Monday, 18 March 2013

Game 30: Manhunter 2 - The Monks with the Dragon Tattoo

Manhunter Journal Entry 1: "I'm ashamed to say that Phil Cook got away from me! I crashed that damn alien spaceship while flying over San Francisco, allowing him to escape my clutches. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I actually managed to land the out of control craft right on top of another manhunter. What are the chances?! His MAD was incredibly undamaged, so with nothing else to do I have decided to take over the tracker recording he was covering before his death. It sure is an interesting one too, and has led me to two dead bodies already! I’ve got a bunch of clues that don’t mean a lot to me just yet, so all I can do is follow the killer’s footsteps and see if I can make sense of it all. I should be pretty good at this after my experiences in New York! Hopefully it will all lead me back to Phil too, as that villain needs to pay for his crimes!”

These guys took the scenic route to San Francisco

I really did doubt whether I was going to find much entertainment in Manhunter 2. The graphics and sound are clearly inferior to all the LucasArts and Sierra games I’ve played in the last eight or nine months and the introduction left me wondering whether it was merely going to retrace the steps of its predecessor. About five minutes into my first session, I forgot all about those doubts and found myself totally engrossed in figuring out what the hell was going on. Just as with the first game, Manhunter 2 gives very little information to the player, and makes them thoroughly investigate everything in their environment to have any chance of succeeding. I assume the arcade mini-games will be somewhat frustrating, and the all-round interface is definitely clunky to say the least, but I’m genuinely intrigued and desperate to put all the pieces that I’ve collected together.

Phil was destined for villainy with a face like this

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s September 4, 2004, and I’ve just flown out of New York in an alien craft I commandeered to follow the murderer Phil Cook. I’m a Manhunter, forced by the invading Orbs (alien beings in the shape of giant eyes) to track down and eliminate any humans that take part in an underground rebellion. The introduction to the game showed our crafts flying across America and into San Francisco, where my craft crashes (much to the delight of a yellow-teethed Phil). Phil is then seen landing his own craft safely behind the Ferry Building (no, I had no idea what it was before I played the game and am likely to say stupid things about important San Francisco landmarks throughout these posts), and the introduction concludes with me stumbling disorientated out of my irreparable ship into the street.

Phil descends into his underground lair

I was immediately taken to a close-up view of a pair of legs sticking out from beneath my craft. Oops! How unlucky would you have to be! Right, it was time to investigate the scene. I tried to move my cursor over the obvious items on the screen, but while my standard windows cursor moved, the in-game cursor did not! Oh that’s right, the Manhunter series has no effective mouse support on the PC, which is a pain in the ass. Given how critical it is to find every single important piece of evidence on every screen, making the player pixel hunt using the keys with a slow moving cursor is a form of torture. Since I’ve got that whinge out of the way, I’ll try to refrain from venting throughout the game and save it for the final rating post. The two obvious items on this first screen were a MAD (a Manhunter Assignment Device) and an ID card, both of which I picked up.

I bet this guy wishes he didn't choose to wear those socks today! I assume it's a reference to The Wizard of Oz.

The ID card belonged to a manhunter named Peter Brown. You mean I just happened to crash my spaceship on top of a fellow manhunter??!! I couldn’t find anything else on this screen, so I opened up Peter’s MAD and began watching the recorded Tracker. For those of you that don’t know anything about the first game, the Manhunter Assignment Device can be used for two important things. Firstly, you can type in a person’s name and if it’s found in the database, a bunch of information about them will be displayed on the screen. I typed Peter Brown into it, but was strangely told that there was “No one by that name in the city!” The second feature of the MAD is the Tracker, which tracks all the city occupants as they go about their days. Whenever the Orbs believe something untoward is going on, they send through a recorded tracking that displays the movement of certain individuals. It’s a manhunter’s job to follow the path they took and to see what they were up to.

 This scene is lifted directly from the first game.

I clicked the Tracker button on the device and was told that the “Tracker has locked on Target. Location: Bank of Canton, Chinatown.” I then watched as a flashing yellow and red dot moved slowly along the footpath before entering an alley just to the right of the Bank. It then took a sharp turn and seemed to enter the bank through a hidden entrance. Contact was lost with the individual at this point, but then another red flashing dot entered the screen from the north-west. It moved to the entrance to the bank, at which point the original red and yellow dot emerged from the alley and began moving east. The newly arrived red dot quickly went in pursuit and it appeared as though a scuffle took place. After a few seconds, the red dot remained still while the red and yellow dot took off, leaving the screen to the east. The MAD view changed to a bird’s eye view of the city map at this stage, but instead of seeing what the suspect did next, I decided to visit the bank and see if I could figure out what took place there.

