The ghostly veil of secrecy surrounding Manhunt, shimmering like interference on a knackered closed circuit TV, has finally slipped away to reveal some grisly details. Confirming what teaser site Valiant TV hinted at earlier this year, a preview in UK mag PSM claims that it's a game of survival, in which the protagonist is trying to escape the clutches of roaming gangs and the voyeuristic attentions of the sick and twisted old man behind the CCTV cameras.
According to Sony, no doubt hugely interested in what their prized starlets Rockstar North are up to this year, players take control of James Earl Cash, a death row inmate who finds himself in partly demolished "Carcer City" despite receiving a supposedly lethal injection. Apparently his execution was faked, and Cash is now just a plaything for the wealthy 'Director', who lurks in a control room somewhere behind all the CCTV cameras.
Carcer City, it seems, is not the place to be. It's crawling with armed gangs, for a start, and there's very little with which to defend one's self. Cash will have to stay out of sight and out of earshot of his pursuers if he wants to survive, keeping an eye on his sound meter and navigating detailed patterns of light and shadow ala Splinter Cell and MGS2. There will be the occasional opportunity to take out unavoidable adversaries, but with guns scarcely available, standard measures will include baseball bats, machetes, shanks, garrottes and, interestingly, the humble plastic bag.
However each henchman Cash plucks from the mortal coil, Tenchu-style, by sneaking up undetected, will have their death borne out on the Director's CCTV cameras for the player to see from his perspective. Ultimately, anybody who dies on screen does so for the Director's amusement, and it'll be interesting to see whether Rockstar plans to have players take him out at the end, or merely escape his Running Game-style prison. Certainly the Director stands to reach almost G-Man like notoriety if he's as sleuth-like and intriguing as it seems. We're also told that he will offer occasional hints, although all that it seems he cares about is his own amusement, so any advice he offers will have to be considered very carefully.
Manhunt is, one has to say, a very interesting and potentially disturbing prospect, and the sort of game that will need to suspend disbelief for as long as possible. That means a solid third or first person engine, and not the awkward 'man handling', if you will, of GTA3 and Vice City. Obviously there's plenty of scope for some seriously grotty visuals, perhaps along the lines of Silent Hill, so the PS2 looks to have its work cut out. But whatever Rockstar does, it's good to see that they're prepared to head in new directions and not simply plough the GTA fields for more cash. Clearly the spirit of the old DMA Design lives on...