Manhunt 2

Platform(s): PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, Wii
Genre: Action
Publisher: Take Two
Developer: Rockstar
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2007 (US), Oct. 31, 2008 (EU)


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PSP Review - 'Manhunt 2'

by Tom Baker on Jan. 10, 2008 @ 2:38 a.m. PST

In Rockstar Games' Manhunt 2, an experiment at a secret research facility has gone catastrophically wrong. Daniel Lamb and Leo Kasper are the only surviving subjects. The Pickman Project will stop at nothing to hunt them down and stop the truth from getting out.

It's been said that simply uttering the words Manhunt into a mirror three times makes you a Satanist, and that Rockstar is in league with Beelzebub. Such is the evil of video games. Even though I would be one of the first to denounce right-wing parental groups and the ever-present Jack Thompson as sensationalist scaremongers, Manhunt 2's debut on the PSP is fairly difficult to defend. Any game that has you slicing and dicing enemies with razor wire and glass shards doesn't promote the idea that video games are harmless forms of entertainment. Even though Rockstar has slightly toned down this iteration by scrambling the screen during the visceral death scenes, it seems as though they've purposefully tried to rile up these opposition groups in order to create publicity for a rather mediocre title.

In Manhunt 2, you play as Danny Lamb, a troubled escapee of a mental asylum. He wants to find out why he was committed, what happened to him while he was there and bring those responsible to justice. Needless to say, the solution to all of these problems involves butchering countless people. The story itself is fairly thin and mainly serves to connect the repetitive sequences where you hide behind a wall, make a noise to distract a guard and then maim him while his back is turned. The characterization of Danny is also puzzling; he's portrayed as a reluctant participant in these events, ultimately egged on by his mysterious companion Leo Kasper (who becomes playable for certain missions), but he still undertakes the gruesome task of killing multiple people without much hesitation. The moral struggle that Rockstar attempts to instill in the antihero protagonist never really emerges, and as such, the story falls on its face a bit.

You wouldn't play this game for the story, but the simple fun of the original Manhunt was generated by the creative methods used to kill the mentally unstable enemies who hunted you at every corner. There was an odd satisfaction in dispatching an enemy with a seemingly random object and then stashing his body in the shadows, and this is also true in Manhunt 2, the lack of variety in gameplay aside. Admittedly, this may get tiresome after a while, and the utter ridiculousness of the sex club level may make some gamers switch off the game right there and then, but for a while, you can relieve a lot of stress by bludgeoning people with a baseball bat.

The main problem starts when the game bizarrely goes down the action path, and Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto roots start to show. The camera and control system already make Danny handle like octopus on roller skates, so introducing pitched gun battles into an already difficult control system leads to frustration and the possible smashing of your PSP. The camera becomes a real problem when you need to keep Danny running in the same direction to evade enemies; changing directions while armed psychopaths are chasing you down is an even more difficult task.

Gameplay is essentially the same here as in the original Manhunt, but since this is the PSP version, you have even less control over the camera angle. The stealth portions play out well, and the seconds before a kill can be excruciatingly tense as you wait for a red arrow to appear, signifying that the enemy knows you're there, and it's time to fight or flee. All of this can be negated by a sudden switch in camera focus that sends your view flying into the wall and makes you completely unaware that your former prey is now grinding your head into the floor.

In recent years, stealth games have begun giving the gamer a larger scope of gameplay, with multiple ways to accomplish objectives based on available items or surrounding terrain. None of this is present in Manhunt 2. I realize it's meant to be one man on the run with only his wits and a plastic bag to help him, but it wouldn't kill Rockstar to mix up the gameplay a little bit. Nearly every situation has a set method for completion, and the game punishes you mercilessly if you deviate from the plan. Until you acquire firearms, Manhunt 2 consists of creating a distraction and killing the guard, or killing the guard as a distraction or any other variation of those two key elements. As long as someone's dead and someone's distracted, you will complete the level.

The controls are also diabolically loose. The fistfights feel poorly choreographed and unnecessarily slow, in what feels like a conscious move by the developers to discourage you from attempting them. There is no sneak button, and consequently, the analog nub on the PSP feels overused and impossible to wrangle when a certain camera angle is needed. Idiotic combinations of other buttons (i.e., Triangle and Circle to look behind you, the shoulder buttons having three different uses) make the controls feel overburdened and complex, especially since the simplicity of the gameplay will only have you using a small subset of these commands.

To its credit, Manhunt 2 returns to glorious form in the methods and weapons used to dispatch enemies. After you complete all three types of kills with a plastic bag, taking out the garbage will never look the same again. Also equally entertaining are the environmental kills that pop up every so often. They give you the unique opportunity to use items or static objects as weapons, such as pushing men into the wheels of a printing press or hanging them from a noose. In the end, though, you're just repeating ad infinitum the same idea of crush, kill and destroy.

Graphically, Manhunt 2 for the PSP mimics the presentation of the of the PS2 version of the game, although it stylistically resembles GTA: Liberty City Stories, which is good news. The levels are fairly atmospheric but unfortunately all feel the same; once you've passed through one corridor with obvious shadowed corners, you'll be treated to dozens more per level, with each area prompting the same tactics and only rarely changing things up. The character models are detailed enough to give some character definition and help you "feel" each kill as you do it. No actions feel frivolous or accidental; even the parts you don't control somehow feel connected to you, and in this way, the game's presentation succeeds in delivering the appropriate atmosphere.

The main complaint with the presentation has to be the bewildering pandering to the various regulatory bodies, with the scrambling of the death scenes. It's almost as if Rockstar took the original screen, put it in a weird photographic negative mode and superimposed random words on top of it. Due to the extent to which you're required to kill in this game, 10 minutes of watching this death screen can leave you with a migraine. It also robs Manhunt 2 of the, ahem, charm that its predecessor had. Even though this is an annoyance at best, the kills are well animated and create a sense of suffering and pain. This may add to the arguments that it desensitizes people, but it honestly makes you consider every action within the game much more carefully.

The audio is a disappointment after the solid effort put forward by the visuals. The sounds are limited to poor voice acting and an uninspired soundtrack. Ambient noise is present but lacks the sufficiently depth to make the experience feel real or remotely scary. The "Ring"-esque sounds of video tape screeches when you enter the kill screen ceases to be scary after the first couple of times and could make you turn off the sound altogether. The voice acting and script offer similar irritations; other mental asylum patients speak like perverts, almost as if to justify the atrocities that await them. It's not every day that you'll hear an insane person in a leather mask talking about his sexual problems before you kill him (it shouldn't be!).

I'm not sure what Rockstar's game design and marketing philosophies were, but Manhunt 2 for the PSP didn't have as much of an impact as did the press coverage leading up to its release. It has slapdash controls and is riddled with gameplay issues, but the game achieves what it sets out to do: be a temporary distraction that's good for relieving a bit of tension. It's a distinctly average title, but if you enjoyed the original Manhunt and need to satisfy your blood lust, you could do a lot worse than Manhunt 2.

Score: 6.0/10

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