With both GTA III and Vice City firmly cementing Rockstar Games as an elite video game maker, the company’s next game would be a stark contrast to its previous installments with a stealth-based psychological horror game known as Manhunt. It is one of the darkest and most violent video games (because of its realness) I have ever played. Watch the TV teaser trailer to understand why it’s an unsettling game.
Other than the violence aspect, Manhunt is almost the polar opposite of GTA games. Taking a minimalist approach to game play and level design, Manhunt is not an open-world game, meaning very specific goals much be achieved in order to progress in the game. There are just four primary characters and only The Director does any real amount of speaking.
Broken up into 20 main chapters, known as “scenes”, you are James Earl Cash, a death row inmate who was supposed to be executed just as the game starts. You awake in Carcer City (a town referenced in a GTA III news report as being close to Liberty City) thanks to a voice coming from an earpiece, explaining that the “lethal injection” was actually a sedative.
The voice from the earpiece is “The Director” (voiced by Brian Cox). As the game progresses you learn that his real name is Lionel Starkweather, a disgraced film producer who now is the director of underground (and highly illegal) snuff films. Cash is Starkweather’s newest “star” which means Cash has to murder a bunch of psychopaths who are roaming the streets looking to do the same to Cash. Starkweather promises Cash if does what he’s told, “This will be over before the night is out.”
Each level has a specific group of enemies, known as “Hunters”. In order to progress, Cash must violently execute these men using weapons including simple plastic bags, crowbars, sickles and even broken glass . Each weapon (minus firearms) has three types of executions: quick, brutal and downright sadistic.
In order to carry out these executions, Cash needs to attack an enemy who is unaware of his current location. This is primarily achieved by hiding in shadowy areas known as “dark spots” and baiting the Hunter usually by making noise and having the Hunter come to you. Since stealth is the key in this game, Cash must always be aware of the sound he makes. Simply walking on the floor makes no sound but running or walking over things like broken glass can give away your position. If a Hunter sees Cash, he needs to flee and hide in order to try again. Based on the number and level of executions as well as the time, Cash is given a star rating on his “performance”.
Without going into the plot details, this is a game that tries, and succeeds, at testing your nerves. You have no special abilities and if you ever find yourself in a situation against more than one Hunter at a time, your odds of survival are virtually zero. On the easier difficulty you have a simple radar-like map that shows the approximate location of the Hunters. On the harder difficulty you have no map and must do your own hunting blind. For a truly frightening experience you can use an earpiece to complete the experience of Starkweather talking to Cash including his glee after a particularly gruesome kill.
This is one game that is not for the weak of heart. It may be simplistic in its design and story, but completing any and all of levels can be physically and psychologically exhausting. The reason this game is on the list is because the stealth system used in this game is enhanced and used in later Rockstar titles. Much like GTA III, without Manhunt, future Rockstar games wouldn’t be the same.