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Critical Reception: Rockstar Games'  Manhunt 2

Critical Reception: Rockstar Games' Manhunt 2

October 31, 2007 | By Danny Cowan

October 31, 2007 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Manhunt 2, Rockstar's controversial stealth-action sequel that critics say is "every bit as grim and brutal as the first," though some may find it "not nearly as memorable or enjoyable."

Manhunt 2 finally saw U.S. release earlier this week, having previously being delayed due to its violent content. This violence was determined to be explicit enough to warrant an AO rating by the ESRB, making the title unreleasable on all major platforms and unsellable at several retailers. After seeing a number of required changes in order to reduce its ESRB rating to an M, the Nintendo Wii version of Manhunt 2 arrives on store shelves to a Metacritic-averaged score of 70 out of 100.

Matt Helgeson at Game Informer feels that Manhunt 2 is worthy of a score of 7.75 out of 10, assuring series fans that the cuts in content do little to negatively affect gameplay. "I’ve been curious to see what Rockstar had in store for us with Manhunt 2, even more so after the game was delayed and re-cut after it received the dreaded “Adults Only” rating from the ESRB," he begins. "If you’re worried that this altered, now M-rated version of the game has somehow adulterated the explicit violence that is Manhunt’s calling card, rest easy. Manhunt 2 is every bit as grim and brutal as the first."

"Unfortunately," Helgeson continues, "it’s not nearly as gripping, and, more worryingly, I’m not sure if it still has anything to say about gaming’s culture of violence."

Helgeson explains that Manhunt 2's protagonist is mostly to blame for this shift in tone. "For the most part, it’s an interesting story, but it doesn’t pack the queasy punch that the first did," he writes. "Whereas Manhunt thrust you into the role of a cold-blooded killer, Daniel is essentially a good man forced into violence by circumstances " in other words, like most other video game characters."

In addition, Manhunt 2's gameplay "oscillates between brilliant and frustrating on a minute-by-minute basis," according to Helgeson. "You can definitely see some improvements, like the cool environmental executions, which let you use found objects like toilets, gas cans, and phones in certain instances."

"The enemy AI and control are both wildly erratic," Helgeson adds, "and I’ll never understand Rockstar’s stubborn resistance to giving players camera control on the right analog stick."

Despite its flaws, though, Helgeson asserts that Manhunt 2 will still be a worthy trek for series fans. "For those of us that loved the original, Manhunt 2 is a trip that’s worth taking, even if it’s not nearly as memorable or enjoyable," he concludes. "While I applaud the series for its uncompromising take on morality and violence, it’s hard not to notice that recent titles like Mass Effect and BioShock have covered similar territory in a more mature " and much more enjoyable " fashion."

GameSpy's Gerald Villoria assigns Manhunt 2 a rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars, noting that one's enjoyment of the title will depend greatly upon how much violent content one can endure. "It's kill or be killed in Manhunt 2," he says, "and the fun, as it were, is in cutting as bloody a swath through the game's antagonists as you can stomach."

"Manhunt 2 is, in a nutshell, a fairly interesting story vehicle that provides the player with innumerable opportunities to slaughter human beings in the most creative of ways," Villoria explains. "Weaponizing regular objects and household goods is part of the allure for those who don't mind setting their morality to the side for a few hours. Did you know there are three ways with which you can use a plastic bag to kill someone?"

Unlike Game Informer's Matt Helgeson, however, Villoria feels that Manhunt 2 suffers greatly from the removal of much of its previously gory content. "The biggest issue that fans of the original Manhunt will have with Manhunt 2 is the way that Rockstar toned down the violence in the game in order to appease the ESRB's ratings board," he warns. "The game's trademark executions have been altered significantly, to the point where the player loses nearly all recognition of the events taking place onscreen."

"To wit, Manhunt 2 is stuck in a Catch-22," Villoria writes in conclusion. "This material isn't just inappropriate for children, [...] but the game's execution as a bland third-person stealth adventure with sub-par combat and annoyingly stylized death sequences hamstrings what could have been a sleeper hit for mature audiences."

Scott Sharkey at 1UP.com finds little to like in Manhunt 2 in comparison to its flawed but intriguing prequel, scoring it at 4 out of 10. "The original Manhunt was a disturbing game. Not so much because of all the time spent stabbing guys in the eye with broken glass, but because of its premise and atmosphere," Sharkey notes. "The game had an ugly soul, but it had one."

"Manhunt 2, on the other hand, doesn't really come close to nailing what made the original...well, not exactly great, but at least tolerable and a little thought-provoking," Sharkey continues. "Manhunt 2's escaped-mental-patient story is more dull than upsetting. The unreliable narrator is so taken for granted that any big plot revelations and uncertainty of identity are expected before you even start."

Sharkey observes that this lack of depth extends to Manhunt 2's graphics and gameplay as well. "The game looks even worse than its predecessor. The locations and characters are just weirdly generic in comparison," he writes. In addition, kill scenes in the Wii version require timed events that "draw your eye away from the action, especially when your icons are stuck off in the corner."

"Coupled with the censorship, you're not experiencing much but a forced seizure and some crunching noises," Sharkey summarizes. "Really, the game warrants a 4 because it's technically playable and, despite its best efforts, probably won't plunge the industry into a period of navel-gazing and political sanction. Everything else about it is largely forgettable."

With such a large divide between review scores, it's debatable as to whether Manhunt 2 will appeal even to fans of the original title. Critics note that its inconsistent gameplay and censored content might be an immediate turnoff for many interested players. However, other reviewers feel that the experience is decent enough to warrant a playthrough, and if its shortcomings can be forgiven, Manhunt 2 could be a worthwhile purchase.


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