Manhunt 2 Review
If you are reading this, it is almost a certainty that you've heard about Rockstar's Manhunt 2. The game was originally slated for a mid-summer release, but due to the most disturbing and violent content ever seen in a video game, the game was rated "Adults Only" by the ESRB. Rockstar took the game and toned down the brutality a bit to achieve a "Mature" rating, which effectively allowed the game to be released rather than banned. If nothing else, the game was successful in opening the debate on whether video games are still viewed as kid's toys by the mainstream. In a fan community that places so much emphasis on the difference between "adult" and "kiddy," the decision not to release Manhunt 2 in its original form proved that gamers, their systems and even the people behind the games are still viewed as children to be marginalized by those in the more mainstream entertainment communities. Think about that the next time you snicker at someone for buying Pokemon while you're purchasing an "M" rated game; to the world at large, the two of you are exactly the same.
I said before that if you are reading this, you've heard of Manhunt 2. I'm equally as sure that you know hype, press and controversy don't automatically make a game good - just look at PS3's Lair. The game was endlessly talked about and highly anticipated for nearly a year before its release. The story changed when people played it. Lair was easily one of the worst games of 2007, if not one of the worst games ever, and the pre-released hype made the disappointment that much worse. With all the controversy surrounding Manhunt 2, the game was destined to be either a great success or hideous disappointment; games with this kind of pre-release discussion, for better or for worse, can never, ever be "just ok." Now that I've played the game, I can honestly say that it is actually pretty fun, but don't kid yourself - without the violence and controversy, Manhunt 2 would be just another third-person stealth action game that was destined to clog up GameStop's used game library, possibly as soon as a couple of weeks after its release date.
Though Manhunt 2 is a sequel to the PS2 game, Manhunt (duh), it stands completely on its own. The first Manhunt put players in charge of a convicted criminal who was placed in an almost-abandoned city. The only people remaining were psychos, killers and a rather unfortunate spin-off of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface character called Piggsy. Your exploits in hunting and being hunted by these crazies were recorded by cameras and broadcast as the world's most sickening television show, no doubt by Fox (When Psychos Go Bananas?). The game was met with mixed reviews but I enjoyed it quite a bit, playing it through at least three times. Manhunt 2 only shares the original's title and basic ideas - not much else. The sequel puts players in charge of an inmate in a mental institution who is set free during a power outage, along with all the other denizens of the hospital. Remember the mental health institution from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? Yeah, this is the exact opposite of that. Instead of Jim Carrey obsessing over football while wearing a tutu, you will encounter wild-eyed nut jobs who can and will do everything in their power to rip you limb from limb. Yikes.
If you were to judge Manhunt 2 based on the pre-release information, you'd probably think the whole thing took place in said institution. It seems like cool idea on paper, but games like Condemned and The Suffering have already beat the "inmate vs. crazies" premise to death. Manhunt 2 wisely strays from the cliché by using the mental hospital location as more of a training level than a complete setting. After your escape, you'll visit quite a few extremely disturbing locales, from an underground bondage club that makes Eli Roth's Hostel look tame to a sinister hospital to a late-in-the-game cat and mouse level set in the suburbs. You'll even spend a few stages in the main characters past. It all adds up to a compelling and well-paced story that despite a few flaws, still has the power to grab a player and not let go.