I was so unimpressed with Manhunter: New York that I wasn’t expecting much out of the sequel. I hadn’t heard of the series before I started playing the original, and wasn’t quite as prepared for the absurd world of 2004 as created by the triple-Murry design team. I mostly saw plenty of opportunities lost, and Manhunter 2 doesn’t correct them. Though some tweaks have been made to make the game more accessible, the game itself is fundamentally the same with all the flaws from the first intact. If you’re interested in Manhunter’s second chapter, this will provide a story equivalent to New York. If you’re expecting the series to start redeeming itself, it won’t.
Manhunter introduced us to your nameless character and his cooperation with, and then destruction of, the invading Orb Alliance’s operations in New York. Manhunter 2 drops you in San Francisco, literally atop another Manhunter, allowing you to take his identity and begin hunting again. The plot holes here are obvious, but I could probably do the game’s job for it and explain them away in context. The Orbs don’t know about you and your involvement with New York because it was established that the implanted tags don’t transmit an ID (hence the need for Manhunters). You pick up the profession you swore off because you know it’s the best way to get to Serial Killer Phil you’re tailing. The Orbs don’t recognize the dead Manhunter’s house has a new occupant and continue to give you assignments, because all humans look the same to them. It’s all shaky logic, but it can be done. The real issue is that it all simply explains away why we’ve reverted to the beginning of the first game with the start of the second.
That’s right, you’re manhunting again and following the same story arc from New York. You literally will have made no progress between the two games, except for a change of scenery. You’re still trying to find Phil. You know the Orbs are evil, and again work with an underground resistance to stop them. You continue to track gruesome murder after gruesome murder which all point to the Orbs being up to something sinister. Seriously, where are the new ideas? It’s a fresh “case” if you will, but one that plays out awfully close to how the last one did, with names and locations changed to protect the greedy.
The game’s twisted humor returns, dark as ever and still focused on self-deprecation and terrible death puns from the three Murrys. It’s heavy on clichés, over-the-top violence, and toilet humor. I like all three, but not together, and not together in the context of a serious adventure. Really, the only thing this game is missing is a fart joke, and I could comfortably swear it off forever. You’ll still be finding painfully executed corpses (strangulation being the series’ preferred method) followed immediately by spinning around in the Embarcadero Fountain, or pratfalling down a flight of stairs in Ghirardelli Square.
This was just bizarre in the first game, but it starts to bleed into and impede your investigation in the second. You never quite know when you’re supposed to take something seriously. As an example, one area has a door with “Bat Vomit” printed on it. You’re supposed to realize that this is totally out of place, and you’re really looking at a name backwards through glass. The problem is that the series has lost so much credibility by this point, that a door reading “Bat Vomit” seems perfectly reasonable. Boxes of Orb food reading “Flesh Fries” and “Poopcicles” only reinforce this.
The game also continues to piss away its strongest point. The MAD laptop computer is an awesome idea, and the concept of tracking crimes by looking at time lapse surveillance video and then piecing together what happened through on-scene investigations continues to be brilliant, and underused. Tracking characters here simply gives you their location. At least in the first one, you would frequently divine a clue or the solution to a puzzle from a target’s movements or figure out some semblance of story by seeing who met up with whom.
Here, the MAD only gets broken out at the beginning of the day to fill up your travel list. You track everyone you can until they die, then track the killer until they die, or until the killer is Phil – who conveniently cannot be tracked. You then investigate all the corpses for pieces of paper or trinkets that will seem completely arbitrary until you happen across the location where they will be used. The MAD provides you these locations, either by visiting places targets have been, or by finding their address by typing their name. Figuring out full names will be the hardest part of your investigation, as you generally get the first name and the last name through separate pieces of information. Beyond that, it’s as easy as looking at items in your inventory and putting them to use at the only places it makes sense to.
The arcade challenges return as well. They thoughtfully now have difficulty modes, which is a vast improvement over the original. The easiest setting generally slows enemies to a crawl or reduces the number of flying projectiles, but these sequences are still a pain in the ass. Make sure to play this on keyboard with a numpad (i.e. not a laptop) so that you have access to the 1, 3, 7, and 9 keys for the diagonals. You will absolutely need them to beat some of the games.
San Francisco looks better than the streets of New York, most apparently due to better shading. The artwork does seem more detailed, especially in the outdoor sections, while pastel colors and a blood red sky tie the series together. Atmosphere continues to be a strong point of the series, and continues to get wasted by the juvenile jokes and meager plotlines. It’s hard to feel any danger when getting attacked simply leads to a comical encounter with some man-rats, or feel any loss over the alien renovations of San Fran when you never see the effects on the citizens.
Items get their own fullscreen close-ups when selected from your inventory, making finding details and reading text easy. Recognizable landmarks feature prominently. As in the last game, major local buildings are repurposed into alien command centers (they never just take over the Denny’s off the highway, no, it’s gotta be Alcatraz) allowing you to visit them directly in the course of the plot. You’ll also see them as ever-present shapes on the skyline.
To accommodate the PC speaker, speaking is a capital crime in Manhunter. You don’t even get text of speech; as if the entire society forgot how to talk in the two years since the Orbs arrived, or there are super-accurate microphones attached to death rays that we’re never told about. Instead, the story is relayed like a picture book, or a foreigner trying to communicate with hand signals. It works, but not without being awkward. You have to figure the plot out for yourself based on the visuals, which some may enjoy, but your pieces are so limited that you’ll wonder if you got the Murry’s intentions right.
The limitations also make for some unintentionally comical scenes with horrible, exaggerated expressions frequently used to make sure you know your action had an effect on that character. Or, when you set free a Chinese slave early in the game who keeps coming back in a semi-crucial role. The game’s detail is never high enough to make it clear when this character is on screen, so it keeps flashing to the one portrait of him they drew to say “Here! It’s THIS guy, remember?”
You’ll have an easier time with Manhunter 2, but it’s hard to say if that will translate into a more enjoyable time. As I’ve said before, I love the concept of the MAD and it needs to be remade in another investigative thriller that isn’t Manhunter. The alien eyeball invaders deal is still ridiculous, and the game doesn’t even bother to tie up the questions that it asks. You’ll learn about a new Orb plan and liberate San Francisco, but you still haven’t made in progress in the total timeline. You learn nothing new about the Orbs, not even why San Fran’s breed have two eyes while New York’s had one. You don’t know why they came here and what their interest in Earth is besides the tired old answer that they want to exploit its resources. You are still no closer to figuring out what the fuck Phil’s deal is, or why he’s important to the story. Is he an Orb agent? Is he a rogue psychopath? Is he a member of another alien race at war with the Orbs? None of this gets answered, and not just because the game is holding out for the never-made Manhunter 3.
If you liked Manhunter: New York, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you. It is a unique game, and your tastes simply differ from mine. You will enjoy Manhunter: San Francisco, but just don’t expect a conclusion, or even a continuance, of the overall plot. If you’re on the fence, I like the optionally easier minigames here, but New York is a better place to start to appreciate what’s going on. Still, neither one should be on anyone’s must-play list.
Better graphics, new locations, optionally easier minigames.
Same plot as the first, different details. You still haven’t made in progress in the total storyline by the end, and as this is the last game, apparently never will.