The fictional Carcer City is where Manhunt takes place. It's a cesspool of crime, corruption, and destitution. How quaint!
Cash will face a variety of foes in Manhunt. Despite the fact that you'll find yourself being hunted by everything from thuggish gangsters to lunatics to SWAT teams to private armies, you'll notice that all these foes exhibit exactly the same sort of behavior. As mentioned, Manhunt is part stealth game and part shooter. During the stealthier levels, which comprise the majority of the game, the enemy AI delivers a rather convincing performance. At the standard difficulty setting (a harder setting is also available), a convenient onscreen radar-style display shows you if any enemies are lurking about, which way they're facing, and whether they're aware of your presence or not. Making noise in their vicinities or moving into their lines of sight will cause them to give chase or open fire if they're armed. Fortunately, Cash is a very fast runner, so you can usually lose your opponents around a couple of corners if you're spotted. As long as you stick to the shadows, your enemies should be unable to find you and will soon give up their searches in frustration. In so doing, though, they'll expose their backs to your weapons.
All the enemies in Manhunt are quite chatty, and there's a surprising amount of dialogue in the game. Suffice it to say that the rather lazy enemy behavior seems justified within the game, as most of the hired goons you'll face seem unable to understand the danger they're in. One noticeable issue with the AI is that your enemies won't care much if they see their dead comrades lying in heaps. Some will comment on their slain allies, but no one will raise any alarms or act any differently as a result--even if you throw one of their friend's heads into the fray.
The AI is much worse in the more action-oriented levels. Manhunt provides some highly intense shoot-outs, since the weapons in the game seem to pack such an incredible punch, but these levels are also rather difficult and can only be finished by exploiting some obvious weaknesses in the enemy behavior. Again, irrespective of whether you're fighting insane murderers or highly trained combat squads, you'll notice that all your enemies will either just hang back, taking potshots from behind cover, or they'll rush your position. Cash can flatten his back against a wall and spring out from around a corner to fire upon any nearby foes, and you'll need to use this technique to stack the bodies high. You'd think the fourth member of the SWAT team would be reluctant to rush your position when his three friends all got their heads blown apart trying to do the same thing. The smartest thing the enemies will do is occasionally try to flank you if you've hunkered down into a defensive position. One serious problem with the shooting action in Manhunt is that there are no explosives whatsoever (apart from a handful of exploding canisters for you to shoot). A real SWAT team, faced with an entrenched opponent, would surely flush him out by using grenades. Likewise, you'll find yourself in situations where you're required to advance on a group of enemies who are hiding behind cover. These situations can be maddeningly difficult when all you've got is a revolver to work with.
James Earl Cash almost always lets his weapons do the talking.
As you'd expect, once you've got your guns in hand, there's little need for stealthy killing. You get a ranking based on your performance in each mission, which loosely encourages you to take a stealthy approach as often as possible, but the bonuses for sneaking your way through the levels consist mostly of concept art. Manhunt's story consists of a linear sequence of 20 scenes that, provided you don't get too frustrated, you should be able to get through in an average length of time--say around 15 hours. Beyond that, there's the higher difficulty setting and a vague incentive to replay some of the missions, but you'll be so accustomed to the enemy AI by the time you finally finish Manhunt that it's unlikely you'll want to go back to the game, except to show it off to other people. With all that said, though, Manhunt isn't a short game--it probably could have been shorter, since, as mentioned, the game seems to run out of steam toward the end by putting you through one seemingly impossible shoot-out after another. Even as the difficulty ramps up, the painkillers become harder to find, and the midlevel checkpoints (from which you restart if you're killed) seem much farther apart. Consequently, some of the challenge feels rather artificial, though this is, by all means, a tough game.
It's a great-looking game as well, though you wouldn't know it from looking at the screenshots. In fact, the grainy, washed-out look of the game is carefully contrived and is perfectly suited to the dark subject matter. Manhunt uses the most up-to-date version of the same technology that gives the latest Grand Theft Auto games their distinctive looks, and, while there are no wide-open city streets or drivable vehicles to be found here, what you do get are some starkly realistic environments and some good-looking character models. The enemies you'll face are bizarre and pretty creepy. The dilapidated buildings you'll fight your way through are even creepier. And, as mentioned, the cinematic executions are the star of the show. Not all aspects of Manhunt's presentation are so over-the-top. The game makes impressive use of realistic physics here and there. Most notably, you'll see some hanged bodies in some of the game's more disturbing levels, which will dangle lifelessly if pushed. You can also slam open doors with satisfying results, either by running straight into them, kicking them open, or shooting them. Not everything about Manhunt looks outstanding, though. For instance, in many of the levels, rats can be seen scurrying about, and they look pretty phony. Overall, the game does look very impressive, especially on a high-end PC. The Xbox version looks better than the PS2 original, though it suffers a few slight frame rate drops here and there. As an added measure, Manhunt provides support for widescreen, high-resolution displays for those who seek superior picture quality.
Audio is a vital aspect of any stealth action game, and Manhunt really delivers in this respect. The executions sound as sickening as they look. Gunshots ring terribly loud and clear. An ambient soundtrack, seemingly styled after the suspenseful, synthesized music of John Carpenter's movies, builds in layers, adding tension to the situation as you move closer and closer to danger. You'll hear Cash's heart beating in his chest all the while. The voice work in Manhunt is of universally high quality as well. It happens to be laced with profanity, which doesn't seem in any way out of place in the context of the game. The characters' lines are delivered with real conviction, thus giving all the foes you'll face some real depth. You'll rarely hear Cash speak, but Brian Cox, as Starkweather, provides a truly outstanding performance that makes this evil character also seem strangely charismatic. At times, you'll almost feel convinced that he's on your side.
Most video game violence isn't going to faze you after you've seen Manhunt.
Manhunt is an audacious game that backs up its extremely violent subject matter with solid stealth action gameplay. Subsequent games in this vein could stand to learn a thing or two from how Manhunt successfully provides all the tension and grim satisfaction that this style of gaming can offer but does so without so much of the sluggish pacing and trial-and-error tedium that hurts other games of this type. On the other hand, the shooting sequences do feel a little stripped-down and are rather overbearing, but the incredibly visceral action, coupled with the game's impressive graphics and sound, makes even these sequences relatively good. Obviously, Manhunt isn't for the faint of heart. Like it or not, the game pushes the envelope of video game violence and shows you countless scenes of wholly uncensored, heavily stylized carnage.