I'm not yet sure why the suspect is red and yellow while the victim is just red

This is the way the Manhunter games are played. Watching the tracker doesn’t give you enough information to know what really happened, so the player needs to watch each section clearly and investigate the location in detail, before continuing to watch the tracker and trying to figure out the full picture. I pressed C to close the device, and exited the screen containing the dead manhunter. I satisfied myself that there was nothing else to investigate in the opening street screen, nor were there any other paths that could be taken from it, so I pressed F3 to bring up the city map. I moved my cursor one screen right until I could see a flashing yellow dot on the map. Moving my cursor onto it revealed that it was indeed the Bank of Canton in Chinatown, so I clicked enter to travel there. Locations are only flashing on the map once you have witnessed a suspect visiting them in the MAD, which makes travelling around pretty straight forward (it’s also another good reason not to watch the tracker recordings all the way through before setting out).

This is all seeming very familiar, but not in a bad way

Putting my cursor over the entrance to the bank revealed that it was locked. The tracker had displayed the suspect entering an alley just to the side of it, and I discovered I was able to open a glass door in that vicinity. Inside was a staircase that led down to a room filled with debris. There was a hole in the wall to the right, which I took a closer look at. The tunnel seemed to lead into an office area beyond, and there was a battering ram left aside that I wasn’t able to pick up. I entered the office, and discovered what appeared to be a dead body slumped over a desk. I decided to pixel hunt the rest of the room before investigating the body. The safe was empty, but I was able to pick up a newspaper clipping from the fallen over garbage bin and a note from on top of the desk. The newspaper clipping had the headline “IT LIVES – Scientist creates – pig-monkey mutant” and while I wasn’t able to read the full article, it contained the name Noah G and spoke of a race of superhumans. The note had a Chinese dragon on it and said “Greetings fellow dragons! The R3 is the L1 to R4. – Tad”

A had Deja Vu as soon as I saw this scene

It wasn't hard to figure out why!

None of this answered any questions and instead raised more, so I clicked on the apparent corpse to take a closer look. The man was indeed dead, but despite my intensive pixel hunting, I couldn’t find anything to investigate on the body. Interestingly the door to the room had the name BAT VOMIT on it; at least that’s what I thought initially. After reading the name Tad on the note, I realised the name on the door was probably in reverse and therefore read Tad Timov. It bothered me somewhat though, because the D on the door was not in reverse, meaning it wouldn’t have read correctly from the other side. I did what any decent manhunter would do and put both Tad Timov and Bat Vomit into the MAD, but got nothing back in return. With the room fully investigated, I left the bank and the alley back out onto the street, where I found I could visit another screen off to the left.

Pig-Monkey Mutants!? Aren't there better things to spend your time on?

It’s on this screen that I discovered yet another body, this time lying face down on the pavement. Investigating this body revealed a tattoo of a Chinese dragon on a hand, but nothing more. There was nothing else on this screen and no further paths to explore, so I tried to piece everything together before opening up the MAD once again and watching the suspect’s next moves on the tracker. What did I know so far? The suspect (I can’t yet assume that it’s Phil Cook, although the amount of death suggests it probably is) broke into the Bank of Canton by using a battering ram to make a hole in the wall from an adjoining building. Once inside the suspect killed who I assume is Tad Timov, and stole something from the safe (I can’t know that for sure, but the game made a point of showing that the safe was now empty). As the suspect fled the scene, he appears to have been confronted by a fellow gang member (I’m assuming the dragons represent some sort of gang or group due to the note and the tattoo) that was easily taken care of.

Has no-one in this game heard of a nail file?

It’s at this point that I should state that I’ve been playing through the game for a second time while I write, and have managed to discover two things that I missed the first time through. Firstly, when in the bank, I thought it was extremely odd that I hadn’t been able to find Tad Timov in the MAD database. I was quite certain that was his name despite the oddity in the way the name was written on the door. I opened up the MAD to try again, only to find that my search was once again unsuccessful. I did however notice something strange! The message at the bottom of the screen told me to type “BYE” to exit, but when I typed it I was told there was “No one by that name in the city!” When I then typed “bye”, the device closed down. Could it be that the device simply can’t accept capital letters??!! I typed in “tad timov” instead of “Tad Timov” and was absolutely shocked to find that I was taken to his profile page. Not even half an hour into the game and I’ve found a pretty serious technical issue!

