- "Disturbingly Enjoyable"
- — The Guardian
- "The Clockwork Orange of video games"
- — The Chigago Tribune
Manhunt is a stealth-based psychological horror video game published by Rockstar North and released by Rockstar Games in November 2003. Although it was generally well-received by critics, the game created considerable controversy before and after its release. It was banned outright in several countries and was implicated by the media in a UK murder, although the police denied it. In October 2007, its sequel, Manhunt 2 was also released amidst controversy. As of March 26, 2008, the Manhunt franchise has sold 1.7 million copies according to Take-Two Interactive.
Manhunt is a third-person stealth action game. The game consists of twenty levels, and four bonus levels that can be unlocked; the levels are referred to as "Scenes". Players survive the Scenes by dispatching enemy gangs and "hunters", occasionally with firearms or primarily by stealthily executing them in bloody over-the-top ways.
The rating at the end of each level is largely affected by the gruesomeness of the killings and the speed of completion. Executions are preferred in order to gain a higher score, thus encouraging players to play as viscerally as possible. The game's locales are full of 'dark spots' and shadows where the player can hide while being chased by the Hunters; hiding in these dark areas makes the player literally invisible.
Over the course of the game, the player uses a wide variety of weapons, ranging from plastic bags, baseball bats, crowbars, and all sorts of bladed items to firearms later on in the game. If the player takes a beating, painkillers can be found which replenish health. The player can strike walls or throw items such as bottles, cans, bricks, and severed heads to make noise to distract Hunters.
Manhunt also makes use of the PlayStation 2's optional USB Microphone and the Xbox Live microphone feature on the Xbox version of the game. When such a device is connected, the player can use the sound of his or her own voice to distract in-game enemies.
The game takes place in the gritty crime-infested Carcer City. The story opens with a female journalist reporting on the convict James Earl Cash, a criminal on death row who has supposedly been executed by lethal injection. Cash is awoken to the voice of a person coming from an earpiece, revealing that Cash was only sedated. Cash puts on the earpiece and the person, who refers to himself as "The Director", promises Cash his freedom before the night is over, but only if Cash follows the Director's instructions. Released in a dingy neighborhood, Cash is directed to slaughter his way through the streets, populated by a gang calling themselves The Hoods while the Director, watching through security cameras scattered throughout the city, repeatedly mentions the need to please the audiences, revealing his occupation as a snuff film director. However, despite the Director's promise of freedom, Cash is beaten and thrown into the back of a van by a group of mercenaries known as the Cerberus.
After his battle against the Hoods, he is also hunted by other violent gangs in various locations across the city. The gangs are organized by Ramirez, an ex-soldier and leader of the Wardogs, a gang of army veterans and experienced hunters. First, Cash is pitted against a gang of white supremacists known as The Skinz in a scrap yard. After that, he faces off against Ramirez's Wardogs in an abandoned zoo where Cash has to save kidnapped members of his own family. Following the zoo encounter, Cash is forced to battle a gang of devil worshipers and perverts known as the The Innocentz in an abandoned mall. After retrieving a videotape in the mall and finding a VCR player, Cash witnesses his family being slaughtered by The Innocentz, in orders of the Director, who proclaims to be the only family Cash needs.
Betrayed, Cash is forced to endure the humiliating task of escorting a drunken hobo through the hostile streets of East Los Albos. After finishing off the Innocentz in a derelict chemical factory, Cash takes on a gang of psychotics, known as The Smileys, who have taken over a mental asylum. Here, Cash survives the ending to the snuff film as planned by the Director. Consequently, the remaining Wardogs and Ramirez are hired to kill Cash. However, Ramirez and his gang are killed by Cash, and Cash quickly turns on the Director.
The Carcer City Police Department (CCPD), are working for the Director; the CCPD are ordered by the Director to re-capture Cash. However, the journalist seen at the game's beginning encounters Cash and imparts that she is on a mission to expose the Director's snuff film industry and CCPD corruption, and that Cash is vital for this important task; the journalist also reveals the Director's name is Starkweather. Protecting her from the police, Cash manages to take the journalist safely to her apartment, but is himself re-captured by Cerberus. Back at Starkweather's mansion, he is ordered to be killed by Cerberus. However, Piggsy, an insane, chainsaw-wielding man, who wears a pig's head as a mask and was kept chained up in Starkweather's attic, has broken free and slaughters the investigating Cerberus. This allows Cash to work his way through the garden and mansion, killing the Cerberus leader along the way.
