Video Game / Manhunt
No need to ask twice, buddy.

You awake to the sound of your own panicked breath. You must run, hide and fight to survive. If you can stay alive long enough, you may find out who did this to you.
— Back cover blurb

In between Grand Theft Auto outings, Rockstar Games published Manhunt and Manhunt 2, two controversial stealth/psychological Survival Horror games that share gameplay mechanics, similar settings, and little else. It is one of Rockstar Game's most infamous masterpieces, and the Trope Codifier for games going too controversial and too bloody for the public to accept. The first was released in 2003 for PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox; the second in 2008, for the same platforms and also the PSP and Wii.

The chief gameplay mechanic revolves around "executions" (gruesome Finishing Moves a player can perform after a stealthy sneak-up on gang members): if a player waits as long as possible to pull off the execution, it will become more drawn-out and elaborate. The game rewards players with a higher ranking after a level ends if they perform enough of these top-level executions.

In Manhunt, the player controls James Earl Cash, a Death Row inmate who had his execution faked; he was spared the death chamber by Lionel Starkweather, a disgraced Vinewood director who now makes his own "independent" films — Snuff Films that he sells on the black market — and has picked out Cash as his newest star. Starkweather promises to free Cash if he can make it out of Carcer City alive — but trained thugs that belong to various gangs will do everything they can to ensure Cash becomes another bloodstain on their boots, and Starkweather has cameras everywhere to capture all the action...

In spite of the controversy, the game was quite well-received for its original premise, tight stealth gameplay and frightening atmosphere, but also attracted significant criticism for its shifting emphasis on gunplay over stealth in the latter portion of the game. Despite this shift in game play,however, it was impressive that the game managed to stay frightening, as while Cash was a good shot, you were often surrounded by enemies who would either surround and flank you, or have better guns.

Manhunt 2 casts players as an amnesiac scientist who wakes up in a mental asylum; with the aid of another inmate, the scientist hopes to escape the asylum and unravel the government conspiracy that locked him up. This game added jumping, gun- and environment-based executions to the gameplay mechanics — and it also stirred up far more controversy than the first installment, as several countries denied the game a content rating due to its violent content (which made the game near-impossible to sell). This forced Rockstar to release the game in a revised form that heavily censored the gory execution scenes, though the game was eventually released online in its original uncensored form.

Not to be confused with the 1986 film, the 1988/1989 video games, or the 2004-2009 comic book series all named Manhunter. Also not to be confused with the 2017 John Woo film.

The Manhunt games contain examples of the following tropes:

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  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: The first game has Fetish which is Normal, and Hardcore which is, you guessed it, Hard. The second has "Sane" and "Insane", which are basically the same thing.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: "Carcer" is Latin for "prison".
  • Improvised Weapon: The weapons you use include plastic bags, pens, pliers, fire extinguishers, telephones, and hedge-clippers.
  • Instant Sedation: The tranquilizer rifle in the first game knocks out enemies practically instantly.
  • Institutional Apparel: Something of a trademark outfit for the protagonists. Comes in Death Row blue for Cash and Bedlam House green for Daniel/Leo.
  • Interface Screw: Getting shot with a tranquillizer dart causes the screen to blur and temporarily prevents the player from aiming with a gun.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Spoken verbatim by Cerberus units.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Danny and Leo.
  • Jump Scare: Used from time to time in the first game.
  • Karma Meter: The second game, surprisingly. Performing more Violent and Gruesome level executions (both of which tend to be more sadistic and gratuitous than Hasty level ones) awards more style points. Your style point count by the penultimate level determines whether you get the normal final level where Danny enters his mind and kills the Leo personality and is given a new identity to live a peaceful life or the alternate where Leo kills the Danny personality, and prepares to go on a Serial Killer murder spree.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: You can perform an execution on a hunter while they are taunting you.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The Game. As bad as Cash may have been, just about everyone he kills over the course of the game had it coming.
  • Kill 'em All: Fairly obvious, as the goal of the series is to kill everyone in sight in order to survive. There are very few characters that survive the events of both games.
  • Lampshade Hanging: One of the cops can observe that the situation is just like the start of a bad horror movie.
  • Large Ham: The gangs in the first game, especially the Skinz and the Smileys.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: James Earl Cash is a vicious killer through and through, but considering how much worse Starkweather, Cerberus, the gangs, and even the police are, it's not hard to root for him.
  • Limited Loadout: As noted under Hyperspace Arsenal, in the first game Cash can only carry one disposable weapon, one light weapon, one heavy weapon and one lure. What's more, any weapon he's carrying is visible on his person at all times. The only thing he's carrying that isn't visible is any additional ammo clips.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Oh so much.

