Manhunt 2 Review
Posted by Anthony Dickens
We know you've heard of it, we know what people think of it - but most of them haven't played it, we have.
Manhunt 2, released in the UK exactly one year after the original US release. The infamous game has made headlines everywhere and is often used as a tool for politicians to empower censorship concerns.
We thought it only fair to review this game, not only to see what all the fuss is about but also critic its merits simply as a video game.
In Manhunt 2 you play as Daniel "Danny" Lamb who awakens in the middle of a prison riot at the Dixmor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. During the violent chaos fellow inmates are overpowering their guards in an attempt to break free, as Danny you must follow a new found friend, Leo, and escape from the Prison.
After a number of gruesome kills you manage to fight your way out of the Asylum and into the main game, Leo starts to feed you with information about the reason you found yourself behind bars, explaining that you were used as a test subject for an experiment drug, Cortexa, but ended up with you becoming insane. Known only as the "Pickmen" project it's up to you to avoid your ensuing police manhunt and uncover the truth behind your past.
For those that have never played Manhunt 2 or its predecessor the best way to describe it is a third person survival stealth game, it's all about sneaking around, being undetected before swooping in for the kill, very similar to ninja games, such as Tenchu.
It's certainly not an all-out run-around-and-kill-everything style game, it holds a lot of tension and atmosphere as you sneak around waiting to strike, much more like a Resident Evil game or perhaps the more stealthy first person shooters.
When in the game you control your character with the nunchuck stick, you can either slowly creep, walk or run around. The faster your movement, the more noise you make ergo the more likely you are to get spotted. The on-screen radar system both shows you how much noise you are making and what enemies lurk nearby and how aware/alert they are. Yellow means normal, orange alert and red means they've spotted/hurt you.
In order to perform an execution you must lurk the shadows and sneak up behind an unsuspecting enemy, when close behind them an execution is triggered by pressing and holding the button, the longer you can hold it the more elaborate the execution. Once triggered you must copy the on-screen icons to carry out the kill. The icons are simple gestures with the Wiimote such as left, right, up, down etc. You don't really "simulate" the kill, although they could be compared to stabbing motions, they basically just act as triggers to make other things happen on screen.
If an enemy spots you you'll enter normal hand to hand brawling, similar to other third person games. You have basic kick/punch moves, if your carrying a weapon you'll also use that to defeat them more easily. Obviously in this mode the enemies will fight back and this is how you can actually die.
Carrying around different weapons are also integral to the gameplay, selecting them for different attacks is purely cosmetic but the weapons do hold other key elements, for example in a seedy club you must show a "familiar" face to the bouncer, cue the axe - get it?
Later on in the game you start to pick up guns which actually transforms later levels into psydo a first person shooter, strafing around shooting people in the head isn't that far away from other popular games. Sadly this actually moves away from the original stealthy identity of the first part of the game.
The context surrounding this game does warrant parental concern, the moment the game loads it's apparent that this game is aimed firmly at adults, instantly your subject to swearing, sexual content, mindless violence and gore - deserving of its 18 rating, parents really shouldn't let their children play this game, period.
The narrative is extremely dark, essentially your playing a schizophrenic murderer who lurks in the shadows waiting for the perfect opportunity to execute an enemy in an often glorified way.
Manhunt's emphasis on executions, the perfect kill, is probably what the ratings boards were so worried about. Executions have three levels of complexity and get more elaborate the higher the difficultly.
There are also a number of small things that make this game especially dark, for example the difficultly level is sane or insane, in order for enemies not to get suspicious you must pick up dead bodies and move them into the shadows, out of the way. Lurking around in the shadows does make you wonder how best to attack your prey, leaving your mind to perhaps 'think like a killer'.
Graphically the game is okay for Wii, its pretty clear that it's originally a PS2 game, it's not the best looking game on Wii and doesn't compare to anything on Xbox 360 or PS3, it's not going to get people thinking it looks 'real'.
Even with the mediocre graphics Rockstar have achieved a good sense of tension and fear throughout the game with decent music and appropriate sound. The game is presented like a movie or tv series, Rockstar almost achieve it, giving that 'interactive movie' feel to the game. The story rolls out nicely with plenty of cut scenes over the 15 available episodes, with most levels being split between 3 or 4 checkpoints.
Recent movies however are far worse in terms of violence, gore and relentless killing. Manhunt 2 has its 'execution scenes' heavily blurred with all sorts of motion and colour effects obscuring the view. Movies from series such as Saw and Hostel have far more graphic violence and probably even less emotional justification behind each kill, the ratings boards really need to have a hard look at themselves when banning video games that aren't even on a par with some of these movies.
It might be extremely dark in subject matter, but Manhunt 2 was refreshingly better than what I expected. Of course it's not free from problems, it has a 'PS2' last-gen feel, flawed basic combat controls and an 'shooter' element that simply detracts from what I found most interesting about the game; the stealth. The criticism for its lack of moral code is partly justified, although there is nothing worse here than in a lot of modern gore films. Certainly not suitable for children, some mature adults may find Manhunt a half decent stealthy action game with a relatively interesting plot.