Welcome to another edition of Does It Hold Up? Halloween is slowly approaching, and I thought it would be appropriate to go into my vault and play a game that I find truly scary. Let's see, what was scary during the last console generation? Well, first off, I wanted to play a game with a chilling atmosphere. Then there's the actual theme of horror; I had to make sure that was in there. Of course, as we get closer to Halloween, there's one thing I always think about: masks. Putting all of those delightful ingredients together, I knew there was only one game that would provide me with everything I was looking for.
It's no secret that Rockstar Games is known for releasing extremely violent games. It's also no secret that these titles aren't only violent, but they're also completely badass. Back in 2003, Rockstar dabbled in the stealth genre and added a nice horror-themed twist to it, delivering Manhunt, a game that was high in brutality and violence to the point of insane controversy. When I first played Manhunt, I was expecting another violent Rockstar title, but I wasn't expecting to literally be freaked out and actually flinch while I played. This horror/stealth/action-adventure hybrid managed to leave a lasting impression on me back then, but can it withstand the test of time?
I hooked up my fat PlayStation 2 for the first time in months, popped in Manhunt, and prepared for some sweet, sadistic killing. The first thing I noticed was how chunky everything looked. It's no secret that this was Rockstar's signature look during the previous console generation, and the publisher was quick to sacrifice impressive technical graphics in favor of compelling atmospheres. Manhunt was a testament to this, showcasing dark and brooding environments that weren't all that pretty, but given the nature of the game, they didn't have to be.
By today's standards, Manhunt is a pretty ugly game. Hell, even back in 2003, it wasn't all that great-looking. There are countless blurry textures, characters are blocky, and landmarks aren't very detailed. Thankfully, the atmosphere is still really gripping. The darkness in the game's world, the shadows, and the crumbling walls are all spectacular features in the dark ambience. No, the graphics in Manhunt may not be pretty, but they certainly are effective.
OK, so Manhunt doesn't look that great in 2011. Is it a lost cause? If you're one of those people who's obsessed with graphics and thinks Super Mario Galaxy isn't a good-looking game, then Manhunt may be a lost cause for you. If that's the case, you're pretty much a lost cause yourself. However, if you're a more open-minded gamer and appreciate some sweet gameplay, then you'll be happy to know that Manhunt most certainly manages to hold its own for the most part.
At its core, Manhunt is a stealth game with traditional mechanics that definitely adhere to the genre. You have to go around dark environments, lurk in the shadows, lure your enemies in, and go for the kill. Thankfully, the stealth gameplay in Manhunt is almost every bit as satisfying now as it was all those years ago. Sure, the AI can probably be considered somewhat dull at times, but for the most part, you're going to be on the edge of your seat as you hide in the darkness, hoping that the game's masked thugs won't find you. It's enthralling, it's enjoyable, and it's a total rush. Manhunt will get your nerves going and your heart racing.
Later in the game you're introduced to some heavy gunplay. Since you run into enemies that like to travel in groups, it's safe to say that these sequences still don't offer a traditional third-person shooter experience. Instead, you have to utilize stealth here, too. You must lie in wait for your aggressors to approach and then blast a hole right through their faces. Certain instances do allow you to take on enemies on the fly, but because these guys are pretty strong, it's hard to suggest running and gunning your way through the entirety of the later levels.
Like most stealth games of its generation, Manhunt is heavy on trial-and-error. This is something that many of today's gamers simply don't have the patience for. In that respect, it's easy to see how certain players may grow tired of Manhunt. Those who tough it out and actually take the time to learn from their mistakes, on the other hand, will find a deep and rewarding stealth adventure here. These games require a certain level of tenacity, and for those who can handle it, the ends really do justify the means, because Manhunt is a hell of a game.
Going hand in hand with the gameplay is the magnifcent sound design. The music in Manhunt gets you pumped and does a great job of offering a haunting atmosphere, but it's the voice over work that really delivers here. As you lure thugs toward you, you hear seemingly countless lines of dialogue with little to no repetition. That's impressive, and a true testament to the attention to detail that was put into this game. I should also point out that as I was walking toward a door, an enemy jumped out and shouted something at me. I wasn't expecting it, so my heart definitely skipped a beat and I practically jumped out of my seat … just like I did when I first played the game.
Manhunt is equal parts horrific and violent. In order to perform executions, you must engage your enemies from behind. While stalking your foes, you can increase the brutality of your offense by holding down on the attack button. The longer you hold down on it, the more violent your kill will be. There are three degrees of violence, and you can expect some surreal, intense stuff. Whacking your enemies' faces off with a baseball bat, hacking their heads off, and sticking a crowbar in their throats is just the beginning. Bear in mind, the violence in Manhunt will stay with you, and it is not for people who get easily disturbed.
So does Manhunt hold up? Aside from some glaring visual issues, a couple of AI faults later in the game, and a few old school design elements, Rockstar's venture into the stealth genre definitely holds up. Impatient gamers won't want to deal with the trial-and-error aspect of the game, but those who want an engrossing, horrific, and gory experience are likely to find a great deal of worthwhile gameplay even after all these years. In short, the graphics don't hold up, the gameplay does, and the violence in the game is so intense that it still manages to stay with you long after you've finished playing. I would highly recommend that you take Manhunt for a ride this Halloween. And don't forget to turn off the lights!
The verdict: It looks pretty ugly by today's standards, but Manhunt is still creepy as heck, and it's a total thrill ride.