Rockstar North's first game after Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is billed as an "urban horror" title that has players being hunted for the sole entertainment of a wealthy madman. Following a storyline that draws similarities from such films as The Warriors, Hard Target, and The Running Man, Manhunt casts players in the role of James Earl Cash, a man unwittingly snatched from death row to participate in a twisted game of survival. As in the developer's previous two outings on PlayStation 2, players find themselves exploring a seedy, dark city from a third-person perspective, but that's where the similarities end. The locales, which include sewers, a prison, shopping mall, factory, junkyard, and more, are all abandoned and in various states of decay.
Gangs with such names as The Smileys, The Hoods, The Skins, and The Innocents are being paid to rub out James Earl Cash, preferably in as gruesome a manner as possible, while being filmed from a series of hidden closed-circuit cameras littered throughout each locale. In order to stay alive, Cash must carefully stay out of view and make as little sound as possible. As in titles like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, hiding in shadows is a key element of the game, where players can avoid detection simply by kneeling behind trash cans, boxes, and other objects within the environment. Cash can also peek around corners and throw items such as bricks, glass, and more to distract enemies.
Sound also plays an important role in Manhunt. An onscreen indicator measures the decibel level of each action players make, whether it's running, walking, firing a gun, or smashing a window. If the character is too loud, gang members will quickly track him down and make life more difficult. Fortunately for players, the sound of enemies is also tracked via radar, which helps isolate threats based on their movement; once they stop making noise, however, players are on their own. Each gang employs different tactics to snuff out players: some will wait in the shadows, while others use heavy artillery. Players can fight back with hand-to-hand moves, guns, or perform stealth kills using such items as meat cleavers, plastic bags, and hammers to slice, suffocate, and bludgeon enemies.