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Review: 'Manhunt' raises video violence bar

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

Forget "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" -- Rockstar Games' latest title, "Manhunt," is much darker, gorier and more violent.
Video Games
Computing and Information Technology

In the movie based on Stephen King's short story, "The Running Man," prisoners are given a chance for liberty if they agree to partake in a television game show. The catch? They're let loose to fend for themselves in a "kill or be killed" blood sport.

Rockstar Games' "Manhunt" -- previously released for the Sony PlayStation 2 and now available for the Microsoft Xbox and Windows PC -- has a similar premise and grim foreshadowing of future entertainment. But in this game, it's you who must do the killing. And lots of it.

Warning: "Manhunt" raises the bar for video game violence and gore. It's not just part of the game, it is the game.

Players assume the role of James Earl Cash, a death row inmate who awakens in the dilapidated Carcer City with a mysterious voice in his head. Speaking into the earpiece is a shadowy figure known as "The Director," who instructs Cash to fend for himself among other criminals in his seedy surroundings. Hundreds of video cameras are placed inside and out of buildings to record his every move. The cameras serve as the third-person view of all the game-play.

Cash is reluctant to be a pawn in this game, but doesn't have much of a choice as street gangs and psychopathic killers begin to hunt him. The Director offers Cash some disturbing words of encouragement: "Good work, now give me some honest-to-goodness grade-A gore. ... As far as you're concerned, they're meat."

While there are plenty of weapons to find and use in the game -- ranging from plastic bags and baseball bats to guns and shards of glass -- "Manhunt" encourages players to employ stealth instead of noisily running around the streets with brute force to find the next victim. Cash must hide in the shadows, pay attention to the material he's walking on (gravel is much louder than cement, for example) and tip-toe up to unwary victims to perform his "tasks" for the hidden cameras. Some kills switch to a close-up, cinematic replay, complete with blood sprays on the "camera" lens. Once again, "Manhunt" is a mature title that may easily offend.

Eventually, Cash is determined to stay alive long enough to find out who The Director is, so he can put an end to this twisted game.

The PC version includes high-resolution graphics and 3-D sound, the latter of which can be helpful to determine nearby enemy activity. Depending on the sound card used, "Manhunt" supports various audio technologies including Creative's EAX and Microsoft's DirectSound.

Because of on-screen instructions at the beginning of the game, the controls are easy to pick up. Mouse and keyboard buttons can be reprogrammed if desired, plus this title supports an optional game pad so it could feel like its console counterparts.

"Manhunt" delivers an intense stealth action game experience, wrapped in this disturbing, futuristic premise. Because the player starts each level at a disadvantage -- outnumbered and with no weapons -- the game does a fantastic job at building suspense and anxiety.

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