Belly up to the slaughter buffet
by Andrew Ryan, Globe & Mail, Mar 6, 2004

Nobody normal could prepare for what awaits them in the bloody video game world of Manhunt. As monstrous as the buzz has been, actually playing the game is worse. Much, much worse. The violence starts with a splat and accelerates to unimaginably graphic levels. For review purposes only, I've played Manhunt and lived to tell about it, but who do I see about the nightmares?

Manhunt just might be the most violent video game of all time and has stirred up considerable fuss recently. The game is currently available for PlayStation 2 and will soon be released in Xbox and PC formats. This week the Ontario Film Review Board affixed an R rating to Manhunt, making it theoretically forbidden for sale or rent to anyone under 18 in Ontario. The game is banned completely in New Zealand. Obviously, this makes kids want it all the more.

Manhunt comes from Rockstar Games, the makers of the extremely violent Grand Theft Auto series, some of the top-selling games of all time. Clearly great effort has gone into this new creation: The game has more opening credits, to producers, designers and artists, than many feature films.

It's creepy from the start. One of the first screens gleefully tells you to, "Turn off the lights . . . close the drapes . . . lock the door . . . Then get ready to kill!" The player has the option of a "Fetish" or "Hardcore" version (there is no sex or kink involved; the terms are curious Manhunt-speak for Normal and Difficult modes). Images of splayed dead bodies and psychotic grinning clowns usher the player into the game's dank bowels.

The intro to Manhunt sets up the nasty concept: The player is to assume the persona of one James Earl Cash, a bald, bulky and grim-looking convict, shown here in the scant seconds before his death by electrocution for crimes unknown. At no point in the game is it made clear whether Cash is a good guy or bad guy, but he is a killing machine on a manhunt.

The game starts with Cash's resurrection and arrival in a deserted slum neighbourhood. He has a nasty new friend: A snaky off-camera voice that, again, motive unknown, is videotaping Cash as he exhorts him to wander about and kill the lurking, very obvious bad guys named Hunters -- roving packs of murderous thugs and punks that stand in his way. The Voice tells Cash he will have many weapons for his slaughter. And so the bloodbath begins.

In gamer jargon, Manhunt is known as a "stealth" game, meaning the player must sneak about and eliminate obstacles. The apparent difference here is Manhunt's astounding array of exceedingly unpleasant implements of death and their shocking, truly sadistic application. The on-screen imagery as reminiscent of the movie Seven, except far less cheerful. Almost immediately the game became a virtual-reality slaughter buffet of violence. I wasn't ready for this.

It starts with a plastic bag, of all things.

The idea is to sneak up on a Hunter, slip the bag over his head and suffocate/choke him to death. Then another. The images of violence are staggering, made even worse by the fact the screen action keeps shifting between the sharp-focus battles and the Voice's scratchy surveillance-camera footage documenting Cash's killing spree, from different angles. In the fistfights, the blood sprays with each punch. The soft humming soundtrack is nerve-scraping, mixed in with Cash's thrumming heartbeat.

The killing progresses quickly, as do the weapons. Next up: a long shard of glass, used to slash and stab the enemy, mostly around the face area. The sound effect for the face slash is terrible.

The Voice steers the player through the streets and buildings, saying lines like, "Give me some Grade-A gore and you'll be buzzed through that door!" The weapon arsenal broadens as the blood flows. From glass shard to blackjack. Then a wooden baseball bat, graduating later to aluminum. A meat cleaver. A garrote. A crowbar.

The killing in Manhunt is relentless. All the tools of death are used to hack and bludgeon at will. Brains explode; bones crack; victims beg for mercy before their head is caved in. Bodies hang from ceiling beams. Crows and rats gnaw at corpses strewn through abandoned buildings. After a particularly bloody kill, the Voice says cheerily: "That was the best snuff I've ever seen!" I only wish I was making this up.

No shortage of consequence-free-violence lessons here. A handy game-player tip: As Cash, you have the ability to kick an opponent, but only when he's down, and then you have to kick him to death. And another: It takes the player at least eight or 10 good cracks to the head to kill an opponent, even with the crowbar. When you graduate to a nail gun, it takes about the same number of nails to the head.

The death builds through the game's nine levels, as the weapons move up to handguns, shotguns, machine guns, small cannons. Bodies burst apart. Some of the Hunters are obvious white supremacists and skinheads wearing quasi-Nazi insignia and barking racial epithets such as, "My race is not made for running!"

The story line is wildly inconsistent and messages are mixed. Cash rescues innocent people in the later stages of the game, after which he promptly stabs three men to death. At regular intervals, the player must collect Painkillers, a floating bottle of pills that prolong game life.

The queasiest surprise of all: Manhunt is shockingly easy to play. The player is facilitated fully throughout: An on-screen radar pinpoints the location of enemies. The weapons are always there. The Voice warns the player of hazards. The bad guys are relatively easy to kill and have soft, squishy bodies that splatter easily.

And deserving to die has nothing to do with it. Manhunt is a venal disconnect for the genre. There's no challenge, just assembly-line, ritualistic slaughter. It's less a video game and more a weapon of personal destruction. This is about stacking bodies.

Perhaps the scariest fact of all: Manhunt is so user-friendly that any sharp 12-year-old could navigate through the entire game in one sitting. Be afraid.

VIDEO MIND GAMES (simulated violence burns images into long-term memory & shuts down empathy). Globe & Mail, Mar 14, 2004. Go to 14.Experimentation

Zimbabwe brutal youth camps exposed (gov't teaching rape-maim-torture-kill). BBC, Mar 8, 2004

Public autopsy art going worldwide (body-donation program entitles person to be flayed & dissected). Boston Globe, Mar 6, 2004

STAN the (almost) man (dummy's name means 'Standard Man' for military medics to practice on). Calgary Herald, Mar 6, 2004

Anti-boy T-shirt craze (female subversion of male power; hidden agenda to downgrade boys). Reuters, Mar 3, 2004. Go to MALE BASHING WHAMs

Human sacrifice as entertainment (churches taking kids to crucifixion; see beating that lasts 45 minutes; cat-o'-nine-tails ripping flesh; hands nailed & arm pulled from socket; body lanced & blood showers down). USA Today, Feb 17, 2004

Blood on SIMS virtual carpet (kicked out of on-line town for publicising tawdry activities of real-life teenagers creating despotic gov't using Mafia to run prostitutes-porno-drugs-booze-gambling & hellhole of crime). Independent, Jan 16, 2004. Go to SIMS CANADA REALITY

25.Prolefeed and 35.The Brotherhood and MOVIE-TV-GAME REVIEWS

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~