Manhunter

Tagged: Game

Videogame series (from 1988). Evryware. Designed by Dave Murry, Barry Murry, Dee Dee Murry.

The Manhunter games incorporate the reflex-based gameplay of two-dimensional action games into the puzzle narratives of graphical Adventures, an unusual (and ultimately unsuccessful) combination. There is typically little overlap between the group of Videogame-players who appreciate intense, fast-paced excitements and those who are intrigued by the more cerebral pleasures offered by intricate conundrums, making a game which is intended for players who enjoy both forms a problematic proposition. It could also be argued that some of the Manhunter series' embedded action games and puzzles are poorly designed, tending to be more frustrating than challenging. Nevertheless, the games included several interesting innovations. Similarly to the French Computer Role Playing Game B.A.T. (1990), they prefigured the well-known fantasy Adventure Myst (1993) by presenting most of their puzzles in static scenes seen from the viewpoint of the player character. While the games' visuals often seem crude, they are occasionally successful in evoking such sources as Ridley Scott's iconic vision of a future Los Angeles (see Blade Runner). Many cinematographic tricks and techniques were borrowed from films and Comics, an approach which has been used extensively by later Videogame designers (see Another World).

The first game in the sequence, Manhunter: New York (1988 Evryware, Amiga, AppleII, AtariST, DOS) designed by Dave Murry, Barry Murry, begins by telling the player that an Alien species who resemble giant floating eyeballs (the Orbs) conquered the Earth in 2002. Two years later, in the game's present, the unnamed player character is forced to become one of the eponymous enforcers, an agent who hunts down human rebels and criminals for the aliens and their Robot servants (see Crime and Punishment). The New York of 2004 is a devastated city, littered with debris from shattered buildings and oppressed by a dark red sky contaminated with extraterrestrial gases. There are many restrictions on the player's actions; humans must always wear brown robes, can only travel between permitted locations, and cannot speak. (Interestingly, all of these limitations serve to make the developers' task easier, by allowing them to work around the technical problems that, for example, limited the range of colours which could be displayed.) In an entirely linear Interactive Narrative, the player is assigned a series of cases which leads them to make contact with an underground resistance to the Orbs, whose members are being killed by a psychotic Cyborg who is working for the aliens without their knowledge. Eventually the protagonist will find themselves in a position to complete the plan of the (now defunct) rebels, destroying a machine located in the Statue of Liberty which is converting Earth's atmosphere into something more suitable for the invaders before ending the game by setting off in pursuit of the escaped Cyborg in a captured spaceship.

The story of the sequel, Manhunter 2: San Francisco (1989 Evryware, DOS, Mac; 1990 Amiga, AtariST) designed by Dave Murry, Barry Murry, Dee Dee Murry, follows immediately on from that of its predecessor, as the player crashes in the eponymous city, where their quarry has landed in their own vessel. As soon as they stagger out of the wreck the player discovers the corpse of a Manhunter who was crushed beneath their craft. They must then assume the victim's identity, working on a sequence of new cases for the Orbs which, unsurprisingly, turn out to lead to another opportunity to strike back at the invaders. In San Francisco the aliens are using geothermal energy as a power source, but have discovered that their human slaves are poorly suited for working in the lava-filled mines beneath the city. They have therefore sponsored the Genetic Engineering of various human-animal hybrids, including reptile men and rat men; some of these unfortunates can be freed from their prison on Alcatraz Island to help overthrow the oppressors. While the narrative is again linear, it is rather more complex and convoluted than that of the first game, to the extent of often being extremely confusing.

Evryware's original intention was to create a third game which would tie up various plot threads left unresolved at the end of Manhunter 2: San Francisco, but this work was never released. While the series is interesting for its initial positioning of the player as an alien collaborator, and for its depiction of an oppressive, alienated future in which moments of grotesque humour are mingled with enigmatic (and often unresolved) mysteries, the reality of the experience offered by the games rarely lives up to their premise. One fundamental difficulty is with the fiction, which seems overly skeletal. The player's persona is extremely thinly characterized, a problem shared with the various computer-controlled characters encountered during the course of the series. This lack of definition for the protagonist would not be a problem if the player was allowed the freedom to create their own personality by making personal choices. However, the narratives of the Manhunter games are notably linear; to deviate from their predefined sequences of successful actions is, typically, to die. This leaves the player acting out a story in which their character's motivations are unknown, forcing them to construct justifications for the actions they must take with little assistance from the script. [NT]

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