Well, the news is out about Manhunt, the new game by Rockstar North. Even though I work for Rockstar, I hadn’t heard anything about what the game was about until the first previews came out a few weeks ago.
“The hero — or, at any rate, the playable character — is James Earl Cash, a prison inmate who discovers an unpleasant life after death. His lethal injection is faked, and he finds himself in a ruined city that is the property of the Director, a wealthy dilettante who amuses himself by staging violent games of survival. “Carcer City,” as it’s called, is populated with wrecked buildings, roving armed gangs, and closed-circuit cameras, all of them feeding into the Director’s control room. It’s Mr. Cash’s goal to escape the city without dying for the Director’s vicarious entertainment.”
Manhunt, if you look at it from a certain perspective (the perspective often used on other games), is just another MGS clone. But there is a lot of excitement about it: from the press, from gamers, from developers, even from me. Partially, that seems to be caused by Rockstar’s very tight marketing strategy: all they showed at E3 was a big banner for Max Payne 2, and that was it. All the rest was shown behind closed doors or not at all.
But I think it’s also caused by the the narrative context, the setting and storyline. It’s the old Most Dangerous Game trope, but in a modern, and quite grim world. Apart from the fact that it shows Rockstar’s publishing strategy of only choosing realistic (compared to, say, Warcraft) and mature settings, think of how unusual this is: in an industry where writers and stories are not yet universally recognized as being a valuable addition to a game development team – although I would argue that many of the more successful companies do recognize this – here’s a game that gets its unique edge mainly from its narrative context. The gameplay and the setting are very closely intertwined (as they should be), and if you look at the artwork and read the descriptions, you will notice that the art direction and, apparently, the sound all combine to create one coherent and consistent experience. A grim, violent experience, but nevertheless.
(On a different note: if you thought a rich director making violent entertainment for his own purposes was unrealistic, how about Mel Gibson’s new movie?)