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Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Age rating: 18
Release date: October 31, 2008
The release of Manhunt 2 has been an epic tale of controversy, bans, lawsuits and appeals. The story of its troubled road to release is so long and littered with twists that it would take up a whole review just to chronicle it. Needless to say, after the controversy its predecessor caused, Manhunt 2 was always going to have a tough time avoiding the media glare and censors.
The short version of events begins over a year ago with the original finished version of Manhunt 2 being sent to the BBFC. The BBFC went on to reject the game for being too violent. Rockstar created a toned down version of the game, which was still rejected. Rockstar appealed. The BBFC appealed. Rockstar won the appeal. The BBFC gives the toned down version an 18 certificate and finally the game arrives in time for Halloween.
With all the attention firmly centred on Manhunt's legal goings on, it is easy to forget that there is a game here. The original Manhunt divided gamers somewhat. Despite receiving mainly positive reviews there were those who suggested it used violence for violence sake and others who found the game controls - particularly the shooting - rather cumbersome. One thing generally agreed on was that the game was well presented and really nailed the gritty, sleazy world it tried so brutally to achieve.
For those who appreciated the grainy grittiness of the first game, you'll be pleased to know that right from the off Manhunt 2 thrusts gamers into an unpleasant underworld of violent perversion. You play as Daniel Lamb, an inmate in an asylum for the criminally insane. With the help of the mysterious Leo you break out of the asylum and attempt to discover the reason for your constant blackouts and the meaning behind your haunting visions of the past. By the end of the first chapter - having escaped the asylum - you have already seen some shocking sights and performed some horrific stunts. You've seen suicide and strangulation, you've executed guards with syringes and knives, you've beaten inmates to death and you've possibly been urinated on, depending on your ability (or lack thereof) to sneak past inmates. All-in-all it's pretty grim stuff.
While this may shock the majority of middle England, gamers who played the original title will instantly feel at home with the tone and requirements of the game. The gameplay remains almost identical to its predecessor. For the most part you must stay in the shadows to avoid being detected by the various goons that are after you, and with the aid of various weapons and environmental hazards you must stealthily dispatch said goons. In order to do this you must sneak up on the unsuspecting enemy and when in range hold down the A button on the Wii Remote. With the A button held down, a motion prompt will appear at the top of the screen and you must mimic this to perform an execution. The longer you hold down the A button the more gruesome and elaborate the execution will be, often requiring multiple extra thrusts and waggles of the Wii Remote in order to completely obliterate your enemy. If the enemy spots you, you can stay and fight, which is simply a matter of waggling your Remote and Nunchuck, or you can run and hide in a shadows. To make things slightly more difficult, some of your enemies will focus on the shadows and you'll have to hold your Wii Remote completely still in order to avoid detection. The shadow system is slightly ridiculous and unrealistic, but then this isn't Splinter Cell so we'll let Rockstar off.
Hiding and executing makes up the majority of the game, however, guns become a major factor later on, to the point that quite a few chapters can be beaten simply by running and gunning. Aiming with the Wii Remote makes using guns a lot easier than in the original, but there are still annoying auto aim issues and the temptation to rely solely on guns becomes too hard to resist at times; especially when the weak enemy AI doesn’t respond to your attempts to be heard. The frequency with which you’ll find health is another reason why, more often than not, you’ll fight out in the open. It no longer feels like a risk taking on your enemy outside of the shadows, because you know that any damage you do take will be cured the next time you open a crate or a locker. The over emphasis on gun combat really does detract from the tension and makes the game feel rather mundane - especially as the gun play isn't great.
The weak enemy AI must also get a further mention. At times you can be engaged in a gunfight and a different enemy will simply carry on his patrol. Other times the enemy will get stuck running back and forth in a particular spot and no amount of noise will move them. It's poor touches like this that remind you that Manhunt 2 is a PS2 game at heart and wasn't meant for 2008.
For those of you curious about how the Wii Remote is used, it's slightly disappointing. The motion moves are pretty basic and are generally limited to moving the remote to the side or up and down, with the forward jab being the most realistic of the execution manoeuvres. This isn't the fault of the developers, but more the result of the Wii Remote's limitations. It's another example of the game being the victim of a delay. If this had seen the light of day when originally planned, the motion controls may have impressed, but now they have been seen many times before, often in a more innovative manner. Not only does carrying out the motion moves feel unrealistic, but the BBFC cuts have made the executions an odd affair. The screen changes colour and moves about, so you're never 100% sure about what you have just seen. Some of the executions have been tampered with more than others and there are some that see the screen practically black out, although it must be noted that this does unwittingly tie in to the protagonist's struggle with his own inner demons. Despite the BBFC's best efforts, the executions are still pretty brutal, and although they do leave something to the imagination, the sound effects and the brighter executions still give a lasting impression of violence. It may just take you slightly longer to realise it.
The story in Manhunt 2 is something the developers have clearly been busy trying to make more substantial. It is well presented and in some ways reminiscent of the Bourne films, in that the protagonist must uncover his past. It wouldn't make for an original movie, but it is well suited to the video game format and consistantly flows throughout. Rockstar's trademark humour is also present, but at times this holds the game back from being a true psychological horror.
Despite winning the battle to get Manhunt 2 released, Rockstar has in many ways lost the war. The game feels dated, which is understandable considering it was made a couple of years ago. It is unsophisticated and at times rather clumsy compared to the stealth titles we've become used to. The storyline is good and well presented and the main characters are complex, but once again it doesn't quite stand up to the titles we have seen on the next-generation of consoles. The whole BBFC controversy and media attention will likely mean this sells well, but it is the same attention that ends up putting the game on a pedestal that it cannot justify. Fans of the original will still get enjoyment out of it, but for those who were unsure this will do nothing to make them convert.
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