Rockstar North are no stranger to controversy. The developers of Grand Theft Auto appear to shrug off the concerns of those who actively pursue them in the courts (hello Jack Thompson) - to deliver the most brutal, and intensly violent game I have ever played, and possibly the most violent ever created for the mass market. Manhunt is a game well worthy of it's M Rating - the bloodthirsty action depicted is certainly not for children, and some in the older age range may be put off by it's intense atmosphere and sadistic torture. Such it is that, put next to Grand Theft Auto (another Rockstar series) in the violence stakes, it pales in comparison. Manhunt is like nothing you have ever played before - it is that vicious. Manhunt's incredible atmosphere comes from the brooding and sadistically calculating "Director", who forces you to run a gamut of evil deeds in order for your own survival. Bribing the Executioners who were to put you away for good after several years on Death Row, you have been freed into the release of a man who will cast you into his latest Snuff film. It's an interesting premise that promises much, but in actuality is just a clause to throw your character, James Earl Cash, into more and more deadly scenarios, which are called "Scenes". Surviving Death Row is one thing, but being put into a controlled environment where you must kill to survive is another. Using all manner of tools, from Broken Glass Shards to Baseball Bats and even Nail Guns, you are entrusted to perform the most grisly of assaults, the ritualistic (and realistic) killing of the various scum of Carcer City, where Manhunt takes place. The killing itself is made all the more intense via a close up through a grainy CCTV camera that shows just the angle the Director, Lionel Starkweather, needs. Stealth gaming has come along a fair bit since most gamers got to grips with Hitman: Codename 47 - and indeed, Manhunt shares some of the principles that were employed there. There are also similarities to Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, which also focuses on stealth gameplay - though without the large amount of gore Manhunt provides. However, If you are not fan of the above games, then there is a good chance that Manhunt will feel to slow for you. If you do like Stealth based gaming - than this is a great new addition for your library. Centered around it's grisly murders, Manhunt encourages you to progress in the way only Cash knows how - in order to proceed through the various Scenes. Sneaking up behind a potential target, you will notice a crosshair come over them. With your equipped weapon, you may then hold an attack button that will change the color of the crosshair from grey, to yellow, and eventually red. The better the color, the more grisly the kill and the more excited the Director becomes. Sating him becomes a priority, as he will only unlock areas for you if he is pleased with your skills, or is that kills? You can also opt for hand to hand combat, but this is almost suicidal, as Cash has a very small repertoire of attacks - only enough to get by, and never enough to overcome several enemies. While later on in the game you can get your hands on some pretty cool firepower, for the majority of gameplay, you will need to do best with your hide and seek skills. You can alert guards to your presence by hitting walls, throwing bottles or even by throwing the head of a downed Guard! Truly revolting. However, enemy A.I isn't as great as it could possibly be. They provide a decent challenge, but in many cases they are far too scripted, and wont leave a certain area, or are not alert enough to see you 2 feet from where they stand, just because you are shrowded in darkness. Like any self-respecting stealth game, darkness will become your friend, and as Cash, you will skulk your way from hiding spot to hiding spot trying to find a better place in which to establish your attack. Despite the great variety in enemies - they all appear to exude the same sort of response to your presence. When aware they will run at you, yelling for support. If you tail it out of there quickly, and move a fair distance away, they will still actively search, but their efforts will go unheeded if you are hidden in shadow. After giving up looking, they will return to their previous pattern. It's effective enough, but later on in the game you take on entire SWAT teams who still follow this same mechanic - which lessens their hard-edged look and feel. The difficulty of Manhunt mainly depends not on your skills as a gamer, but your patience as one. It will be required to find the perfect time in which to move in and strike. All weapons perform in the same manner, so it's easy to come to grips with the controls. This isn't as fast paced as Rockstar's other notorious series, though it's gore and sadistic nature take several steps further. The on screen radar is a blessing then, easily showing guards and their point of vision, however they will only appear if they make a noise or are visible to you. It provides a small level of difficulty, which is where your patience as a gamer comes in. Running in with your meagre assortment of weapons will quickly result in a "Scene Failed" screen. To break up the killing spree you were freed from the Chair to unleash, set pieces occasionally puncture the experience. On opportunity, you can gain access to heavy machinery, which can allow you to plow through enemies with apparent ease. Later on the gameplay takes a further turn, as less and less you will require on stealth kills and take on the enemy in all out warfare. It is here where the AI really shows how poor it can act, and while it is generally good, it could have used a lot of improvement. The camera angles make the game more difficult than possible as well, with no way to pan around Cash, and no automatic switch back to behind either. There is a first person view by utilising the Right Analog, and you can also view behind by clicking the Right Analog in. However, for a game based on stealth, you have suprisingly little awareness of your complete surroundings, so it's thankful that Manhunt is very linear, and that the enemy frequently chatter, showing their positions. The dark subject matter present is perfectly in tune with the games visuals, which are striking and well drawn. Many of the environments are closed in - allowing for a high level of detail. Cash himself looks pretty good, as do all the enemies. The environments are also varied and enjoyable enough, with Manhunt principally taking place at night. You can't see this from the screenshots available, but suffice to say, Manhunt shows off an impressive amount of detail, and the animation (especially the executions), is brutal to the last. Generally, the game is convinvingly creepy. The sound is also suitably high. Not only do the executions look right, they sound perfect too, with a sickening thud as you beat someone with a crowbar, or a Baseball Bat, with Starkweather laughing with glee. There is support for a Headset as well, allowing you to literally hear Starkweather in your ear, a nice touch. You can also speak into it, distracting enemies - which can be helpful. The gritty sound and music accompanies the action very well, and the dialogue, though there isn't a great deal of it, is spoken well and with good conviction. Overall - Manhunt is not a game for the weak of heart. It doesn't shy away from it's brutal depictions of outright horror, and indeed, you can't skip executions, or any cutscene. The savage attacks you can employ and the menacing atmosphere combine a game that is suitably adult, but in keeping within the game's purpose - to create the greatest Snuff film of them all. This is a great game that pushes the boundaries of what's acceptable gameplay and violence, and had it been polished slightly more, would have scored higher. Nevertheless, don't let that discourage you from a truly hard edged experience, that is - if you can stomach it.
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