Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Developer: Rockstar Games
Release Date: October 29, 2007
In 2003, Rockstar released Manhunt, the ultimate video-game manifestation of extreme violence. It garnered much praise and controversy from gamers and the public, and four years later, the sequel turned out to be no different from the controversial standpoint. Initially scheduled for a July release, preview builds of Manhunt 2 contained material that was so graphic that it received an "Adults Only" rating. This basically blacklisted the game among retailers and the three console manufacturers, which forced Rockstar to modify the content until it could achieve a "Mature" rating. Does this "sanitized" version of Manhunt 2 still have what it takes to be worthy of the franchise name?
Manhunt 2 starts out with a mental hospital's electricity malfunctioning, which causes hell to break loose within the facility. You play inmate Danny Lamb, who works with fellow inmate Leo Kasper to escape and rediscover Danny's past. You'll get a chance to play as each character in the game, and although the two may have different personalities, they control in exactly the same manner. Danny is really timid and has many mental breakdowns, whereas Leo is more aggressive and pushes Danny to strive for his freedom. As the game progresses, the plot takes some twists and turns, leading to some conflict between the two protagonists.
Like the original Manhunt, the gameplay is stealth-oriented, and you have the option to run out and kill everyone Rambo-style. There's a radar in the bottom corner of the screen that displays any nearby enemies and weapons. Enemies are displayed as different-colored triangles; yellow indicates the guard is idle, orange is when the guard is suspicious and will investigate your location, and red is when the guard is attacking or pursuing you. Once spotted you can either fight the guard or run away and hide. You'll usually have no problem taking out one guard, but if there are two or more, then you'll more than likely be overwhelmed. The enemy AI isn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box, though. When on the run, you can easily lose your pursuers by hiding in the shadows, even seconds after they've spotted you. As unrealistic as it may be, if you don't move while in the shadows, they won't see you or your silhouette.
When you are forced to engage in combat, most of controls involve simply swinging the Wiimote, since you're mainly swinging weapons such as bats, crowbars and shovels. In unarmed combat, you can use your boxing skills from Wii Sports, where the Wiimote is your right arm and the Nunchuk is your left arm. Guns are undoubtedly the best weapons in the game because not only do they let you attack from a distance, but you can also easily take out multiple foes with instant-kill headshots. Fortunately, the gun controls are like other FPSes on the Wii, where the pointer is used for aiming, and the trigger is used for firing. However, guns are loud and can alert nearby guards of your location, which could foil your stealth operation.
Like its predecessor, Manhunt 2's highlight is the stealth element because of the execution moves. These are basically quiet assassinations that require you to hide in the shadows and sneak up on patrols. On the Wii version of the game, you have to wait for the A button icon to appear when you're near an enemy, and then an action icon will show you in which direction the Wiimote needs to be moved. The longer you hold down the A button, the icon will change colors from white to yellow and then red, each representing a more violent execution. For example, when attacking with the crowbar, a white execution would involve simply clocking your victim in the back of the neck, and a yellow execution is a violent strike to the head. A red execution, on the other hand, means that you hit the victim in the back of the neck, knock him down, and then repeatedly beat him with the crowbar.
While the executions are cool, you can hardly tell what's going on because everything is red and blurry — modifications that Rockstar had to implement in order for the game to obtain its "M" rating, which is disappointing. All executions require a weapon, but there are exceptions, such as environmental executions, which appear as white skulls on the radar; these only work when both you and the victim are at that very spot. You'll use your surroundings as killing devices, such as a manhole lid or a puddle of gasoline that can be set aflame. While the gameplay is fun, it does get repetitive.
A nuisance that appeared often was the camera angle, which does a decent job of following you around, but it gets caught around corners a lot. One thing that really irked me was that whenever I stopped moving — say, to hide in the shadows — the camera would automatically move to the right and proceed to get stuck there, preventing me from moving for a few seconds. To alleviate this, I had to wiggle the Nunchuk stick like crazy. You can't see anyone when this happens, though, and moving around may cause you to surface from your hiding spot and be discovered by the dull, yet persistent, guards.
Hiding in the shadows is important because you don't want to be caught. This is where Manhunt 2 can get scary because you start to get paranoid that everyone in the game is out to kill you. The creepy atmosphere of the game definitely fosters this feeling. Environments look great, even if walking through bloodstained hospital corridors may cause vomiting (nearby enemies will vomit if they witness your murderous handiwork). The character models, on the other hand, aren't all that great. This game looks like it belongs to the last generation of consoles, which isn't too surprising, since it's also available on the PS2.
Despite the character model issues, the creepy environments are complemented with creepy sound effects and an ominous soundtrack. There usually isn't any background music, but you are treated to a host of creepy sounds, with the occasional musical chord for a small scare. There is an instance that takes place in a television broadcasting studio, where one of the sets is a Western theme and you engage in a shoot-out against a group of enemies; during this, a Western showdown tune plays in the background, which is a nice touch. The remainder of the audio element consists of yells, screams or splatter noises whenever you commit an execution. As they search for you, the guards' conversations are entertaining. Rockstar even included references to their other games in these comments, such as, "You can run off to San Andreas, but it won't do you any good." Like other Rockstar games, the cast of voice actors is pretty good and helps bring the game to life.
All in all, Manhunt 2 doesn't quite live up to the hype of its predecessor. It is incredibly violent, but it doesn't have the same effect as the original due to the muted kill sequences. The game ends fairly quickly, and there isn't much incentive to play through it again. Completing the game allows you to revisit the levels and play through a bonus level to see an alternate ending. It's nice that the Wii is getting some more adult games, but the novelty quickly wears off, and you're left committing what you think are brutal murders — although thanks to the shaky camera and hazy images, you can't really tell.
More articles about Manhunt 2