can be seen in the speedy load times and high frame rate. There have also been a number of tweaks made that improve the game's overall look. Texture resolution has been upped, which lets you make out all of the vile graffiti and disturbing tattoos on the gang members who are intent on killing you. The improved detail extends to the environments as well. You'll notice little touches, like dishes on the deli counter, and other assorted details. Manhunt's lighting has been improved somewhat, resulting in more dramatic effects. The rat population appears to have undergone a bit of a boom, thus resulting in more rats per square inch than the original game. The game's animation has also been tweaked, which provides better-looking movement for the hanging corpses you'll encounter.
The PC version will rely on the familiar WASD control scheme used in first-person shooters and third-person action games. For the Xbox, the control scheme has been modified to compensate for the controller's lack of shoulder buttons. You'll be able to choose from two different configurations. At the moment, both are being tweaked. However, it appears that one will be based on the control scheme used for the PS2 version, while the second scheme will be more reminiscent of Max Payne 2, whereby you'll use the dual analog sticks to look around. You'll also be able to use the Xbox headset as your earpiece and the microphone (in game) to get the gang members' attention. Sound plays a vital role in Manhunt, since footsteps and noises can attract hunters to your position. The sound system is being upgraded to support positional audio on the PC and Xbox, which means that you'll be able to hear from what direction noises are coming.
For whatever reason, the PC and Xbox versions of Manhunt will not feature any new content, even though it seems like the game would lend itself well to a "director's cut" edition. However, the Xbox lineup is a bit thin in the "stealth-and-murder" department, so fans of this kind of game will still probably want to give it a look. For PC fans, the stealth action gameplay of Manhunt should seem similar to that of Splinter Cell but with a much grittier and more urban feel. Scotland-based Rockstar North developed the PS2 version and is handling the ports of the PC and Xbox versions as well. Both the PC and the Xbox versions of the game are currently scheduled for release next month.