Rockstar is no stranger to controversy, they love it: just look at the San Andreas Hot Coffee scandal which no doubt boosted sales of the game due to well-publicised infamy. But at least Grand Theft Auto packed some serious heat. On the other hand, Manhunt 2 is a poorly thought out third-person execute ’em up that thrives on the supposition that most gamers enjoy killing people for the sake of… well, killing people. I’m no Jack Thompson: I do enjoy splattering brains across the floor, but if the lead up to that gruesome event is a chore, I’m simply not going to bother.
You play as Danny Lamb, a troubled man who sees an opportunity to escape from his incarceration in a mental institution and doesn’t hesitate to take it. Shocking memories of his gory past crop up as you ride Manhunt 2‘s circuit which further reinforces the highly atmospheric, oftentimes scary levels that you go through (do wear headphones as the game suggests), but the story is fairly predictable and modicum and clearly not where the focus of the game’s developer was.
Similar to the first Manhunt, Danny is capable of many explicit acts of violence. These executions look wrong (in a good way), and are highly inventive with their choreography. Different weapons yield different sequences (of which there are three per weapon depending on how much you pre-empt) and there are several sweet environmental kills, too – crude dental work anyone? They work just like Sam Fisher’s stealth kills in the latest Splinter Cell games; sneak up behind unsuspecting humans and tap square – it’s as easy as that. However, if they do catch you in their sights before you get to them, they’ll give chase and proceed to beat the crap out of you.
This is where Manhunt 2 really falls apart: the combat. Can you say button mash? That’s right, there’s really no skill whatsoever with regards to exchanging blows. Most of the time you’ll come out the victor, but if your enemies gang up on you, you’re a goner. The most obvious tactic then would be to retreat, but this actually works a little too well: run away a few paces, duck down into the shadows, and you’ll have successfully eluded their bloody hands. Sure, they’ll utter curses such as “hide like a bitch!”, but they’ll soon turn away so that you can promptly step out to gut them. Such stupid AI deserve to die anyway.
The sequence of sneaking and executing repeats over and over again, in different environments, yes, and with different murderous acts, but you are soon desensitised to the mindless violence, and carrying them out isn’t very rewarding. (A patch to remove the flickering, black-and-white censoring is unofficially available, but it doesn’t elevate the game from it’s knee-deep height in the slightest.) The translation to the PSP from home console is fantastic, though, with the thick foreboding ambience masterfully replicated along with some very startling sound effects. But as my colleague will attest to, this really isn’t something to celebrate. As dense as the atmosphere is, the gameplay mechanics are terribly shallow.
Manhunt 2 will still sell well. After all, practically every video gaming parent knows about it, and I’m sure many of them are interested in it just to see what the fuss is about. In a way, the game does live up to the hype: they wanted to ban it for its gratuitous violence and I can see why. Funny how they didn’t just get out and say that the game isn’t worthy to be played; that would’ve made things much easier. As you can probably tell, I’m no stranger to controversy myself, and with this effort to save you from the agony of playing this highly-publicised washout, all I’m hoping for is that no-one will execute me.