Manhunt 2 (Video Game)
Developed by Rockstar Games
Published by Rockstar Games
Sometimes when it comes to reviewing video games, there’s an urge to sit down and write the review before you’ve finished playing the game often never going back and completing the title. For me, when I’m short of time and am struggling to find time to play a game I’m reviewing, that urge increases with time. Unlike films, most people that play games don’t finish them… goes the rationalization. Unlike films most games rarely hinge on how satisfying the ending is.
And, if the first few hours are terrible, even if it gets great shortly after the point you stop playing at, only someone who has the pressure of finishing the game in order to write a review is likely to see any further into the game.
So what does this all have to do with Manhunt 2? Am I saying I didn’t finish it? That the first few hours were terrible?
No. I’m not. But Manhunt 2 is an interesting game, and I am framing my review this way for a reason.
The gameplay, usually the crucial thing in any title, isn’t bad… but you wouldn’t want to sit and play this title based on its gameplay alone. It’s the exact sort of title that under normal circumstances I’d never have finished.
The graphics, aren’t bad either… but again they’re certainly nothing to write home about (though I will have to admit to being impressed by how close the PSP version looked to the PS2 and Wii versions of the game).
It’s incredibly difficult to put a score on a title like Manhunt 2. On pretty much every metric you usually use to review a game, presentation, sound, graphics, gameplay, it’s average and yet if there is one thing that Manhunt 2 isn’t, it’s average.
Everyone reading this review knows by now that Manhunt 2 is one of the most controversial games ever released. Frankly, that’s bullshit. In its current form Manhunt 2 is less violent than a lot of games on the market. Granted, that wasn’t the intention of the developers, and they were unquestionably restrained in that regard (and in a way that directly hurts the gameplay, at least on the Wii), but what we are presented with is not more violent than any other game, nor is its content more morally reprehensible than any other game.
The only thing offensive to me is that my home country of Britain is one of the ones refusing to release even this censored version.
Here’s what Manhunt 2 is. It’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer the game. It isn’t glorifying violence… it is asking you to walk a few hours in the mind of a sick person. Of a person who doesn’t have a complete grasp on reality. It isn’t going to make you want to be a psychopath, but it does give you a glimpse at what it might be like to see the world in the disturbing and twisted way that a serial killer might.
Again, is it the best possible execution of that concept? No it isn’t… but right now it’s the only interactive execution of that concept. As much as people laugh at the notion that something like Manhunt 2 is anything other than a sick exercise in killing, or that any attempt at justifying that sick killing with a story is just an excuse, there really is something valid going on here.
You start the game escaping from a mental asylum, egged on in your escape and killing by someone that appears to be another patient. You don’t remember why you were there… and trying to figure that out, while continuing to evade capture drives the plot. Are you really the deranged psychopath you’re accused of being, and if you aren’t, why are you killing all these people so horribly? Is it because you’re being pressured into it by someone who appears to be your friend or is there much more too it? Are you as a player absolved of guilt on the occasions you play as the character who is unremorseful about killing?
Interactivity puts a whole new spin on trying to get inside the mind of a clinical psychopath, as many great horror movies have… and it really adds a new layer to it. You don’t know what is and isn’t real. You don’t know who to trust. You don’t know if the people you think are trying to kill you, that you say you’re just killing in defense, are really trying to kill you.
A lot of the people you kill, seem like bad people, and they probably were, but as the game plays on, and you saunter through strip joints and brothels and god knows what else, you do find yourself questioning if these people deserve to die horribly just because they’re trying to catch you or because they’re some kind of perverted sexual deviant themselves.
Playing the game made me feel guilty and yet I wanted to keep playing. That to me isn’t something to criticize the game for. When a movie contains a scene that makes me feel voyeuristic, that is meant to make me feel voyeuristic or uncomfortable, that isn’t something that makes me not want to watch it.
The game is at times seemingly going for sensationalism, but that doesn’t completely undermine it. What did undermine one of the games vaunted features however, is the censorship.
