Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Game 20: Manhunter 1 - Final Rating

Well this should be interesting. I genuinely don't have much idea where the PISSED rating for Manhunter will end up. It's very easy to pick the game apart on many levels, and yet at the end of the day, I enjoyed it! I'll just do what I normally do and see what happens...

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.
Rating: 6

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.
Rating: 3

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.
Rating: 5

The lack of dialogue meant every action had to be accompanied by something visual

Sound and Graphics
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.
Rating: 4

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.
Rating: 6

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.
Rating: 4

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


  1. Thanks for the points! It was my pleasure really. I always wanted to try these old games, and I'm confident that I wouldn't have made it to the end of MH had it not been for the incentive this blog provides. :-)

    I hope you didn't mind my somewhat lengthy summaries at the end of each day... with most games -Shadowgate in particular comes to mind- there's the ever-present risk of accidentally spoiling my playthrough while reading your entries, so some careful pacing is required on my part. Manhunter provided an almost perfectly natural "checkpoint" structure so I thought it was cool for comparing notes on the fly ;-)

    I agree with basically everything you've written about the game and I also wish it had broken the 50-points barrier. I'm really looking forward to the sequel now. And speaking of sequels, I never played PQ2 either so I'll be hopping aboard for it too!

    1. I don't mind at all! In fact, I find it really comforting knowing that someone else is going through the same challenges and having the same fun that I'm having.

      It won't always be as easy to make sure we stay in sync, but as games become more segmented (as in you can't reach a location unless you have everything you need and can't return), that will become less of a problem.

      See you in Lytton, California!

  2. I find myself pondering what's the best part about your blog; comparing golden memories with your experiences or seeing what the games I haven't played are like.

    I'm considering joining you for the next game that I haven't played yet myself. That'll be Psycho I guess. I'll see if I can scrounge it up somewhere and get it working, so I'm prepared. :)

    1. I was going to join Trickster for Psycho as well, then I read a review. I'm sorry to have voted yes for this now. About the only positive thing to say about it is that it's a short game, probably deserving of only a single post.

      If nothing else, I'll definitely join in on Quest for Glory.

    2. You all voted for it. The least you can do is subject yourself to it too! ;)

    3. I fired up Psycho last night. I'm eager now to see where Trickster will get stuck. There are some obtuse things about this game. I'll make more of an effort to beat it after you get through PQ2.

  3. I was curious if you have any intentions of playing the secret world? Just curious. I read it has a puzzle based approach and figured it might be like an online adventure game.

    1. an MMO adventure game even possible? There does seem to be a lot of clue based puzzles in it, but there's also a lot of combat and role playing stats. I don't think it could possibly be considered a true adventure game and so the answer will have to be no.

      At least for this blog!

    2. What about that Myst Online MMO?

    3. Yeah I would not consider it a game for this blog.. or even a real adventure game.. but as someone who likes puzzling out things and the fact it has some sort of "adventure" type spirit, I was just curious if you were going to try it personally.

  4. I don't know that its fair to take points off for the lack of mouse support. Very few PCs had mice back then. I know we didn't get our first mouse until we weren't able to hit the buttons in the time machine in Space Quest 4 without one.

    1. My understanding is the game has mouse support, but it's limited.

    2. Just to clarify this, as it's a good point, I'm not criticising the game for not having mouse support. I'm criticising it for having numerous aspects to it that really need mouse support to be done effectively.

      In short...if you're going to remove the parser, then the player must be given a responsive way to explore the environment. Pixel hunting with the keyboard just isn't very fun!

  5. Your blog took a little longer to catch up on than rpgconsoler but it's worth it. New poster found u guys from addict. Made me hit up to try my hand at games that drove me nuts as a kid. Admire the work you're doing for the love of it.

    1. Welcome StringerBell! The more the merrier around here. It's amazing how much easier games are now that we're all grown up with life experience behind us. Puzzles that seemed impossible as a kid are now straight forward. I hope you stick around and use your long repressed memories to help me get past the ones that aren't!

  6. I think the past few posts made me realize that maybe I didn't finish Manhunter. The entire journey was a blank for me starting around the part where you found the corpse pictured above. Maybe I didn't finish it. I do remember finishing the 2nd one, so I'm curious to see if you hit any parts that I just don't remember anymore.

    Police Quest II? Played the heck out of that one many times. Lots of ways to screw yourself by not doing something far previously.

    1. That last thing soured me for awhile on Sierra games. Happened in KQ2 I think, and I didn't play another until PQ2. I went back later but still I'm glad that evolved out of games as the industry matured.

  7. Just found this blog a few days ago after searching for "Orat."

    The posts I have read so far (I have few more months to get through) have been really great reading so I'm looking forward to being fully caught up.

    I finished Manhunter on an IBM PCJr probably shortly after it was released in 1988. I enjoyed seeing screens and reading character names I hadn't thought about in (wow I'm old!) 24 years.

    I'm sure that I was able to use an IBM analog joystick (these were supported on all early Sierra games) and this may have made control much better than using only a keyboard.

    Also, the PCJr and Tandy 1000 had superior sound capabilities over the standard IBM PC beeper. The PCJr RGB monitor had a decent speaker with a volume control. I recall the sound for the early Sierra games to be excellent for the times. I think The Trickster missed out on some better (3-channels vs. 1 channel) music and sound effects when he played the Sierra AGI titles. You can hear these today by configuring DOSBox to emulate a PCJr. I don't think anyone has brought this up before, but then I haven't read all of the Sierra AGI game posts yet.

    1. Oh wow, finally read this post. Cool, I actually guessed it. I'm glad I picked that answer; I did the statistical analysis, then changed my answer about 4 times before finally hitting post. Of course, now I'm going to have to export everything into Excel and do my work before each new game.

      How many points to force you to play a game not on Wikipedia OR Mobygames again? Do I have enough yet?

    2. Oh, I must say, this game was by far the most interesting in terms of plot, even if the games aren't quite to a point where the plot itself is actually interesting.

  8. Note: There was a Saturday Crapshoot on Manhunter: New York:

  9. Very surprised by your opinion on the graphics, which in my opinion is the BEST quality of the Manhunter series! They are excellent, within the limits of the AGI engine, and the color palette is just awesome even by todfay's standard. It really sets a dreary and otherwordly mood. The basic plot and premise is also quite good, certainly original, while the puzzles and the control scheme seem just awful.