Whether it's the vast, desolate expanses of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, or the dank, dark corridors of the Nostromo in Alien, any entertainment experience seeking to create unease and terror must rely heavily on the visual stimuli of its setting: to provide the subtle visual cues that instil dread, and the sudden shocks that trigger surprise.
The original Manhunt was a nightmarish excursion into a depraved world you quickly wanted to forget. Carcer City was the ultimate backdrop for fear and violence: an abandoned urban wasteland divvied up into turfs by the merciless Carcer City Police and ultra-violent gangs like the Innocentz, Skins, Wardogs, and ruled by a sick man known as The Director. With its shuttered mall, zoo gone wild, inmate run lunatic asylum and macabre mansion, the entire game was a twisted, over the top parody of our world. The fear and terror was palpable -- the environments served as a dark stage to amplify the brutality that you suffered and inflicted.
Manhunt 2 has elevated this distinct brand of urban horror to the realm of the psychological. With its complex, conspiracy-driven story line that hinges on the questionable sanity of Danny Lamb, a conscious decision was made to take this fear and dread out into a broader world. Which mean the game and its environments had to be more expansive and immersive to better reflect Danny Lamb's journey to the heart of his own fractured psyche. This exemplifies Rockstar's continued commitment to making contemporary games that both reflect the world as it is, while amplifying aspects of this world to ensure unique and compelling gaming.
In terms of game design, this means translating these inspired environmental designs that create mood and tell the story into level designs that will perform within the limitations of a particular platform. Load times should never interfere with the seamless, horrifying mood that has been so artfully woven around the player, nor can you feel like you are playing in anything less than a fully realized, living, breathing world. It's a process that has been described as sheer torment - but it's a process which ultimately yields the unforgettably unique and terrifying interactive experience that is Manhunt 2.
Manhunt 2 has gone through many transformations from inception to final game. But the core of the story - and the terror - has always been Danny Lamb's tenuous grasp on reality and his own sanity. What started as a medical lab setting later became the Dixmore Asylum: the natural starting place for Danny's journey of dark self-discovery. The freak electrical storm, the broken elevators, the locked gates and chaos of a bloody riot in progress -- the physical surroundings mirror the confusion and terror that Danny undergoes, and very successfully induces terror and unease in the player from the very start. The level itself serves as an introduction to the game, allowing the player to get a feel for the play mechanics - but in no way does this feel like a trial run. From the start, every move you make could very well be your last.
Deeper down the rabbit hole, Danny breaks into a dark and disturbing S&M club following a lead from his lost past. What appears to be an underground fetish nightclub hides even darker secrets. The original conceptual drawings were incorporated into the final level design, complete with stage for pole dancer in dominatrix leathers. Later level design took the board even further, with a subterranean torture facility where the clientele indulges in their most depraved snuff fantasies, observed and documented from behind a series of two way mirrors. These torture chambers serve as a screening facility for potential Pickman Project candidates The level within a level serves to both deepen the mystery, and heighten the emotion of fear: fear of what Danny is inextricably wrapped up in, and fear of what he himself may have done.
The Honey Pot
Delving deeper into the disturbing mysteries of his life, Danny tracks down a former colleague from The Project and follows her into a brothel, The Honey Pot. The seedy lobby and garish neon does little to hide the sordid sex trade being plied upstairs. The textures of the mouldy rugs, the flickering lights, the creaking wood floors and red colour palette all ooze decay and corruption. Further into the level, they reveal themselves to be a front for the even more sinister activities of the Pickman Project.