  • Machete Mayhem: Many of the Wardogs gang members in the first game wield these. Which of course can be turned on them with vicious effect.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Carcer" is a Latin word meaning "prison", from whence the word "incarcerate" is derived.
    • "Starkweather" is an allusion to Charles Starkweather, a famous American spree killer.
  • Media Watchdog/Moral Guardians: They reacted as badly as could be expected to the first game, and more badly than was expected to the second.
  • Mook Horror Show: Picking off enemies one by one and watching them become increasingly frightened as their numbers grow smaller is immensely satisfying. Zero Punctuation described it as the logical opposite to a Friday the 13th film, in that he played "a desperate, terrified, normal guy, stalking and dispatching droves of masked psychotics."
  • Murder Simulators: Inspired a great deal of controversy because of it.
  • Nail 'Em: Found in the junkyard that the Skinz call home.
  • No-Gear Level: Although some levels allow weapons to persist, Cash is frequently stripped of his weapons on some levels. It's usually justified when bad guys jump cash and take his stuff, but there's at least one case where there's no explaination (e.g. when starting the journalist escort mission). Once you find the weapon, you can proceed through the level as normal.
  • No Name Given: The tramp, the journalist, the white rabbit etc.
  • Non-Linear Sequel: The second game, which features similar gameplay mechanics and is set in the same universe as the first game, but is otherwise unrelated.
  • Off with His Head!: Several executions allow you to do this. And you can scare other mooks with them.
  • One Dose Fits All: The tranquillizer rifle in the first game affects all enemies the same way, regardless of size.
  • One-Man Army: Cash cuts his way through dozens of hired goons and Starkweather's personal army all by himself.
  • Pædo Hunt: The Babyfaces faction of the Innocentz. Also, the Cerberus accuse Cash of being a pedophile while in search mode.
  • Pet the Dog: We're not given a whole lot of reasons to like Cash, but (trying) to save his family has to count for something.
    • Later on he does help the journalist reach her apartment safely and urges her to leave the city, even after she witnessed him possibly murder several police officers.
  • Player and Protagonist Integration: A rare subversion, in that the Audience Surrogate in the game is actually the villain and the primary antagonist.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Averted - close-up headshots with even the basic revolver are liable to blow half an enemy's face off.
  • Psychological Horror: Heavily informed by the genre, in keeping with the mundane setting unusual for Survival Horror games. Rather than monsters, you're facing up against enemies who embody much more human brands of evil, while in the employ of a Snuff Film director who literally masturbates to videos of people being brutally murdered. In place of frequent jump scares and other more overt kinds of horror, there's a constant atmosphere of nerve-wracking tension and paranoia.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The Babyfaces. At least, the ones who don't think they're your "daddy".
    • Piggsy has been described to have the mentality of one.
      • Also goes hand-in-hand with some of the Smileys, as well as the more mentally unbalanced gangs in Manhunt 2.
  • Pun-Based Title: A great many of the names of the levels in the first game, e.g. "Trained To Kill" takes place in a train station, "White Trash" takes place in a junkyard full of white supremacists. Fridge Brilliance when you realize that the levels represent scenes from a snuff porn film, and lots of porn films have really terrible puns as titles.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Some of the hunters aren't really crazy, they're just doing their job.
  • Puzzle Boss: Piggsy, who can only be killed by carrying out a series of executions on him and then luring him to a metal grill which collapses under his weight, dropping him several stories.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • Starkweather's name is most likely a reference in name to American spree killer Charles Starkweather.
    • James Earl Cash's name is likely derived from James Earl Ray, the man who shot MLK Jr.
