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For reasons definitely not related to anything a bit pathetic, like writing a fan-script for Death Battle in which Chris Walker fights Piggsy, I recently decided to play Manhunt. Even without any particular motive, it's a historically interesting game; outside of the Grand Theft Auto series, it's probably caused more controversy than any other game I know, so I was pretty curious to play one of the most controversial games of all-time.
Sorry, I meant one of the most controversial games of its time.
It's not that Manhunt hasn't aged well, but the controversy isn't quite there any more. And it's tempting to say that this is because we now have more games dedicated to visceral gore, whether they're edgy monochrome Postal fanfictions or treat decapitations like Money Shots, or so unspeakably violent that you can't even begin to describe them, but honestly, The Punisher game came out less than two years after this and blew Manhunt's gritty violence out of the water.
Manhunt has an interesting story that manages to justify the level of violence in the game, while also being a laughable Hand Wave. You are James Earl Cash, a death row inmate in Carcer City. You're saved by a man named Starkweather who runs a snuff film ring by using the CCTV cameras in the town to film people doing a violence on each other.
It doesn't quite excel at stealth or action; the stealth is drawn out because you have to wait for groups of people to split up and wander into dark alleyways and then stand still for 30 seconds, loudly mentioning how much they love not being stabbed, and the action is skewed because facing more than one enemy in combat is suicide unless you have a firearm, and if you do, it's too easy. But this isn't a huge negative; by the time guns show up, it's quite a relief to shoot people in the head instead of trying to distract them by throwing cans at them like a passive-aggressive recycling spokesman.
That's the other thing; you can charge up your attack by standing behind someone and holding the attack button for a while. This determines whether you hit them with a crowbar, stab them with a crowbar, or fashion them into an ornamental garden fountain with a crowbar. Violence is rewarded, but your victims are liable to walk away if you take too long admiring their teasingly exposed necks. The gangs in the game - Hoods, Skinz, Wardogs, Innocentz and Smileys - are all exactly the same, just with different weapons, but it's still satisfying to take them down.
Manhunt is worth playing if you're interested in the history of violent video games, or you just want to play a decent stealth/action game, but if you go in with your hopes too high, you'll be beaten down like Piggsy in a fight to the death with Chris Walker.
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