Manhunter is set in 2004 a couple of years after the orb invasion of Earth that must have passed me by at the time. These orbs are aliens resembling giant floating eyeballs who have enslaved the population, implanted them with tracking chips and forced them all to dress in brown hooded cloaks. A select few humans get chosen to be Manhunters who work as detectives for the Orbs and the game starts with my first day on the job.
My first case involves tracking down whoever caused an explosion at the Bellevue hospital. I do this with the aid of my CAD laptop with which I can track the movements of people involved in the crime. These tracking devices apparently didn’t include identifiers which is something of an oversight but at least I’m in a job. As may have been seen in part 1, the hospital contains the corpse of another Manhunter being eaten up by lots of baby orbs. If I look up the name on the toe-tag up on my laptop it tells me he has been transferred to Chicago…
I have to work a case a day over 4 days discovering a human resistance movement along the way. Using their plan, I can ultimately defeat the orbs in New York. The way this story is told can be rather cryptic being almost entirely without dialog (maybe speech has also been banned?). The only time anything ever speaks in the whole game is when the orb gives you a mission at the start of each day.
The Manhunter series plays like no other AGI game. It’s nearly all in 1st person mode and as previously mentioned has no parser. There is still an inventory which can be brought up with the tab key. Select an item in here and you can attempt to use it in whatever situation you are in. For someone who had only just discovered Sierra games, the lack of a parser may have been part of the appeal. This stripped down approach is essentially point and click except without any pointing or clicking and takes the guess the word side of text parsers away.
There are also a stack of little mini arcade games dotted throughout. I wouldn’t say any of them are great in their own right but they don’t outstay their welcome. In this first one here, I have to prove myself by throwing knives between this guys fingers. Miss and I’ll be thrown out of the bar I’m in and unable to get the vital clue hidden on the arcade machine. Like so much of the game, why there is a clue on the arcade machine in the first place is less than clear. In this particular arcade game I have to work through a maze avoiding the walls and doing so will show me a pattern which is supposed to lead me to knock down some keypie dolls in a certain order when I get to Coney Island later in the game. You will need to be using a good deal of trial and error and lateral thinking to get through these puzzles.
Knocking down the kewpie dolls and showing a medallion I found earlier earns me a data card containing a short ditty. You want to take serious note of the name Phil here. From day two on, most of the suspects I’m chasing start turning up dead with the perpetrator showing up on the tracking system on my laptop but I’m unable to select him and follow him around. As I’ll ultimately learn it’s the mysterious Phil to blame and begs the question why I’m even on the case if the orbs have this guy killing everyone before I get chance to find them.
One of the suspects on day 2 is led by Phil through Central Park which has now been turned into a minefield. I have to be very careful to follow the exact route shown on my laptop if I don’t want my body parts spread around central park. Phil has already done in my suspect by the time I arrive but he has scrawled a clue onto a rock with his blood (“COO …”) which is supposed to lead me to the fact that the guy doing this is called Phil Cook, in turn meaning I can look him up in my laptop and find his home address. This is where I got hopelessly stuck back in the 80’s and requires a serious leap of logic. There is another clue of sorts when I enter the park where the Murry’s warn me to “not get my goose cooked” but no real reason to tie this to his name. I seriously doubt many people figured this out – it’s frankly a terrible puzzle but did sell me a hint book which may have been the point.
Skipping ahead to day 4, I learn that humans are being ground down for meat in true Soylent Green style. To put a stop to this I get to steal an orb spaceship and go around bombing the 4 orb centres of operation around New York.
Manage this and there is a brief celebration, cut short when Phil vaporizes everyone except me. I fly off after him and into Manhunter 2 which moved over to San Francisco. This sequel never made it onto the IIGS so I’ll have to move back to PC again if I ever blog through that one. Manhunter 2 had even more of a cliffhanger ending only to never get the sequel I so badly wanted. It’s about time we had a Manhunter 3 Kickstarter if you ask me.
So how well does the game hold up these days? It’s arguably a little more playable that your usual AGI title since there is no walking a little character around a screen or text parser. The puzzles can be seriously obtuse to counterbalance this. It’s hard for me to judge just how obtuse when I know the solution from nearly 30 years back but there is no way I’d have been solving all of these without a walkthrough. The sections tracking people on the laptop are quite neat and it’s a good setup for a game. Manhunter 2 would take more advantage of it.
The mixture of horror and sci-fi + the big colourful graphics and arcade sections won me over as a kid and as AGI games go it’s something of a looker. The graphics are all very strange and quirky with little touches of humour throughout. I’d have been very interested to see what an SCI Manhunter 3 could have been like but am unlikely to ever see one now. The storyline is all a little muddled and random if I’m honest but you do gradually learn about the world you are in. More exposition would certainly have helped but you are left to work it all out for yourself. The world of Manhunter is all certainly strange but it’s still one of my favourite AGI games. I’ve far too much nostalgia for my opinion to count for much here but it’s got to be worth a go for adventure game fans.
As for playing it on the IIGS, it generally added to the experience but PC gamers weren’t missing out on all that much. You aren’t going to be overly impressed with the new soundtrack but it does have more to offer than the original. The horribly slow IIGS processor does reduce the pace when loading screens. This is especially painful when navigating the 3D maze on day 1. It also can’t keep up on the laptop tracking screens if lots of people are in a room with the framerate dropping to about 1 FPS. This is the exception rather than the rule and Manhunter runs at a reasonable speed 95% of the time. The IIGS is probably the best version to play but maybe whack your emulator speed up a bit or see if you can find one of those overpriced Transwarp cards to get some more speed.