  • Rule 34: The first game's premise hinges upon this. As if to make sure the players were as squicked-out as possible, Starkweather repeatedly makes oblique (and not-so-oblique) references to how well he's responding to Cash's performance.
  • Same Content, Different Rating: Most of what was cut to take the second game from AO to M was present in the first game.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: A weapon available in both games.
  • Score Multiplier: Via the different kinds of execution.
  • Sequel Escalation: Compare the executions from the first game with those from the second. (Warning: both are NSFW.)
  • Shared Universe: Takes place in the same universe as the Grand Theft Auto series, most notably the GTA III/3D Era. There's a few references to Carcer City in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and there's also the All There in the Manual backstory that the antagonist Starkweather was a failed film director in Los Santos before moving on to snuff porn. Police chief Gary Schaffer is also mentioned in Grand Theft Auto III on a news report about how he was "cleared of corruption charges". Sprunk soda machines can also be seen throughout the game.
    • Danny is also revealed to have studied in San Fierro before the events of the game.
    • Carcer City is even referenced in Grand Theft Auto V, as Michael mentions his first bank robbery was on the outskirts of Carcer in 1988. One wonders if it's as bad as it was in this game- V and Grand Theft Auto IV are set in a different continuity from the GTA III-era and Manhunt games (Bully sorts of blurs the line- released before GTA IV {and sharing props from the GTA III era games}, but referenced in that game via the TV show I'm Rich).
  • Shout-Out:
    • Piggsy's appearance in the first game is a reference to the film Motel Hell, where towards the end, one of the main antagonists shows up wearing a pig's head while wielding a chainsaw.
    • The Cerberus soldiers seem to be heavily influenced by the Kerberos Saga, especially their outfit's aesthetics and name of the unit.
    • The game's title, coupled with a major role by actor Brian Cox, serve as a stealth reference to the film Manhunter, in which Cox played the role of Hannibal Lecter several years before Anthony Hopkins.
    • The final scene is named Deliverance and it features Piggsy, an insane nude man who believes he's a pig and constantly squeals...
  • Shows Damage: Both Cash and Daniel, assuming they trade blows with their victims. And with the latter case, it's hard to tell how much blood is his, and how much comes from his victims.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: Very much so, although Cash has such mediocre aim that hardly any gun besides the sniper rifles are useful at more than a few meters. In effect, this makes the gunplay in the game rewards stealthy play almost as much as the melee weapons, as guns are most effective when used up close against unsuspecting enemies.
  • Snuff Film: The entire plot of the first game. Seen in the second game with the hidden cameras in the torture rooms of the sex club. Additionally at a turning point in both games the protagonist is shown a video of his family being murdered shifting their motivation from survival to revenge.
  • Sprint Meter: A fairly standard implementation.
  • Stealth-Based Game: Although the stealth is technically optional, trying to take on hunters directly in the first game will make you regret your decision. The game's combat system is clunky and awkward enough to make stealth seem massively preferable by design. The firearms sections of the game make little use of stealth, although it certainly helps when pursued by half of Carcer City's police force or facing off against seven of Starkweather's troopers.
  • Stealth Pun: Carcer City. Another word for imprisoned is incarceration. In-CARCER-ation. Don't wonder why you feel so trapped playing this game.
  • The Stoic: James Earl Cash. How he's internally handling the game events, and the details of what landed him in prison in the first place, are completely up to the player's imagination.
  • Stylistic Suck: The first game deliberately attempts to emulate the feel of a 1980s "video nasty" horror film or a Snuff Film, from the omnipresent film-grain filter to the grotty VHS scanlines to the John Carpenter style synth-heavy score.
  • Survival Horror: While the game has no supernatural elements, it still has the same elements - an overwhelmed protagonist, oppressive atmosphere, and need for careful resource management - of a survival horror game.

