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Manhunt is a 2003 stealth game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. The first entry in the Manhunt series, it was released for the PlayStation 2 in November 2003, followed by Microsoft Windows and Xbox releases in April 2004.[2][3] Set within the fictional Carcer City, the story follows James Earl Cash, a death row prisoner who is forced to participate in a series of snuff films, earning his freedom by murdering criminal gang members sent to hunt him on camera.

The game received positive reviews from critics and won several accolades, with particular praise directed at its dark, gritty tone and violent gameplay, although the combat and level design were criticized. Manhunt was subject to a significant video game controversy due to the level of graphic violence depicted, banned in several countries, and implicated in a murder by the UK media, although this accusation was later rejected by the police and courts. While not a commercial hit, Manhunt developed a substantial cult following and was followed by a stand-alone sequel, Manhunt 2, in 2007.

Manhunt is a stealth-based urban horror-styled game played from a third-person perspective. The game consists of twenty levels, called “scenes”, as well as four unlockable bonus scenes.[2] Players survive the scenes by dispatching enemy gang members, occasionally with firearms, but primarily by stealthily executing them.[4] At the end of each scene, players are graded based on their performance, and awarded one to five stars. Unlockable content becomes available only when the player achieves three or more stars on a certain number of levels. On normal difficulty (called “Fetish”), players can earn only four stars; one is awarded for completing the scene under a certain amount of time, and one to three stars are awarded based on the brutality of the executions carried out during the scene. On hard difficulty (called “Hardcore”), players are graded out of five stars; one for speed, one to three for brutality and one for simply completing the scene. To gain the maximum number of stars, a set number of brutal executions must be carried out over the course of each scene; face-to-face fighting does not award stars.[4]

To carry out executions, players must approach a hunter from behind, undetected. To facilitate this, each scene is full of “dark spots” (shadows where the player can hide). Enemies cannot see into the shadows (unless they see the player actually entering the area). A standard technique in the game is to hide in the shadows and tap a wall to attract the attention of a nearby hunter. When the hunter has examined the area and is moving away, players can emerge from the shadows behind them, and execute them.[5] The game has three levels of execution, with each level progressively more violent and graphic than the last: “hasty” executions are quick and not very bloody, “violent” are considerably more gory, and “gruesome” are over-the-top blood-soaked murders. Players are entirely in control of which level they use; once players have locked onto an enemy, the lock-on reticule changes color over time to indicate the three levels: white, yellow and red.[6][7]

Over the course of the game, players can use a wide variety of weapons, including plastic bags, baseball bats, crowbars and a variety of bladed items. Later in the game, firearms become available (which cannot be used for executions). Should players take damage, their health depletes; health can be restored through the use of painkillers, which are available throughout each scene.[5] Players also have a stamina meter which depletes as they sprint, but automatically replenishes when remaining stationary.[4] Manhunt also makes use of the PlayStation 2’s optional USB Microphone and the Xbox Live microphone feature on the Xbox in their respective versions of the game. When such a device is connected, players can use the sound of their own voice to distract in-game enemies. This adds an extra element to the stealth aspect of the game, as players must refrain from making noises such as coughing as these sounds too can attract the attention of any nearby hunters.[4]