Meet Daniel Lamb. He’s crazy. Insane. Not playing with a full deck. Loco en la cabeza. But hey, can you blame him? He’s been locked up in a corrupt mental institution for God knows how long. Between all the beatings, shocks, and serums, how could anyone not go nuts? However, such things are the least of Danny’s worries; he’s suffering from amnesia as well. It’s not all bad, though. Thanks to a breach in security, he and his pal Leo have escaped. With his memories resurfacing sporadically, ol’ Danny-Boy is back and feeling just peachy. Of course, things would be better if those goons in suits would stop hunting him. Or if Leo would relax. Or if he could just stop killing people…
Old habits die hard.
Needless to say, Danny has a lot of issues. Since you’ll be playing as him throughout Manhunt 2, you’re going to become well acquainted with his fractured mind and his perception of reality. As he wanders around in psychotic stupor, he’ll lead you through the putrid ruins of his past, ranging from his abandoned home, an assassination, a governmental conspiracy, and even the filthiest depths of a fetish-themed slaughterhouse and everything in between. Indeed, there are plenty of risky subjects being addressed here. Unfortunately, the dark themes are pathetically crafted. Danny is clearly playing the role of a Poe-esque unreliable narrator, but he comes off as a timid fellow (when he’s not murdering people, anyway) with no charisma whatsoever. Since his nameless victims have no personalities (other than the occasional threat or swear word) of their own, you won’t feel guilty about crushing their skulls. The only remotely dynamic part of this half-assed story is Leo, who adds little to a highly predictable plot.
But hey, you’re not looking into Manhunt 2 for the story, right? You’re probably just curious as to what the all controversy is about. Considering the amount of graphic violence being portrayed, it’s little wonder why this game needed to be toned down before it could be released on the consoles. Danny can wield several weapons during his quest for sanity, and every one of them can be used to kill. See that baseball bat? There’s a reason why it’s lathered in blood. The sledgehammer makes a wonderful thud when it connects with someone’s face. When heads explode, their poorly rendered brains get spattered along the walls. That’s not even including the unique executions that you can pull off; imagine impaling someone with a giant hook, then hoisting him into the air like a living piñata. How about using some scalpels to pin your victim to a chair, then giving him some dental work with a rotary saw? Or how about shoving someone into the whirring gears of a machine, and hearing him scream in agony as he is crushed? Even if these particularly gruesome scenes are censored due to blurred cameras (the temporary after-effects of which make the gameplay awkward), there’s little chance you’ll miss what’s happening onscreen.
That’s assuming that you’ll actually get the opportunity to do any executions. Doing so requires that you hold down the A Button and slowly walk up behind your target. The longer you linger, the more devastating the result will be. Unfortunately, you’ll be too distracted to enjoy the imagery; since you have to follow a bunch of on-screen control prompts to succeed, you’ll focus more on them than the actual task at hand. The Execution controls are remarkably responsive, but that’s due to the simplicity of the necessary movements. Regardless if you’re swinging a fist or a weapon, you’ll need to make the necessary motions. The only inkling of fine-tuned controls is shown with the guns. You’ll have to hold down a button on the Nunchuck attachment while using the Control Stick to move, the WiiMote to aim, and the B Button to pull the trigger. While this would have been awkward enough as it is, the gunplay controls are slippery and unreliable. Since you have to use the on-screen reticule to turn, Danny will saunter off into an undesirable direction or let his aim waver. Such shortcomings could have been forgivable, but the sheer amount of gunplay needed to beat the game makes it tedious.
Of course, those problems are probably just a way to balance out the difficulty. The supposedly fearsome agents hunting you down are pathetically inept. You could be completely surrounded by enemies, and yet they’ll only hit their mark a fraction of the time. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to reload your gun, take aim with the crappy controls, and administer a headshot. Surprisingly, the AI is more dangerous when they aren’t packing heat; if they’re just working with their fists or simple weapons and see you, you’ll be dead before you can get off a single attack animation. Your success in Manhunt 2 depends on your stealth skills. You’ll have to wait in the shadows or out of sight until you see an opportunity to strike. Much of your strategy will involve your surroundings; your foes can’t hear your footsteps over loud music or heavy machinery, nor can they see well into poorly lit areas. However, that can be attributed to the crappy AI; even if you’re hiding in an obvious spot, your foe will give up the chase and wander off. It’s little inconsistencies like these that make the gameplay seem dull.
It’s not like the gameplay is enthralling to begin with, though. Yes, you’ll be exploring some of the seediest and gut-wrenching areas ever seen in a video game, but everything is portrayed in a bland and dated style. Your enemies, be they suited agents, assassins, or military thugs, are made up of blocky character models and lack facial features. Take the sex club/dungeon, for example. You’ll see stuff that you’d think only a Hostel or Saw movie could get away with. Despite the screams of anguish and the sound of a buzz-saw sending guts splattering onto the concrete floor, the level is remarkably cramped, short, and linear. Sure, there are plenty of shadows to hide in – the lighting effects are terrific – but there’s no heightened sense of fear or tension. Instead of coming off as threatening or foreboding, these areas seem more like a collection of half-assed FPS levels. Of course, that could just be the result of all the glitches that you’ll have to endure. Between the awkwardness of picking up objects, being able to run through objects, or getting trapped inside walls and falling into some inter-dimensional pit of doom, it’s obvious this game needed a little more time in development to get its issues straightened out.
It’s a shame, really. Despite its infamy, Manhunt 2 has little going for it. Yes, the game is utterly violent. You’ll get to see people dying in ways you’d never think possible in a game. However, the blurred executions and motion-based prompts take away much of the thrill. While Danny’s hands are continually covered with fresh coats of blood, he and rest of the cast look like a bunch of Timesplitters rejects. The levels are gruesomely themed, but their simplicity, brevity, and linearity are disappointing. The sheer amount of glitches, questionable controls, laughable AI, and easy stealth mechanics make the game seem like a poor rendition of Splinter Cell. The story has a lot of potential as a psychological drama, but the bland characters and poor writing kill any of its entertainment value. Wii owners, do not be tempted by this game’s supposedly mature content. In terms of quality, Manhunt 2 has little to offer.