Well I can't say that Tad was particularly good at his job!

Tad’s profile didn’t give me anything particularly useful (except maybe an address?), but I still felt satisfied to have uncovered it. The second thing I uncovered on this second play through occurred when I clicked on the dead man lying on the pavement that had chased down the suspect. I’d expected to see the dragon tattoo on his hand, but instead found myself staring at his mangled upper torso and head. I simply hadn’t realised before that clicking on different parts of the body revealed different close ups! I guess I should have, since the same thing occurred in the first game, but this time there is no real distinction between the two clickable parts. When I put my cursor on the body I got a magnifying glass symbol, and it remained that way when I moved it between the two separate body parts of interest. That didn’t make me think that there might be two separate places I might want to click on! Anyway, it was fortunate that I did because I discovered a broken fang sticking out of a gruesome wound on the corpse’s neck and a laundry receipt with “No. 57” written on it.

What are we dealing with here? Vampires? Surely not Pig-Monkey Mutants?

I was suddenly curious as to whether Tad Timov’s corpse also had separate clickable areas, so I went back inside the bank to find out. It did! Clicking on the hand revealed the same dragon tattoo I’d found on the other man, proving that both men were part of the same gang. I now feel fairly confident that I’ve found all the clues I’m going to get in this first section of Manhunter 2 and am ready to open up the tracker and see where the suspect went next. I’m looking forward to it too, which should tell you how compelling the game is despite the technical flaws that have already raised their heads. There’s something really exciting about following the footsteps of a murderer and trying to figure out who it is and what their motivations might be. Of course I haven’t really solved much yet, so I have no idea how satisfying the puzzle aspect of the game is. I guess I’ll find out soon enough!

Pixel hunting each screen is one thing, but pixel hunting each body?!

Session Time: 0 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 0 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. And... There goes my 10 points. I foolishly bet that you wouldn't find Tad's surname.

    i wonder if Tad was upset that the guy who painted his name did it all in capitals except for one letter.

  2. That was a quick first post following the introduction. I'm feeling a bit more confident in my score guess. Although it's a little early to stay optimistic, I'm glad you're enjoying the game so far.

  3. This all rings a bell. I played quite a bit of MH2 way back when. I think on the MAD, the guy you're actually tracking is surrounded by the yellow square. The red dot is just "someone else."

    This is a MAD "technical" issue and I can't remember if this happens in the first game. I'll ROT13 it, but I wouldn't consider it a spoiler, just something that may not be obvious: Juvyr jngpuvat fbzrguvat cynl bhg ba gur ZNQ, V frrz gb erpnyy gung lbh pna fjvgpu lbhe "gnetrg" (lryybj fdhner) gb fbzrbar ryfr. Va lbhe pnfr, gur bayl bgure thl qvrq, ohg va shgher frtzragf, lbhe gnetrg zvtug vagrenpg jvgu fbzrbar ryfr, gura jnyx njnl. V *guvax* lbh pna ubire bire gur "bgure" thl naq fgneg genpxvat uvz vafgrnq bs lbhe bevtvany thl.

    1. I'm pretty sure there were places in MH1 where you could do that also.

    2. I thought so too, but I was wondering why this blog post asks jul gurer'f n lryybj fdhner nebhaq bar crefba naq abg nabgure.

    3. Maybe the protagonist is suffering from a temporary amnesia caused by the crash?

  4. 13 hours left on a GoG sale: 5 games, 80% off.
    A New Beginning: Final Cut
    Sam and Max Save the World ("Season One")
    Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space ("Season Two")
    Runaway 3: A Twist of Fate

  5. Another game sale: it is on Gamefly, but gives you a Steam copy of the game, so I'm not sure if that counts: The Walking Dead, according to my brother one of the best games ever made:

  6. GEEEEEEEEEEEEE, now this type of game interests me more then most adventure games of the era, except for the absurdest humour.

    Is everyone in robes in San Fran like they were in NY?

    1. Yes, they seem to be. The Orbs appear to have taken over at least all of America.

  7. I'm actually quite surprised to see that you seem to be.. well, -enjoying- this up to this point. There again, you're not even close to through the worst of it, IMO. Or is this just written in an optimistic fashion in my mind? :)

    1. Well so far I have no real reason to be upset at the game. I've played a bit more tonight and while I admit that I'm collecting questions rather than answers, I'm not yet stuck with nothing to do and nowhere to visit.

      It does concern me though that everyone is just waiting for me to hit a brick wall. I'm sure you'll all know when I do! ;)