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Monday November 5, 2007 3:50 pm

Manhunt 2 Review: The Good, The Bad and The Grisly

Manhunt 2 for Nintendo WiiAlong with the release of “” and the unfortunate postponement of “GTA IV”, one of the biggest video game stories of the year is the saga of ’s “Manhunt 2”.  First, it was banned in England due to its graphic violence. Then it was given the kiss-of-death “Adults Only” rating here in the US by the ESRB. Sony and Nintendo do not release games with that rating—and they’re not carried by Blockbuster and Walmart. Undaunted, Rockstar made some revisions, and eventually the game received a “Mature” rating.

So now “Manhunt 2” is available in stores for Nintendo , Playstation 2 and PSP. Having followed the saga, and very curious about the game’s content (plus I’m a huge fan of previous Rockstar games), I made it my business to rent the Wii version and play it. Having never played the original “Manhunt”—and not being a fan of stealth games—I had little idea what to expect. After completing the tutorial of Wiimote and Nunchuk moves (which includes some very funny, if grisly, sound effects), I dove in.

The Plot
The beginning of the game takes place in Dixmor Hospital for the Criminally Insane. After an electrical failure, the inmates are literally taking over the asylum. You control the actions of the aptly-named Danny Lamb, a docile patient with an impaired memory. He is reluctant to kill but knows he must in order to escape and survive…and piece together exactly what has happened to him. He is aided throughout his harrowing journey by fellow inmate Leo, who often instructs him (and therefore you) what to do. Danny has occasional flashbacks, which help him realize he was part of a mysterious medical experiment called “The Project”. But what is “The Project”? How deep was Danny involved in it? And what exactly has it done to him? These are just some of the questions that drive “Manhunt 2”.

Playing “Manhunt 2” on the Nintendo Wii is a highly entertaining experience. There are two levels of difficulty – Sane and Insane (I played it safe and chose “Sane”). The controls for the most part are excellent: the game employs both the Wiimote and Nunchuk to full effect. Basically, Danny’s moves mimic your real-life moves. Thrust or swing the Wiimote to the right and Danny delivers a right punch. Move or swing the Nunchuk left and Danny’s axe moves accordingly. You get the idea. Only once did I experience “glitchiness”, otherwise gameplay was very smooth. However, I do have two major complaints: the first is that the A button is used for far too many functions, which can seriously ruin your progress. The A button is not only used for the highly publicized “executions” (more on that later), but to crawl, climb, pick up a corpse and drop it. Too often I would press A to pull off a stealth execution – only to accidentally pick up a nearby corpse instead. This not only ruins a well-timed move, but renders Danny completely vulnerable to his foe, and can occasionally lead to his death. And that’s just one example of how the A button negatively affects gameplay. Another annoyance – and it’s a doozy – is that it is impossible to avoid or skip past cutscenes. So every time you’re killed and must start an episode over, be prepared to endure its cutscene over and over in its entirety.

Manhunt 2 review

Graphics and Sound
If you’re a Wii owner, you probably know by now that graphics are not the console’s strong suit, and “Manhunt 2” is no exception. The graphics resemble early PS2, to the point of occasional amusement. However, when it comes to creating atmosphere, “Manhunt 2” excels. From the start the game has a dark, dank, often grayish veneer. This gives the game a creepy, desolate, depraved feel that works perfectly with the seedy locales, characters and plot. This is complemented by the uber-creepy sound effects and soundtrack. Dripping water, unexpected screams, glass breaking in the distance. These are just some of the intense sound effects that, combined with the eerie soundtrack (or just plain silence), send chills and create heightened suspense throughout the game. The voice acting is excellent, from the quiver in Danny’s cadence to Leo’s Ray Liotta-esque growl. What’s fun – and this should not come as a surprise to Rockstar fans – is that the throwaway dialogue uttered by the “hunters” are often hilarious, albeit grisly. My favorite? “I can’t believe I left her in the oven.”

“Executions” and the M Rating
All the fuss about this game and its rating involve the death moves, here called “executions”. Basically, while hiding in shadows, you lure a “hunter” towards you by making sounds or throwing something. When his back is to you, creep up to him and hold the A button. Icons in the upper left hand corner indicate how to move the Wiimote and Nunchuk.  As you perform each move, Danny begins to murder his victim with a weapon. The longer you hold the A button while doing this, the more gruesome the murder. On the Wii, the result is a huge disappointment. Why? Because during these executions, the screen becomes extremely jittery, grainy, considerably darker (or sometimes red), so that you can barely tell what is going on, if at all (this, along with deleting a castration scene is how Rockstar attained the M rating). Plus, you must pay attention to the series of icons to perform each move, which momentarily takes your eyes off the action you barely see in the first place. So when the execution is over and the screen returns to normal, there’s a dead body in front of you and a weapon in your hand—but too often you’re not quite sure how you killed him. It’s a very frustrating, disjointed experience. Reportedly, these same scenes are somewhat clearer and slightly more coherent on the and PS2 versions.

By the way, when it comes to the “non-execution” violence—for instance walking up to a corpse and decapitating its head (and yes, it’s for a good reason)—it’s not particularly gruesome, and on par with violence you’ve seen in other video games.

Overall, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed playing “Manhunt 2”, having never been one for stealth games. And I will definitely seek out “Manhunt” for PS2.  The game‘s unsettling plot leaves you asking questions as you slowly uncover Danny’s past, and it’s all creepily engrossing and suspenseful – while sprinkled with doses of much-needed black humor. Plus, the game utilizes the Wiimote and Nunchuk in a surprisingly realistic way. If you’re more interested in gameplay mechanics over violence and shock value, I recommend the highly-interactive Wii version. But if you’re more into experiencing why this game received an M rating, word on the street is you’re better off trying the PSP or PS2 versions.



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