Cash finally reaches the upper levels of the mansion, where he and Piggsy stalk one another. Cash triumphs after luring Piggsy onto a trapdoor that collapses, and as Piggsy tries to hold on, Cash chainsaws Piggsy's hands off, sending Piggsy falling to his death. After hacking his way through the last of the Cerberus, Cash finally confronts Starkweather and despite his pleas, brutally disembowels and decapitates him with the chainsaw. Soon, the press turns up at the mansion with the journalist exposing Starkweather's snuff ring and the police's involvement in Starkweather's operations. Cash is nowhere to be found.
- Heavy Handgun
- Light Handgun
- Meat Cleaver
- Nail Gun
- Sub-Machine Gun
The game's dark and highly violent nature and technical aptitude were singled out by critics. Gamespot concluded that "Like it or not, the game (Manhunt) pushes the envelope of video game violence and shows you countless scenes of wholly uncensored, heavily stylized carnage." Game Informer praised the game's audacity and competent technical capabilities, stating that "It’s a frightening premise that places gamers in a psychological impasse. The crimes that you commit are unspeakable, yet the gameplay that leads to these horrendous acts is so polished and fierce that it’s thrilling." IGN complimented the game's overall challenge, calling it a "solid, deep experience for seasoned gamers pining for some hardcore, challenging games."
Certain gameplay elements, such as the game's shooting mechanics, were called "frustrating" by Eurogamer, where "more than half the time the targeting reticule refuses to acknowledge an oncoming enemy until they're virtually in front of you". Gamespot concurred, further noting that the "AI is much worse in the more action-oriented levels". 1UP.com was less positive overall, asserting that it quickly became "tired of its violence ... AI quirks ... (and) repetitive level design."
Aside from the sensitive subject matter of Manhunt, the controversy surrounding the game stems from the extremely graphic manner in which the player executes enemies, who are known as Hunters in the game. The game has three 'levels' of executions, and the executions get bloodier as the levels of execution progress. Level 1 executions are quick and the least bloody of the three, while Level 2 executions are considerably gorier, and gruesome kills are over-the-top fatalities. An example of a Level 1 execution would be suffocating a Hunter to death with a plastic bag. A Level 2 execution might feature severing a Hunter's testicles by pulling a sickle between his legs. A Level 3 execution can involve stabbing a Hunter in the back with a crowbar, following it up by jamming it into the Hunter's head, wiggling it in the skull, and finally prying the head off from the spine. The game encourages players to execute enemies as brutally as possible, and awards players who do so with higher scores.
The murder of Stefan PakeerahEdit
In the UK, the game was linked to the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, 14, by his friend Warren Leblanc, 17, on the 27th of February, 2004. Giselle Pakeerah, the victim's mother, claimed that Leblanc had been 'obsessed' with the game after he pleaded guilty in court. During the subsequent media frenzy, the game was removed from sale by some vendors, such as the UK and international branches of GAME and Dixons, leading to "significantly increased" demand both from retailers and on Internet auction sites. The police denied any such link between the game and the murder, citing drug-related robbery as the motive. The presiding judge also placed sole responsibility with Leblanc in his summing up after sentencing him to life. It was later discovered that Leblanc didn't actually own the game, but Pakeerah did.
- New Zealand: The game was declared objectionable on December 11 2003. Possession is an offence.
- Canada: Following a meeting in Toronto on December 22, 2003 between Bill Hastings, the Chief Censor of New Zealand, and officials from the Ontario Ministry of Consumer & Business Services, Manhunt became the first computer game in Ontario to be classified as a film and was restricted to adults on February 3, 2004.
- Australia: It was refused classification (and effectively banned for ALL ages) on September 28 2004 by the Classification Review Board, after having earlier received a classification allowing it to be purchased by those aged 15 years or older.
- United Kingdom: The game received a British Board of Film Classification|BBFC 18 certificate, legally prohibiting its sale to anyone under that age.
- Germany: On 2004-07-19, the Amtsgericht Munich confiscated all versions of Manhunt for violation of StGB#§ 131: Representation of violence|§ 131 StGB (representation of violence). The game, the court said, portrays the killing of humans as fun, and the more fun, the more violent the killing is. They also sensed a glorification of vigilantism, which they considered harmful per se.
However, apart from Ontario, Manhunt had little or no controversy elsewhere in North America. The British Columbia Film Classification Office reviewed the game after the controversy in Ontario and believed it to be appropriately rated Mature by the ESRB and comparable to an 18A film rather than an R rated one.
- Official Manhunt website
- Manhunt Fansite
- NTSC-uk dissects Manhunt (404, Missing)
- Full report of decision to ban Manhunt, New Zealand
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