One of the more interesting aspects of life is when you see someone you had a crush on and the first thought that pops into your head is “what fuck was I thinking?!” You call into question every decision you’ve ever made. But then you also appreciate the growth. Playing older video games is sort of like running into an old crush. Sometimes the game has aged like a fine wine, and returning to it reminds you why you appreciated the game in the first place. Other times, like the one I’m about to discuss here, you wonder why you even thought the game was worth the time in the first place.
Manhunt is a game that I would assume Rockstar would want you to forget. It was created in an age where the company seemed unstoppable and as an unstoppable juggernaut decided to venture outside of the open-world genre. Manhunt has a simple set up, you play a convicted felon who was supposed to be killed on death row. However, he is given a second chance and must kill his way to freedom. This simple setup is supposed to serve as the motivation for killing.
What intrigued me the most about returning to Manhunt is the memory of yelling in my dorm room the first time I encountered the final boss. I can’t tell you if I even enjoyed the game, I just remember the pig face man and that was all I needed. Apparently,back then I didn’t need much to keep me entertained as the first 20 minutes was all I needed to say “what the fuck was I thinking?!”
The first offense happened once I gained control of the James. I have no idea who decided to invert the X axis, but it is probably the worst design decision made in video game history. I can understand the inverted Y-axis because I’m one of those “special” people that need down to be up and up to be down. For those who don’t know, inverting the Y axis means when you pull the thumb stick down, the camera pans up and when you push the thumbstick up the camera pans down. However, when you invert the X axis, pulling right makes you look left and pulling left makes you look right. You.never.invert.the.x.axis. Yet, here am fumbling with the controls trying to look around the corner. After my third kill, I knew I wouldn’t be playing much longer.
So what pushed me over the edge? As we grow older we begin to question things. We no longer accept half-assed explanations for a character’s motivation. The game is supposed to be a “stealth/puzzle” game but it’s a snuff film. It’s killing for the sake of killing. Manhunt is more of a history lesson than something I would recommend playing. Manhunt was made during a time when the video game violence discussion was at an all time high. People were upset with the gratuitous violence in Grand Theft Auto III. Adults wanted to know why kids would want to kill innocents and cause mayhem in a digital city. Rockstar, for whatever reason, decided to experiment. What if you stripped grand theft auto of everything accept the killing? The result is manhunt.
Our character just kills with no remorse. I don’t even know if he enjoys or hates the fact that he must kill people for someone’s viewing pleasure. I have no connection with this character, so the killing has no emotional impact. He is the silent protagonist, killing his way through each level with no distinct reaction towards the killing. And I, as the player, have to be okay with this. Nothing about this game is defendable. The stealth is pretty weak and the environments are bare. Just enough walls and set pieces to get the job done. Part of this has to do with the fact that the game was created for the PlayStation 2. If you’ve ever played the original Halo then you know that the graphics and level design were considered to be satisfactory. But not today, it just looks bland and boring.
Playing Manhunt was a bit of a nostalgia ride and a history lesson. It reminded me of the time when people made all sorts of games. It wasn’t just sequel after sequel. Developers had the ability and resources to try new things. That’s how we ended up with some of the games we play today. But it was also a glimpse of a different time; When we as a community didn’t ask much of our games. We enjoyed these types of games because they were rebellious. It was the first time we as gamers experienced this type of violence on this scale. Yeah we had Mortal Kombat and a few others but this was mainstream. And I remember playing Manhunt with the carefree nature of an adolescent gamer. But as an adult I see it for what it is. A grab at the lowest common denominator. It’s violence for the sake of violence. Before we asked ourselves and others be accountable–I still respect the game for what it is and it’s place in gaming history. But just like seeing that crush who let herself go, I ended the game wondering “what the fuck was I thinking?!”