Puzzles and Solvability
I’ve given a lot of thought to whether or not Manhunter: New York should be punished for some of its more unusual features, or whether it should receive praise. I think the puzzle department is one where the outcome is overall pretty positive. It was not always clear exactly what it was that I was supposed to be doing, but this made figuring it out and solving things that much more satisfying. In fact, apart from a couple of ridiculous solutions (such as the dinosaur in the museum), the puzzles in Manhunter can all be solved by applying logic. You may have noticed that I personally solved quite a few by trial and error methods, but in pretty much every case there were hints that would have assisted me if I hadn’t simply overlooked them (the underground maze, the badge selection process in the pawn shop, maybe even the alien code in the spacecraft?). I’d say the only puzzles that actually deserve criticism involve having to figure out full names of suspects and the murderer. These involved a bit too much luck and guesswork for my liking.
I got great satisfaction out of successfully piecing together the many clues found in the game
Interface and Inventory
When discussing the interface of Manhunter, I need to take into account the many mini-games that pop up throughout the game. The main movement was handled through pressing enter when the cursor if facing the direction I wanted to go. Generally there were only one or two directions I could go at any time, so this was adequate. What made it a bit frustrating was that I was forced to use the keys when a mouse controlled interface would have been much more suitable, and this was majorly exacerbated during the times I was forced to pixel hunt. Another complaint I have is regarding the MAD device. Overall the MAD was really very cool and I found tracking suspect's movements and following in their footsteps to be great fun, but the inability to speed up the tracker recordings meant I was in some cases forced to sit through the same events time and time again as I made gradual progress. The mini-games’ movement systems were so simple that you wouldn’t expect the interface to cause too much trouble. Nearly all of them involved nothing more than the arrow keys, but I should point out that it required a little bit of dexterity to hit the enter key at the exact right time during the knife dodging scenes, and manoeuvring the spaceship through the maze of tunnels was close to impossible. There’s not much to say about the inventory. It works the same way it did in the rest of the AGI based Sierra games, albeit with no images or descriptions at all.
Pixel hunting in rooms like this would be hard enough with the mouse, let alone with the keyboard
Story and Setting
The first thing to say about the story is that it’s really very unique and bizarre. While my mission at the beginning of each day was always obvious, the underlying plot of the game as a whole certainly wasn’t. In a way, Manhunter is the antithesis of Police Quest. Police Quest held the hand of the player, telling them exactly what was going on at all times and even giving them the exact procedures to follow for every possible scenario that could arise. Manhunter on the other hand gives the player only the most basic of information that they need, and then drops them into a world that contains vague hints and characters with unknown motivations. I was forced to piece together the plot one little piece at a time, which is actually a fairly accurate representation of life as a detective. I’m not suggesting that the game shouldn’t be punished for confusing the player at all, as there were times where this lack of clarity in the plot affected my ability to solve some of the puzzles (particularly when it came to figuring out names), but I strangely enjoyed the challenge this ambiguity offered and therefore won’t be too harsh.
The lack of dialogue meant every action had to be accompanied by something visual
I don’t think it will come as a surprise when I say the all round quality of the graphics in Manhunter is not high. It all looks a bit strange to be honest, with bizarre colour choices and some average illustrations. What might not be apparent from all the screenshots is just how much effort the developers actually put into forming a thriving futuristic city. As mentioned in my first post, great lengths were taken to make sure each location was represented with multiple points of view, and various small animations were used to make it all feel alive. There wasn’t as much pixel hunting required in the game as I thought there might be, but since I didn’t know that, I had to try constantly anyway. That wasn’t made easy by the interface or the graphics. As for sound, well I have to be careful not to compare it to the quality found in King’s Quest IV and to a lesser extent Larry 2, since those games were developed and released after Manhunter, but sound is all but absent in Manhunter, with only the occasional PC speaker bleep and blop to speak of. Even the theme song is irritatingly dodgy, so unfortunately the sound quality detracts from the surprisingly enjoyable graphics.
I'm not sure whether the horrible colour design makes this scene more frightening or completely ruins it
Environment and Atmosphere
While I may not have been able to reward the game in the graphics department for the extra effort the creators put into building a thriving, futuristic city, I certainly can in this category. Not only did I get a really strong sense of the environment that everything took place in within the game, I could also feel the nightmarish affects that the alien invasion had enforced on the population. I’ve never been to New York, so I can’t really say how valuable the Murry’s trip to the city prior to making the game were, but from what I can tell they were well worth the effort. The use of the monk outfits was an inspired choice, as was removing all dialogue from any of the human characters, with both aspects giving the scenes an almost surreal atmosphere. However, as with every category so far, there’s unfortunately a negative to discuss. The tone of the game varies wildly throughout, with a horror / sci-fi underbelly constantly fighting against cartoonish / comedic injections that don’t always fit the surroundings. It definitely adds an element of unpredictability to proceedings, but I kind of wish the designers had been confident enough to pick a tone and stick with it.
The game regularly switches between Blade Runner and Tom & Jerry
Dialogue and Acting
How on Earth can I rate a game based on dialogue when it has next to none? The very idea itself should be praised for its uniqueness, regardless of whether it was done for technological restriction reasons or story based ones. At the same time, it would hardly be fair to give the game a high dialogue rating when it includes so little. The only dialogue of note comes from the Murry family themselves, who pop up onscreen fairly regularly (usually each time you die) to either mock you or give you witty hints. While this was at first a bit off-putting, I actually came to enjoy it and eventually to study it for clues that might otherwise have avoided me. The few attempts at poetry and limericks that pop up during the game are best forgotten though! In the end, it just feels right to give the game a 4 for this category, as anything either side just doesn’t sit well with me.
I think making games was a decent career choice for the Murrys!?
Hmmm...I'm a bit sorry to see Manhunter get a sub 50 score, but I can't find any flaws in my reasoning or category scores. It's probably the first case where a game managed to remain entertaining throughout despite significant flaws. What's really interesting is that the one game that Manhunter most resembles on the list so far, in both style and substance, is Tass Times in Tonetown, which got exactly the same score. That feels right given that two years separated their releases. Another interesting thing that this score proves is that Canageek will soon be using his mathematical prowess to rule the CAP system.
"I'm going for 47, as your median score is 50, with some low ranked games dropping it to 47. Given that people seem to find it a below-average game, but not terrible, 47 seems a good bet."
A good bet indeed! 10 more points to Canageek. Given he's also the focus of this week's What's Your Story post, he's becoming quite the celebrity.
Companion Assist Points for Manhunter: New York
It’s time to dish out (and perhaps deduct) some points for those that predicted things and assisted me along the way.
10 points to Canageek for correctly predicting the score
10 points to TBD for explaining the underground maze solution
10 points to Lars-Erik for responding to a Request for Assistance in the correct format
10 points to Ilmari for expanding on Lars-Erik's Request for Assistance, which turned out to be needed by both myself and Charles
5 points to TBD for answering a question about the game's length
10 points to koreagolfer for answering a question regarding the picture puzzles
10 points to Canageek for a new adventure game on Kickstarter
10 points to ailurodragon for picking up on the codes in the spacecraft (an extra 5 included as a welcome to the comment community)
20 points to Charles for being a true companion and playing the game through with me
So, unless I’m mistaken, the following points will now be handed out:
20 Points - Canageek and Charles
15 Points - TBD
10 Points - ailurodragon, Ilmari, koreagolfer and Lars-Erik