Features

Why I'm obsessed with Manhunt

Don't let controversy blind you to its brilliance... Snuff said

Obsessed with Manhunt? What am I? Some kind of sicko? Some kind of psycho who murderises people with plastic bags? Who gets enjoyment from a game that the peace loving people of New Zealand are banned from playing to this very day? Who keeps asking himself questions? About his own state of mind? Well, yes... and if ever there was a game that encouraged internal dialogue, Rockstar's darkly fascinating Manhunt is it.

Mostly the voice in your head is The Director's. From the moment 'hero' James Earl Cash comes round after his faked state execution, the epically sleazy Lionel Starkweather is growling to him through an earpiece. Watching on CCTV, the film maker goads you to murder your way to freedom providing suitably gory footage for his snuff movie on the way. Yep, there's not a karting bonus game in sight...

The other voice in your head is likely to be your own. I can't remember another game that makes you question what you're doing (murdering) and why you're doing it (er, come back to me) to the same extent. The result is a skin crawlingly atmospheric adventure that dares to go further and darker than any videogame has ever done before or since.

Close Close

Although it's a game of kill-or-be-killed, Manhunt actually treats the player nice and fairly. The stealth mechanic is simple. If you're in the shadows you can't be seen. It's brutally effective in ratcheting up the tension as it makes you play out the twisted scenes to a firm set of rules, stalking the psychotic gang member enemies from behind to trigger three levels of increasingly depraved execution. They start at desensitisingly unpleasant and end up so gruesome you'll look through your fingers while manically humming a reassuring tune.

It's horrendously violent in a way that was always going to attract maximum controversy. This and the fact it's a visual homage to the grainy, no-budget video nasties of the '80s means many don't appreciate how well made it is. No game has ever sounded quite this menacing or had a setting that looked quite this grim. It all helps Manhunt build an atmosphere so unrelenting oppressive it seems to almost seep from the TV and infect your front room with grubby unease.

It's brilliantly structured. There's a vicious momentum that takes you through levels and encounters so memorable they're lasered onto your psyche for good. The zoo, the prison, the maze and, of course, that encounter with a certain, squealing, chainsaw wielding porcine. These ordeals are never going to leave us. If anything as the years pass, like the video nasties that inspired it, Manhunt's notoriety grows - even among those who haven't had the 'pleasure'. Starkweather would be proud.

Comments