Manhunt is a violent stealth action adventure game that thinks snuff-film style video, grainy graphics and a ghetto attitude make for a compelling atmosphere. But there’s little doubt that on some level, Rockstar North has succeeded; this is an atmospheric game, and it can be downright disturbing in a superficial sort of way. But lacking the humor that makes Grand Theft Auto much more likeable than it might otherwise be, Manhunt isn’t enjoyable by any stretch, though its presentation shows how a game can be affecting.

7It’s too bad all of the sociological and artistic implications of its strong content are considerably more interesting than the game itself, which is a predictable and dull slog through monochrome levels, with primitive AI and uninteresting play mechanics. As James Earl Cash, a convicted killer who’s about to be executed, you run through various levels under the direction of one Lionel Starkweather, voiced by actor Brian Cox. He’s filming your murderous rampage so he can sell it as a “real†snuff film. He eggs you on as you move from taking out gangbangers to, eventually, cops and private soldiers.

Your weapons of mayhem include various objects littered throughout the game world— from shards of glass to plastic bags to guns and knives—and the formula rarely changes: you stalk the bad (and good) guys, lure them into areas, hide in the dark, then time your attacks to inflict maximum visual damage. Each successful snuff is “rewarded†with a grainy video-styled version of your execution. (After setting up all of this sneaking early in the game, later levels devolve into a Max Payne-styled blast-a-thon.)

Since you’re playing a murderer killing murderers, there’s nothing to grab hold of, no way to feel any sort of emotional investment, even revulsion, over what’s going on. That’s not entirely true; you can sympathize with all of the cops you slaughter, since they’re just doing their jobs. But in Rockstar North’s Tarantino/Fincher-fueled fantasy world, they’re probably all corrupt, so it’s off with their heads.

Though a lot’s been made of the game’s level of gore, it’s actually less violent than Solider of Fortune or Mortal Kombat and, in some ways, no creepier than any stealth game like Thief or Splinter Cell. The close-up repeats of your murders, however, do lend them a more voyeuristic feel that’s unsettling. For some, they represent the “Whoa, cool†climax to the typical stealth foreplay.

2_1But overall, the game’s concept is a lot more intriguing than its implementation. The stealth is incredibly primitive—you hide in dark areas and no one can see you—and the AI is totally binary and easy to predict in the end. You make noises or throw objects to lure bad guys to areas where you can sneak up on them, and like little Lemmings they follow the noise and wait a bit to be gagged. If you miss your opportunity, and you’re not discovered, they’ll return to their pre-programmed routes and eventually forget they heard the noise, or even managed to see you.

Manhunt is a lengthy game — too long. It’s incredibly hard and repetitive, and the stealth gaming is incredibly simple. All it really has to offer is increasingly graphic scenes of violence and a few more creative uses of various swear words. Though there’s something to be said about a game that makes you think about your actions, in the case of Manhunt, it’s too bad it’s not attached to more fun game.

System Requirements: Pentium III 1 Ghz, 192 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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