Picking up immediately where Manhunter: New York left off, Manhunter 2: San Francisco has the player crash-landing their stolen ship in the City by the Bay after trying unsuccessfully to keep up with enigmatic serial killer Phil. Left with no alternatives, the player assumes the identity of a local Manhunter and solves more crimes for the alien Orbs while searching for Phil and working for the local human resistance.
After crash landing and killing another manhunter, your first course of action is to pick up the “Manhunter Assignment Device” (MAD) that has been conveniently dropped in plain sight (as opposed to having also been crushed by the spaceship you just crash landed). Just like the first game, the MAD is used each day to give you an outline of the movement of your targets.
If there are multiple targets on the screen you can select them individually and trace their movements to identify additional locations within the city to investigate. Additional locations are unlocked via the MAD as you (correctly) identify suspects by searching for their names. The formula is pretty straightforward in most cases as you’ll be given a partial name (usually the first name and an initial), and later on some clue will give you the last name to fill in the blank.\
If after identifying someone in the MAD they have an address listed, this will be a new location you can travel to.
The travel mechanic in this game also mirrors that of the first game in that you get a map of San Francisco broken up into various areas with certain locations accessible for selection. Selecting any of these allows your manhunter to travel to this location to investigate, and as each day progresses new locations will be added. Since you have to backtrack occasionally, all locations remain available throughout the game once they’ve been discovered.
The game is split up into 3 days, which each require you to visit every possible area, interact with every character, pick up every piece of “evidence” possible and discover every possible suspect. Once you’ve done this you’ll get an “ORB override” on your MAD where you’ll be prompted to identify the suspects you were tracking via the MAD during that day.
This … can be frustrating, as if you’ve missed anything, the ORB override will never come and you’ll just find yourself endlessly backtracking to try and find what you may have missed.
Progress through each location is done by either investigating a static scene, or by playing through an arcade sequence (a minigame). These games can be extremely challenging, so thankfully Sierra gives you a difficulty toggle. I would highly recommend trying these at the “Normal” and “Difficult” settings first just to challenge yourself, then when you invariably fail and want to throw this game out the window, drop it down to “Easy”.
When investigating a scene it’s pretty straightforward to identify the areas you can interact with, so you basically just need to move your cursor around until it turns into a “hand” or a “magnifying glass”. If you have the option to pick something up, do it as you’ll either need it for the day to end, or you may need it for an item combination puzzle that will make no sense.
At any point in the game you can view your inventory by pressing TAB. If you select any of the items in your inventory you can inspect that entry for more information … or if you happen to be on a specific scene, selecting an inventory item may use that item. This is not obvious, and can lead to a lot of frustration if you’re not trying to use every inventory item on every screen “just in case”.
For example, when you get to the doctor’s house on Day 2 and find the urine sample, instead of being able to just pick it up you’ll actually need to pour it into a flask. On this screen when you hover over the vial it just gives you an informational prompt that it’s a “urine sample”, so it’s really not obvious that you can interact with it. It’s also not obvious that you should put anything in the flask you got on Day 1 … so this puzzle is a huge pain in the ass.
Actually, “pain in the ass” is a good summary of this game. None of the arcade sequences are fun. The best description I can give is that they’re just tedious, and though the game is nice enough to let you restart if you die - you have to restart from the very beginning of the sequence. Some of these sequences are mazes which require a ridiculous degree of accuracy to navigate, so MAKE SURE YOU SAVE OFTEN … as you WILL die often.
The art style is quite good, and you wouldn’t even know this is an AGI game. To be fair it was the last AGI title released, so the developers knew how to squeeze every bit of quality out of the engine at this point, but the engine is still dated for a title released in 1989. The sound effects are pretty basic, and though there is music on occasion, it’s PC speaker music so there’s not a lot of depth or variety.
In the final section of the game you’re treated to a combination of a minigame + a maze. I continue to hate mazes in games, especially when you couple a maze with “touching the walls causes instant death”. This section is even worse than the awful underwater level in the NES version of TMNT. Thankfully you can save your game at any point, so you’ll likely be saving 4-5 times per screen here as you very, very slowly progress through the maze.
There are A LOT of things I really enjoyed about Manhunter when I played the original. Those elements definitely carried over to the sequel, but the sum of those parts didn’t really translate to an enjoyable experience. The story was pretty weak, and though you get a bit more backstory as to the ORBs, the whole thing with Phil and “the viewer” and him become the leader of the rat people is just weird and slapped together.
Progress through the game isn’t smooth and it’s easy to get stuck. Death waits for you around literally every corner, and though the “Game Over” screens tend to be funny and allow you to resume right before you screwed up, they occur far too frequently.
I’d love to play another game that uses some of these gameplay elements, but updated with some quality of life improvements and a better story to tie them all together.
I also don’t think I’d recommend this title to anyone at this point and likely won’t be returning to it again. If you want to check this out, maybe pick Manhunter: New York up instead as it was a bit tighter of a game.
|Game||Manhunter 2: San Francisco|
|Systems||DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Mac OS|
See here for a refresher on how we’re scoring these games.