I tried to count how many stories we have written about the ongoing saga of Manhunt 2, but gave up after 20. The game has been effectively banned here and abroad by the ratings organizations, edited, and then the edits caused controversy, and then the videos of the edits gave us a headache.
A few days ago Rockstar sent me a nice Halloween gift: my review copies of Manhunt 2. It was kind of amazing to actually hold the game in my hand; I had spent so much time living with the title as a story that I had almost forgotten there would at some point be a playable game involved.
I played the title with some anticipation; I wanted to know what the ratings board had so many issues with, and what thecompany had fought so hard to release. For games to truly grow up we need an adults-only rating that doesn't kill the titles that receive it, and I saw the Manhunt 2 fight as a good time to get that message out. But as I played, I kept thinking, "This is it? This is what the commotion was over?"
It's not that Manhunt 2 is a bad game, and it's certainly a welcome addition to the endless minigame collections of the Wii. It's just that it's a horror movie. This is Saw, this is Hostel, this is an experience that wants to rub your nose in the fact that you're killing killers. The questions the game raises throughout its story as you try to determine who you are and whether or not you're crazy are pretty much the expected ones. While I enjoyed certain aspects of this interactive snuff film—and I did like burying a scythe in the head of one of my pursuers multiple times with a slashing motion of the Wiimote—I can't help but think that it would have been better for the industry if we had been defending something that wanted to do a little more with the violence than rub our faces in it.
The game begins with Daniel Lamb and Leo Kasper breaking out of the Dixmor Asylum, and from that point on they become hunted by The Project, and that's about as far as I'll go. You won't know what is real and what isn't, what you were expected to do, or who you were as you begin to piece together your past, all the while trying to turn the tables on the ruthless killers that are out to make sure your body feeds the maggots.
The game involves much skulking in shadows and picking your time to attack, much like the original Manhunt, and the longer you wait before attempting an execution the more brutal it will be. You use everything from broken shards of glass to guns to kill. Yes, there are kills with guns, and they are much more disturbing than what you do with a syringe. There is something about cold-blooded murder with a handgun that caused me to react with more shock than any of the more creative kills; it felt more real.
Even though the kills feature a smear-lens and a jumpy camera to appease the ESRB, these effects seem to jack up the violence instead of toning it down. You'll hear these terrible noises, wonder what the kill entails, andyou get the quick image of what's going on before hearing the sounds of the final death rattle of your victim. You'll feel like you're trapped inside the broken mind of Daniel, and that's not a comfortable thing. I wonder if unedited, the gamewould have been as effective. After I finished playing each session, I wanted to hug one of the kids and take a long shower.
While the game is primarily played in stealth mode, enemies too easily forget about where you are. If you botch a kill, it's usually easy to run into some nearby dark nook and they'll forget where you are very quickly. Some of the hunters peer into the shadows to see if they can see you, and this forces you to play a minigame where you have to hold the Wiimote and nunchuk perfectly still or they see the "movement." There is a little ball on the screen that shows every tiny twitch in your hand, and these scenes are incredibly tense. Wiimote controls overall work well, with different motions needed to finish the kills, tilting of the nunchuk to peer around corners, and two-fisted fighting. The characters do control like tanks, though, somewhat like the original Resident Evil. The game makes good use of motion controls, even if it takes some practice to get them to register properly in the beginning.
The graphics aren't much to phone home about, but this is the Wii and that's to be expected. What bothered me was that the single chokingsensation of being hunted and killing those after you in increasingly violent and creative ways felt claustophobic after only an hour or so, and while the game makes you feel like someone who has escaped from a mental institution… is that something you want to feel? I don't ask in a "I don't think you can take it" way, I'm merely saying that you had better have a stomach for horror, a resistance to blood, and a very deep love of the darker things in life to gain any kind of enjoyment out of Manhunt 2.
Just because I'm glad people are out there pushing the boundaries with games like this and causing debates over what kind of content belongs in games, that doesn't mean Inecessarily want to play the games that result.
Price: $39.99 Wii, $29.99 PS2, $29.99 PSP
System: Nintendo Wii (reviewed), Sony PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
ESRB Rating: Mature
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