On PS2 and PSP it isn’t difficult to tell what is going on when you successfully pull off one of the games stealth executions. These are performed by sneaking up undetected behind an enemy, and the longer you can hold the attack button down before releasing, and remaining undetected, the more brutal the kill will be.
The game is rewarding you for careful gameplay with sick brutal imagery. Its one of the things that has made it so controversial but for me it’s the urge to see how far the game will go. Occasionally you’ll be left with remorse. You see the first time you pull off one of the games more brutal executions you don’t know how brutal its going to be. Heck, there were some that I only did once because I couldn’t be comfortable with what was playing out in front of me.
But here’s the clincher. On the PS2 and PSP that is exactly what happens. Just like in any film, you sit and watch, with no interactive part in the kill. When it ends you are given back control.
The Wii version was supposed to keep you more involved, by having you perform gestures that lined up with what was going on, on the screen. You wouldn’t need to make exaggerated stabbing motions as many news reports might lead you to believe, but obviously you would be more involved, and there would be a physicality to the kills.
So why am I inferring there isn’t? Well the blurring of the kills on the Wii version, perhaps in fear of the backlash of making the executions interactive, is much more aggressive (for want of a better word).
In other words, while you are making motions that correspond with the horrible things Daniel Lamb (the games main character) is doing, you can’t actually tell what he’s doing. So in many cases you’ll wave the Wiimote as instructed, and see something blurry happen and get a meaty sound effect without having any idea of what the hell that motion you made was supposed to correspond to.
In other words, not only is the game overly sanitized on the Wii, but the very concept of motion controls matching up with the executions is ruined, making the movements for the most part arbitrary. It’s no coincidence that on the occasions that you have a better idea of what is going on, that the kills are more affecting… and it’s a terrible shame that this had to happen in order to get the game on shelves.
It isn’t just a matter of not being able to see a gory execution, it’s a distancing game mechanic, that takes something that was meant to make you feel more immersed in experiencing what it’s like to be inside Daniel Lambs mind, and making it have the complete opposite effect since you can’t tell what Daniel is doing and you’re reminded that you’re just making a scripted series of gestures, rather than feeling like you’re performing a heinous act.
Further talking about controls, the melee combat on the Wii definitely feels a lot better than it does on PS2, with the raw physicality of having to swing your fists to punch, or swing a baseball bat really adding the sense of unease and urgency that such open confrontations bring about them. Nothing like some actual physical activity to inject a little extra adrenalin into a moment that needs it.
Unfortunately the shooting controls on the Wii are kind of bungled. Why they didn’t follow the example of existing successful games I’m not sure… but something just feels off about them, and having to hold both buttons on the nunchuck AND push the thumbstick in a direction if you want to aim up or down is a real pain. That pushing up or down just angles your view either 45 degrees up or 45 degrees down no matter how far you push on the thumbstick is another annoyance that I can’t really understand.
So that shooting comes off a bit better on the PSP and PS2, when other games have demonstrated that aiming with the Wiimote can beat anything on a pad when handled correctly is another disappointment for the Wii version. The game does look and run better on the Wii, and the motion controls are good in a way, but don’t buy it not expecting it to have drawbacks in other areas.
Three and a half out of five is the score I’ve finally settled on after a lot of indecision… but I can’t give it that score without a disclaimer. Manhunt 2 is a great concept. Manhunt 2 is not like any other game I’ve played and I really hope it sells well so that other games dare to mine the same kind of subject matter.
Manhunt 2 is not a great game, but it is absolutely a unique experience that I would strongly recommend to anyone reading this. It isn’t just controversial for the sake of it (even though at times it is obviously playing for controversy), and it is doing something with interactive media that couldn’t really be done as well in a movie. It could also be done a lot better in interactive media than it has been done here, but I have to respect the bravery of the effort.
Give this game a try if you are looking for something different, for something that’s going to lead you questioning the morality of killing virtual people inside a video game because its on those grounds that Manhunt 2 doesn’t disappoint.
3 1/2 out of 5