  • Take Cover!: The first game actually had a rudimentary cover system that predated many games that utilized cover mechanics, composed of commands that allowed you to hide, stand up and aim, or leave cover. It isn't remembered much, given the game's emphasis on stealth. That is, until the final few chapters where you're forced into gunfights.
  • Thematic Series: The two games have nothing to do with one another in terms of story.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: The thirteenth mission in the first game is when Starkweather betrays Cash.
  • This Loser Is You: If one buys the You Bastard interpretation of the game, Starkweather is meant to represent the player - an overweight, amoral chronic masturbator who spends all his days sitting in front of a computer screen in a darkened room.
    • Leo in Manhunt 2 can be a different spin on this: a seemingly ordinary guy who forces otherwise "good" characters in games into committing brutal murders to satisfy his own psychotic tendencies, thus "taking over" the character themselves.
  • Throwing the Distraction: Lures, which can include things like bricks, bottles, cans and your enemies' severed heads.
  • Time-Limit Boss: Cash is given 2½ minutes to chase after and kill Ramirez before he calls for backup.
  • Title Drop: From the second game: "Danny, listen; It's a Manhunt. And they won't stop, until we're both dead."
  • Torture Porn: The first game is a slight subversion, as it revolves around a Snuff Film ring, and even the worst executions are relatively quick and clean compared to usual Torture Porn. The second game, which takes inspiration from most of the Slasher Movie genre, takes this trope, and runs with it to the endzone, with the "Violent", "Gruesome", and "Environmental" kills all out to inflict as much pain on the helpless victim as possible before killing them. This is also clearly invoked in the "Sexual Deviants" level, which takes place in BDSM club "Dungeon" that is one giant homage to Hostel.
  • Ultra Super Death Gorefest Chainsawer 3000: Pretty much an example of Truth in Television.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: The first game features several instances in which the player is forced to operate an electromagnetic crane in order to clear obstacles from their path. The controls for the crane are very awkward to use and the sound of the crane being activated alerts nearby enemies, who can shoot Cash even while he is inside the crane.
  • Unrated Edition: Manhunt 2 for PC: the original AO-rated version was finally released - in 2009
  • Victory-Guided Amnesia: In the good ending to Manhunt 2 Daniel wakes up on a roadside, unable to remember his past or even his name, but he has an envelope on him that provides him with a new name and points him to an apartment set up for him. After all he's been through, forgetting everything is a blessing.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Executions in a nutshell, as you choose how viciously you murder the hunters and can spook them with the heads of their decapitated buddies.
    • In the first game this trope also applies in that, while certain sections require you to kill everyone in order to progress and you're rewarded with unlockables for indulging in the gorn, it's perfectly possible to play through the game not going for maximum gore just to spite Starkweather, who applauds more brutal executions, and remains awkwardly silent (or hilariously outraged) if you're not "performing" up to his standards. The star rating system is essentially how much you're having Cash play along with Starkweather's game.
  • Video Nasties: The first game attempts to emulate the feel of one, from the retro-futuristic John Carpenter-esque score to the grotty VHS-style visuals.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: In Manhunt 2, if you stand around long enough after making your first kill, Daniel will vomit in horror at what he just did.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Several of the Skinz talk to themselves about wanting to make their dead fathers proud of them.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Danny's two kids, no mention of them aside from "they're fine" shortly before the game's final moments, after that in the good ending Daniel adopts a whole new life as David, basically implying that now two children won't have their father, Daniel, back.
    • The hobo in the first game that you had to escort through Innocentz Turf to the Graveyard. There is some production art that shows that he was meant to be a boss character called The Scarecrow, who would have been the former leader of The Smileys.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Carcer City in the first game, and Cottonmouth in the second. The first is stated to be close to Liberty City, so it's possibly an Expy of either Philadelphia or Newark, while the second takes a lot from cities in the Deep South, such as New Orleans, Tampa, Charleston and Atlanta.
  • White Gang-Bangers: The Hoodz in the first game, the Red Kings in the second.
  • Why Won't You Die?: One of The Cerberus troopers says this to Cash during his capture in the end of the seventh chapter.
    Cerberus Soldier: You just won't fucking die, will you?
  • Wretched Hive: Carcer City is filled with various gangs of criminals and madmen who are all connected with the local snuff film industry.
  • You Bastard: In the first game, Cash has to kill other people because a mysterious figure who watches him on a viewing screen and gives him suggestions via an earpiece transmitter wants a sadistic thrill. The implications of this situation grow steadily less subtle as the game goes on.
  • Your Head A-Splode: In the first game, only close-range shotguns and sniper rifle headshots invoke this trope. In the second game, any headshot within a certain range will cause this, as will all firearm executions. In both games, certain melee weapons — including the baseball bat, the chainsaw, and the shovel — can cause this.

Alternative Title(s): Manhunt 2