Manhunter 2: San Francisco
First posted on 01 February 2006. Last updated on 11 August 2009.
About a year after the cult classic Manhunter: New York is released by Sierra On-Line, an even more unusual sequel spawns from the minds of its creators Dave, Barry, and Dee Dee Murray. Manhunter 2: San Francisco continues where the first game has left off. It also manages to correct some of the unforgivable mistakes committed by the previous title.
The story of Manhunter 2: San Francisco is best described as a "To be continued" tale of Manhunter now being continued. At the end of the first game, you, a nameless and faceless character, have successfully piloted an Orb Alliance spacecraft and obliterated the major New York City landmarks that are being used as secret Orb facilities against humans. All this is done with the nefarious villain Phil Cook trying to run you into the ground. Even though a victory has been won for the human resistance, your celebration with your fellow humans is cut short when Phil zaps them into dust. The story ends with your racing off in a stolen spaceship chasing after Phil in order to exact justice.
As the second game begins, you have tracked Phil to the city of San Francisco, during which a midair scuffle knocks you out of the sky. Luckily, your Orb spaceship has landed on a fellow Manhunter, conveniently providing you an apartment and a new MAD terminal to begin your quest (though you think the Orbs may quickly recognize that the MAD terminal has a new user and the apartment has a different occupant).
Manhunter 2: San Francisco is developed just before the introduction of SCI0 (Sierra Creative Interpreter, version 0). This is unfortunate since SCI0 certainly allows more to be done than with the game's own primitive AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine. Otherwise, the production of this game is nearly identical to Manhunter: New York. Control is restricted to the keyboard, sound is restricted to the PC speaker, and the graphics are restricted to doublewide resolution EGA. Fortunately, these limitations do not prevent great games from being made. On the other hand, I believe the designers really deserve better technology than that is available at that time to properly convey the kind of game they have envisioned.
An improvement over Manhunter: New York is the artwork. Even though the artists for the game cannot escape from the crude scenes with lots of ambiguous splotches of color, there is a definite evolution that manages to stretch the tight limits of the 160x120 16-color graphics of AGI. The mounds of gore are still there and, in my opinion, are even gorier than before. The eerie sense of an apocalyptic world still exists through the use of unusual color palettes that have made the previous game unique.
Similar to the previous game, this sequel uses the same combination of keyboard manipulated point and click interface, MAD terminal, and Travel Map (this time being an overhead map of San Francisco, obviously), but with few tiny additions. For example, the number "3" now appears in an icon to indicate that the player is looking at the main character from a third person instead of a first person perspective. The letter "S" now appears on the MAD terminal to indicate an enslaved human as opposed to a free human.
The arcade sequences have made a comeback and are worse than ever. Fortunately, there are less number of them in this sequel, which at least atones for how annoying the existing sequences are. As usual, the save and restore method can be used to work pass these sections, otherwise I doubt the game is as bearable as it is in its current form.
Most puzzles involve searching and pushing buttons. The arrows point to possible paths of interest. The main mission for the player is to figure out who is doing all the killings and the motives behind the crime. Filling the role of a detective makes the game a lot easier to follow, which is an aspect of the gameplay I find enjoyable. Unfortunately, the puzzles are still much too simple and usually have nothing at all to do with inventory items. The previous game plays like a barrage of button pushing and arrow clicking, and this game is no exception. In fact, over half of the inventory by the end of this game consists of hint scrawled papers and keycards which, though are required to win the game, have little to do with testing the player's ability in figuring out how to properly use these items. There is not much debate over how to use a keycard, and if I want to solve a bunch of riddles I play a crossword puzzle instead! As before, the actual inventory puzzles become quite elusive once the player has been trained to think in only buttons and levers.
As a sequel, the graphics show an improvement over its predecessor. The plot, of whatever exists, is also little more interesting to follow. Still, the game suffers from stagnating in an underdeveloped stage that contains so much promise. For example, in the wax museum there are wax displays which disseminate Orb Alliance propaganda, making it appear as if the Orbs are doing the humans a favor and making their lives better. Unfortunately, this great premise does not appear anywhere else. An enrapturing Orwellian theme shows its face in only a brief instant but is never given a chance to grow. If the authors have carried this theme to its full extent throughout the entire game, the player may be rewarded with a much stronger story to follow.
The game either leaves many questions unanswered or gives contradictory answers to the questions raised. Am I trying to track down the serial killer known as Phil or am I trying to rid the planet of the evil Orbs? Yes, Phil is working for the Orbs! If Phil is working for the Orbs, then why have the Orbs recruited me to investigate his murder spree which appears to target members of the human resistance when it is obvious that the Orbs want these rebellious humans dead and my investigation only leads me to find out how to conquer the Orbs like I have done in New York? Apparently, these Orbs can travel through light years of space but they do not know how to dial a telephone! I can not help but wonder why the Orbs in San Francisco never show any recognition of the fact that I have just wiped out their entire base of operations in New York and liberated all the humans there in the process. The plot may have been so much better if a little more effort is made to create a more plausible science fiction scenario. During the game, you discover a group of Asians from San Francisco's Chinatown who belongs to some underground group and who are easily recognizable by the large dragon tattoos discovered inside the palms of its dead members' We also find out that San Francisco is crawling with rat mutants, abominations that are left over from the Orbs' failed dabbling in genetics. Who are the people that knock me out and stuff me in the closet of the laundry? What is the story behind all the green mutants on Alcatraz Island? These ideas see very little life throughout the short span of the game. As with the previous title, every time an interesting character or concept is introduced into the plotline in this sequel there is not enough done to develop it further.
The Manhunter series is often regarded as Sierra On-Line's forgotten adventure series. Similar to the first game in the series, Manhunter 2: San Francisco show some potentials in its delivery, but so much more is needed to develop this game to be considered more than just a worthy peculiarity. The fact that there has not been another sequel in the Manhunter series or another game authored by the Murray team is testament to the potentials lost in this title.