GameZone’s 31 Games of Halloween 2013: Manhunt

As part of GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween trick-or-treat-a-thon, we delved into the land of the undead with two different titles back-to-back. Maybe zombies aren't your thing, though. Hey, that's totally fine! Sure, the undead are a great fit for Halloween, but perhaps masks are more appropriate for your tastes. After having just ventured into the vile, rotting, and disastrous setting of ZombiU, we're going to change things up and go back to the basics of Halloween: the masks.

Manhunt from Rockstar Games may be rooted in stealth-action gameplay, but it's undoubtedly covered in a grotesque, disturbing, horrific coat of paint. This was actually one of the first scary games I ever played, and it's the first game that ever made me jump. Yup, I was a little bitch.

Manhunt - PS2 - 1

Why it stands out

The launch of Manhunt was followed by seemingly limitless controversy. The news media had a field day and vilified Rockstar for releasing a game that supposedly glorified murder. The hatred toward the game from idiotic pundits was so strong that Rockstar was forced to tone down the violence in the sequel in order to avoid an Adults Only rating, which would've negatively impacted the game and the company.

The gameplay of Manhunt really stands out due to the brutality of the kills, which you have direct control over. You have to sneak around the shadows, avoid mask-wearing gang members, and strike at just the right moment. After equipping yourself with a glass shard, machete, plastic bag, or whatever you get your hands on, it's up to you to sneak up behind enemies and kill them. Depending how long you hold the attack button before releasing, the severity of the kill varies, with three unique kills assigned to each weapon.

The whole thing has this gritty look, and because you're participating in an illegal snuff film ring, performing kills immediately switches the view to a grainy, low-budget visual style that's disturbingly realistic. Due to the fact that you control just how violent the game is, many individuals reportedly spoke out about how they felt “dirty” and uneasy after playing Manhunt. I wouldn't say I felt that way myself, but hearing protagonist James Earl Cash's heartbeat as he hid from enemies was equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking for me.

Manhunt also features gunplay, though it's one of the game's weaker features. It just doesn't feel right trading in stealth mechanics for bullet-heavy action. Even then, some of these kills translate quite well as far as the bloody nature of the game goes. Case in point: shoot an enemy in the head with a shotgun, and you'll literally blow a hole clean through his face. It's eerie seeing the lifeless body crumble to the ground, chunks of brain and flesh splattered over the walls, and tiny bits of skin and bone making up what's left of his once masked head.

Manhunt - PS2 - 2

Is it scary?

Like most stealth games, there's a constant tension present throughout Manhunt. That alone is enough to keep you alert and wide-eyed during the entire game. Hiding in the shadows and watching as gang members donning hockey masks and shouting obscenities pass by right in front of you will make your heart beat faster.

Did I mention that one of the stages in Manhunt takes place in an asylum? Yeah, the nursery in ZombiU is pretty damn creepy, but an asylum is notches more horrifying. Hearing the screams of the inmates echo off the walls, and watching as they hunt you down while sporting weird smiley face and clown masks will make you even more nervous as you try to outrun them and hide. Oh, and one of the boss characters later in the game is a fat naked dude wearing a pig's face. Wrap your head around that.

Aside from the suspense and grimey look of Manhunt, Rockstar also made sure to throw in a handful of jump scares for good measure. Much like in ZombiU, these don't feel cheap or predictable. In fact, they come out of nowhere, and there aren't that many of them. Funnily enough, the same jump scare got me on two different playthroughs. Hey, when a masked dude pops out from behind a wall and goes, “Aahh!” it'll scare the hell out of you.

Manhunt - PS2 - 3

Why play it on Halloween?

Manhunt manages to take the nighttime setting and mask-happy tradition that's so pivotal to the very essence of Halloween and twists it to astonishing degrees. There's a reason the game was so controversial back in 2003. While it maybe shouldn't have been ostracized by the media the way it was, there's no denying that this is Rockstar at its most visually violent.

There's almost a slasher flick quality to Manhunt, which makes it a quality choice for Halloween. You may not get to be the one wearing the mask, but there's still plenty of killing to be done and plenty of masks to see (and get freaked out by). Oh, there's also a dude dressed as a bunny, which isn't as screwed up as the pig guy, but is still pretty messed up nonetheless.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.