Rockstar games have always pushed the envelope when it came to the amount of controversy their games had. None as much as their PS2 Horror classic Manhaunt, a game that caused a ton of controversy in 2004 thanks to the 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah by his 17-year-old friend Warren Leblanc in Leicestershire, England. In which the initial reports by the media had pointed out that Warren Leblanc had a copy of the game and was “obsessed with it.” Yet this was proven incorrect as the game was actually in Stefan’s room at the time of the murder.
Still this didn’t stop the issue of the game being banned in some locations. In Canada, the game received an the first ever Adult Only rating in Ontario, around the rest of the country, The British Columbia Film Classification Office agreed with the original statement M rating from the ESRB. Subsequently the game was also banned in Germany and New Zealand, and was also “refused classification” in Australia in 2004 despite the game being already being on sale for over a year with a MA15+ rating.
So what was wrong with Manhunt? The game was Hyperviolent and actually focused on a real life crime of Snuff films, a film that many would consider pornographic, in which consists of real people murdering people for profit purposes.
The Story follows Death-row inmate James Earl Cash, who killed by lethal injection. James unexpectedly wakes up in a morgue with a man over the PA system telling him that he can grant James’ his freedom and that he is the only chance of survival. While surviving the streets of the ruined Carcer City, James is instructed to murder the gang members while being recorded by CCTV for The Director’s twisted snuff films. James’ journey though Carcer City follows a series of twist and turns as he fight the multiple gangs that The Director has employed for his twisted entertainment.
Manhunt’s gameplay is heavily based on stealth, James has to used the shadows and the tools at this disposal to escape the City and earn his freedom. To do this he has to lure the various gang members, called Hunters, in order to execute them. In order to preform executions, James must have a weapon, sneak up to his enemy and lock on, once locked on he is able to preform one of three executions with the weapon. Level one tends to be a quick kill, while the third level is longer and usually has several steps to the kill, ending a violent and display.
Luckily for James, there are tons of weapons lying around Carcer City, from one time use weapons like a piece of glass or a plastic bag, to heavier weapons like baseball bats and crowbars. At later points, James does get access to firearms, however ammo is rare and lack the ability to commit the executions. If James is seen, he can the hunters head on, however it’s not advised as the hunters don’t play nice, swarming you almost instantly and with weapons that can break your defence.
At the end of each level, you are rated on your performance in the take of stars. The score is based on your kills, variations, and time through the level, while hand to hand kills do not count for any points. The game consists of 20 levels and includes alley ways, hospitals, Scrap yards, a Zoo and The Directors Mansion as the final show ending episode.
Easily one of the best things of the game is The Director, who guides you over the PA system, he is a cold heartless bastard and makes for a great villain that you love to hate and possibly the most developed character in the game (as all good horror/slasher films should have.) We only become attached to James about half way through the game after a extremely frustrating level.
Manhunt was once considered to be the Clockwork Orange of video games by the Chicago Tribune, designed to shock’n’awe with it’s over the top violence. The psychological horror elements are all there to make this game think about what your doing, and the gameplay to focus strictly on stealth makes the game much more intense as the hunters search the area for you, similar to recent horror films like The Purge where the focus is on an average human or group of humans out to kill you (a sub-genre that has become recently popular for the Horror genre.)
I recommend Manhunt on a cult bias, it is not for everyone, the insane amount of violence would be enough for most people to cringe, hell it even made some of the employee’s at Rockstar North feel uneasy. That being said, it is a great horror game with a solid story, great bad guy, and some strong ideas that were executed quite well.