|System: PSP,PS2, Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Rockstar||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Rockstar||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 29, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
Reviewing Manhunt 2 without any pre-conceived ideas fueled by its controversial pre-release buzz, nearly posed a more difficult task than taking on its creepy parade of menacing madmen, sexual deviants, and corrupt cops. I couldn't help but want to dive in, focused intently on the controversy-brewing blood, gore and potentially "Adults Only"-garnering content. Thankfully, after a few chapters--and several execution animations--the rubber-necking novelty wore off, and Manhunt 2 proved it had more to offer than attention-getting shock value.
Lets get the gore factor out of the way first: The ESRB's primary issue with Manhunt 2's content was its execution cut-scenes; these visceral vignettes, lasting several seconds, showcased the brutal and bloody kills of the game's mental patient protagonist Daniel Lamb. These scenes and all there groin-kicking, throat-slashing, skull-crushing grittiness remain intact, albeit with heavy blur filters disguising their most graphic moments. A typical animation might play out with Danny driving a shard of glass into the jugular of a bad guy, but the screen's reddish glare and distortion effects disguise the most brutal details. Still, there's no mistaking what's going on, and you'll discover plenty of gore-soaked goodness if that's what you're looking for. Bone-breaking, breath-gasping, and flesh-tearing audio cues also ensure you needn't leave much to the imagination
The thing is, after performing several of these kills and taking in the guilty-pleasure visuals, you'll probably spend much of the game button-pressing past these animations in favor of moving the story along. The kill cuts are actually a bit too long, and once you've seen most of them--each weapon has three different animations depending how long you hold down the execution button--there's really no need to watch them every time. Some area-specific kills offer variety like crushing someone in a dumpster or taking a sewer cover to their skull, so the game does deliver some kill-crazy variety throughout. But what really kept me following Manhunt 2's bloody killing spree was its engaging story and evocative levels. Mature-rated executions aside, the game serves up an eerie, cinematic vibe that had me recalling David Fincher films such as Seven and Fight Club. The 15-chapter story has its share of rehashed videogame locales--abandoned warehouses, confined corridors--but it's more interesting areas make up for these. There's a super-creepy sex/torture type dungeon right out of the Hostel film franchise and a dilapidated adult movie theater--complete with soft-porn playing on its screen--that really provide the feeling you've entered a truly degenerate, morally ambiguous world.
Manhunt 2's story deepens this immersion further by leading you down a twist-filled path of mental illness, deception, revenge, and human medical experimentation. The story isn't particularly original, and you've likely witnessed something similar in films or other games, but it was an unexpected treat in a title I thought would offer little more than violence for the sake of shock value. The game's chapters interestingly jump around from present to past events, slowly revealing secrets behind Danny's amnesia-stricken situation. Some levels even put you in control of Danny's can-he-be-trusted cohort Leo. The narrative, supported by the under-belly goodness of the levels, is complimented by some nice visual filters, giving you the sense you're watching a beat-up VHS tape. The effect isn't overdone, and it actually enhances the PSP experience, where conversely, I felt it stole something from Manhunt 2's console counterparts. The game's sound design also manages to support the skin-crawling vibe; it's presence is minimal but appropriate. Eerie quiet is occasionally broken by the sounds of your drawn-out death-dealing, and excellent VO, in true Rockstar form, borders between menacing and amusing.