Prior to its release, Manhunt 2 was the subject of much controversy and scrutiny, having received an “Adult’s Only” rating from the ESRB. This taboo rating prompted console manufacturers, retail outlets and even entire countries to ban it from store shelves, well before it saw the light of day. As a result, this version of Manhunt 2 has undergone some minor changes to even allow the game to be released, earning a “Mature” rating and approval from many of those who shunned it. Now, if you’ll notice, I haven’t said anything about the game itself because, if you remove all the controversy, the game is pretty unremarkable. That is, of course, if you ignore all the grisly violence.
Manhunt 2 casts you as Daniel Lamb, a former scientist working on what was known as “The Pickman Project”. Six years later, as a result of an experiment that spiraled out of control, Daniel is a prisoner in the Dixmor Mental asylum and it’s up to you to lead him out of there so he can begin to unravel the mysteries surrounding his troubled past and his long forgotten memories. A freak electrical storm presents you and your partner Leo, who offers guidance as you progress through the game, you begin with a short tutorial on how to best disembowel your opponents with whatever objects you can find scattered throughout the environment.
Manhunt 2 differs from its predecessor in terms of setting and theme, ditching the Running Man-esque theme of the first game but, for some reason, retaining the grainy, washed-out camera filter that (although it can be removed) adds an effect that makes it seem as if you’re watching the action on a television with poor reception or an old VHS tape.
This title sports a darker, more twisted atmosphere and storyline, chronicling Daniel’s descent into madness and his fight against his personal demons that plague him and drove him insane. While the storyline isn’t exactly A-quality material, it’s certainly not bad. I don’t know if this darker theme works better than that of the first Manhunt but it works well enough to keep you playing until the end credits roll (stick around until the credits are over for an added bonus). As you pass through each level, the game practically beats you over the head with its twisted atmosphere with settings such as a psych ward and a bar for sexual deviants, complete with torture chambers in the basement, for those “special” customers.
A certain emphasis is placed on stealth from the very beginning, which follows you through most of the game. Running around in the open is a fool’s errand, one that will bring an abrupt end to your adventuring days time and time again, which creates a sense of fear that keeps you clinging to the shadows and fearing open spaces. New to the series is the inclusion of ambient noise that can be used to mask your footsteps as you close in on your unsuspecting prey such as the loud droning of a generator’s turbines. As with many stealth games, this emphasis on stealth leads to a lot of trial and error as you sneak through the environment, scoping out enemy positions and patrol patterns, attempting to take them down one by one and quickly reloading your last saved checkpoint, should you fail.
Even though there is a hand to hand combat system, you’re not going to want to make much use of it unless you absolutely have to. While combat with a single hunter (your main adversaries) is relatively easy, the instant a second hunter joins the fray, you’ll quickly learn that your only option is to run like hell and try to evade your opponents, hopefully getting them to split up, making them exponentially easier to take down later. Simply put, combat with more than just one hunter is ill-advised, due to a busted melee system. Nearly every uncontested blow will cause your character to stagger backward, off balance. Recovering from said blows against a single opponent isn’t too hard, but when you add a second opponent to the mix, it becomes incredibly difficult, as your second opponent will proceed in smacking you around in the lull between blows, making striking back incredibly tough.
Well, running away and ducking into the shadows is quite easy because the enemy AI in this game is rather dim-witted, to say the least. Oftentimes, a hunter that’s relentlessly pursuing you will seemingly forget about you the instant you round a corner and leave their field of vision by ducking into one of many conveniently placed shadowy areas in which you’re completely hidden from sight. Because of this, the stupidity of the enemy AI often plays right into your hands, as a great deal of Manhunt 2’s gameplay revolves around stealthily eliminating the hunters that stand in your way. As a hunter approaches the dark area you have hidden in, they may trigger a quick time event in which you must quickly press the button or series of buttons prompted on the screen to cause your character to hold his breath and stand perfectly still. Should you fail, the hunter immediately drags you out of hiding but should you pass, the hunter goes on about his business, completely open to a stealthy execution.
What makes this title different from its predecessor is the bevy of new ways to disembowel anyone unlucky enough to cross your path such as environmental executions which involve using the surroundings to your advantage in a number of ways. While the firearm executions are pretty much the standard “sneak up behind an enemy and hold the attack button to pounce” fare you’ve come to expect a number of these environmental executions present themselves with more interesting ways to kill your opponents such as shoving them inside a rusty spike-filled torture chamber to beating them to death in a toilet.
As far as weapons go, there are a few different types all weapons are categorized under. The most commonly found are the weapons that can only be used once, which are self explanatory in execution. Moving up the scale, we have our multiple use weapons such as crowbars and electrified batons. Again, pretty much self explanatory. For the majority of the campaign, these will be your workhorses and you’ll never want to find yourself without a weapon for an extended period of time. Finally, an array of firearms ranging from handguns to assault rifles round out your rather varied selection of weapons.
Eventually, you come across your first mission in which you’re armed with a pistol or one of a few other firearms and suddenly, the entire focus of the game seems to change as the need for stealth is thrown right out of the window. The game’s auto-aim almost seems like overkill at times since it automatically aims for your target’s head once you are within a close enough range. Adding even more to an already gruesomely violent game, a single shot to the head at close range will cause your unfortunate target’s head to explode in a spray of bloody giblets. The back and forth gunplay is helped by a decent cover system which makes getting in range quite easy.
The Manhunt series has gained its notoriety from the aforementioned grisly execution scenes that depict the player’s character killing his enemies in a most bloody, violent and gory fashion. Identical to its predecessor, executions come in three flavors, hasty, violent and gruesome, which directly correlate with how violent an execution scene will be. Stealth once again springs to the forefront, since executions can only be performed on unwary opponents. Once Daniel is in position, holding down the attack button will initiate the execution sequence which starts at white for a hasty kill, yellow for a more violent kill and finally blood red for some of the most gruesome murders the game has to offer. Of course, the level of violence you go for with each kill carries no weight, only serving to appease your inner sadist…sort of.
Due to the original “Adult’s Only” rating the ESRB proudly slapped onto Manhunt 2 before its release, Rockstar was forced to tone down the various execution scenes or allow their virtual murder simulator to suffer a slow and agonizing death at retail. As a result of a few extra weeks in the cooker to make the game less glaringly violent, an incredibly grainy filter has been placed over each execution, effectively obscuring your view of what’s actually taking place, leaving it mostly to your imagination. Having borne witness to an uncensored version of the PSP game, these scenes, while admittedly very violent, aren’t particularly worse than what I’ve seen in other games, including the original. I honestly don’t see why these scenes caused such a mighty uproar but that’s a story for another time.
While Manhunt 2 isn’t a bad game per se, some of its fundamental flaws, namely the frustratingly bad melee combat and borderline brain-dead A.I. drag it down. Among the positives is combat with any firearm, which can be pretty fun and the morbid atmosphere and twisted storyline which make the game interesting to play through. Despite the controversy, which only served to give it a great deal of free advertisements, this game feels utterly average. If you liked the first Manhunt, this may be for you, but the game’s list of negatives hold it back from being a worthy addition for the average PSP owner’s library.