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PLATFORM: PSP, PS2, Wii
ESRB RATING: M for Mature!
PUBLISHER:: Rockstar Games
(Note: This review is based on the PSP version)
It’s funny how things work out.
I was more pissed than anyone upon hearing the news about Manhunt 2‘s gutting by the ESRB and by forces overseas (see here and here). I dug the first a whole helluva lot. It’s a dark, moody game that made me feel dirty- although I’m not sure if that was more because of the absolutely brutal execution kills, or Brian Cox whispering in my ear. He has that effect. But it’s a fun enough game for what it is, even if about 3/4 of the way through falls apart somewhat, when it becomes a shooter with lame-duck controls.
The story this time, such as it is: You’re a man named Daniel Lamb, a doctor who was looking to take care of his wife and kid by subjecting himself to a horrible experiment that turns people into psychopaths. Things didn’t go well, naturally, and he was sent to an insane asylum. One night six years after arriving ther, there’s a freak electrical story that sets you free. Along with your psycho buddy Leo you escape the place, killing everyone as you go, and try to hunt down the people responsible for the experiment.
If you can’t figure out one of the plot twists right from the beginning (as Leo talks to your character despite only showing up in cutscenes), you’re an idiot. They attempted to throw a few big reveals into the game, but they have absolutely no impact. The main problem with the story is that you don’t care that the guy is going through this. He got into it himself, after all. At least in the first game the guy was thrown into a horrible, Running Man-situation, and you had a definite sense of a main goal. Here, you’ll soon be bored of the story of the two guys trying to find out more about the experiment and soon find yourself playing just to finish the damn thing. I know I did.
Someone didn’t pay attention to the response to the first game. No one liked the shooting aspects of Manhunt- no one. Sure, the shotgun was good for some nice closeup kills, but if we wanted a good shooting game we’d go somewhere else. All we wanted from the game was to creep around in the dark and kill burly masked individuals without the threat of actual physical harm or jail.
For those who unaware, the first game garnered a lot of controversy for its execution system. If you crept up on an unawares enemy with a weapon in your hand, you could quickly kill him in all sorts of horrifying ways. The longer you stayed behind him the more brutal the kill was, so you’d go from slitting his throat with a piece of glass to stabbing out his eyes. For the shock value alone it was worth it, and the game lost something near the end when it handed you a gun and forced you out of the shadows into a firefight.
Here, it’s only a few chapters in when you get your first gun, and things quickly go downhill from there.
Not that they weren’t bad from the beginning. Sorry to say this, but the ESRB really fucked this game up. The most brutal kills have been censored, in a very strange way. Remember the Punisher video game, where everything went black and white to hide up the brutal and bloody environmental kills? Remember how cool and stylized they looked? Imagine Manhunt trying to do that, except now imagine that the camera’s being held by the midget from UHF, and that he’s getting kicked in the crotch by Kevin McCarthy while having an epileptic fit. Oh, and imagine that he keeps changing filters on the lens while shooting. And then after filming he takes the tape and makes a vhs dupe, and then a dupe of a dupe, and a dupe of that, and then runs the final tape over with a truck. And then vomits on it and puts it in the game. That’s sorta what the kills in Manhunt 2 look like.
No joke, this is a screenshot of Danny stabbing a guy in the chest.
You can’t see anything, don’t have any idea even of where anything is, and can’t tell what you just did. By the end I was hitting the start button to skip the kill animation, which is unheard of for someone as sociopathic as me. For a game so reliant on the kills (sorry, but it is the main thing going for it) this is unacceptable. Of course, this doesn’t even matter in the long run, because the rest of the game is so average, and boring, that it wouldn’t have meant more than another point or so on this score.
Know what’s really funny, though? You can blast holes straight through people’s heads with firearms. But in the cutscenes? Nope. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks, ESRB, you sure saved those children’s minds.
To be fair, the game does have its moments, such as the level when you’re being pursued by a chopper and an army of rednecks and have to scamper away, but they’re between monotonous scenes of brilliant boredom. Every level follows the same "lure enemies, hide in shadow, get behind them and kill" pattern as the first game.
They did add some new stuff, to mixed effect. One thing is Punisher-style environmental kills, such as beating someone to death with a fire extinguisher Irreversible-style, or strangling them with a phone. There’s also finally firearm executions, which aren’t nearly as fun as the bladed or blunt weapons. They’ve also included breakable lights to create your own pockets of darkness to hide in, which sounds like a great idea, until you find out that you can only break lights that are flickering. There’s not many of them and they’re always in places where you need darkness, so all this serves to do is make more annoying. Why couldn’t they just have made every light breakable and added a night vision scope? It’s the way they went with the rest of the game.
In this game while hiding in the shadows, once in a while when enemies are looking for you (almost always about a foot in front of your face) they’ll throw in a little Simon Says minigame where you have to jam on a certain button or direction so you can stay concealed. It doesn’t serve to do anything but annoy you.
The controls are also not nearly as smooth and responsive as they should be for a stealth game. It
doesn’t help that Rockstar seems to have installed the old GTA3 "aim at everything but the guy shooting at
you" auto-aim system in place. Really fun.
Let’s be honest, here. If we wanted to play a good stealth shooting game, we’d grab Splinter Cell or maybe even Metal Gear if we were feeling silly. We wouldn’t think of Manhunt. We don’t need rifles and uzis and shotguns and crossbows and every other standard shooting weapon, although the crossbow execution is admittedly cool. But there’s no reason for an entire level devoted to sniping. Speaking of that, I’d like to say a personal fuck you to whoever decided to make the controls for the sniper scope so ridiculous. You have to hold down both shoulder buttons to go into the scope mode, and then move the overly sensitive analog stick to aim (which shakes, of course) and hit the square button to shoot. That’s real fun when you’re trying to get a bead on an enemy for more than say, 5 seconds. Sure, there’s an option to change the controls so you only have to hold down one shoulder button, but why can’t it just toggle? Manhunt 2 gave me carpal tunnel.
That’s the main problem with the game. It’s supposed to be Manhunt, we’re supposed to feel hunted down, outnumbered and outgunned, but when you’re running around shooting anything that moves with a machinegun, with 100s of extra rounds in your pocket, you start to wonder what went wrong.
Note- I hear that the Wii version controls better, but when the game’s so lackluster, does it even matter?
The game looks and sounds exactly what it is- a game made for an aging system. Don’t play this one expecting great visuals. It also comes standard with a graphic filter that makes it look grainy as if viewed through a videotape, sorta like Silent Hill 2 or
something. But it makes no sense to the game (it’s not like you’ve got
Cox watching your every move), and just makes the already old-looking
graphics even more blurry and unwatchable. Make sure to turn it off
first thing if you do pick this one up.
The sound design though is pretty amazing. The kills sound brutal as hell as Danny stabs away at his enemies, with some nice, chunky, splattery sounds making it that more intense. Too bad you can’t see any of it.
There’s two different endings depending on if you keep going for the most brutal kills, but I can’t see anyone wanting to play through this again.
All in all, a big, sloppy mess. I still think the series has potential, but they need to leave aside the old systems and start work on a next-gen version. Also, they gotta figure a way out around the dreaded Adults Only rating. It’s looking increasingly like putting it out for the PC is the only viable option at this point.