It doesn't shock me that Rockstar Games decided to create a sequel to the gory 2003 stealth/horror game. It doesn't surprise me that the developers set out to make a game that is even more twisted and disturbing than the first game. And it certainly doesn't surprise me that this sequel has become a lightning rod for controversy. What does surprise me is where I'm playing this over-the-top, ultra-violent game full of brutal murders, sexual diversions and non-stop four letter words. This is the kind of thing I would expect from the PlayStation or Xbox, but I'm playing this on the Nintendo Wii. I'm not sure what to make of that.
Despite a few notable exceptions, Nintendo consoles are generally regarded as a kid-friendly game system. As a first party developer Nintendo has focused most of their attention on games that appeal to all ages, and for the most part third party companies have followed suit. Apparently when it came to the Wii Nintendo wanted to shake some of that stereotype, because they shocked everybody by giving ridiculously violent action game, Manhunt 2, the green light.
But don't get too excited, because Manhunt 2 may be violent, gruesome and made specifically for adults ... but that doesn't keep it from being a disappointing Wii game. Fans of the original game will no doubt continue to love this continuation; however some may wonder why the series hasn't evolved much and why the look and feel of the game is so dated. There's still a fun game to be had in Manhunt 2, but Rockstar's track record is better than this.
In Manhunt 2 you play Daniel Lamb, a Dixmor patient who manages to escape his confinement thanks to his "friend," Leo. Together the two character set out to not only escape the hospital's personal goons, but also to uncover the secrets of something called "The Project." Throughout this lengthy adventure you will be given hints about the man you used to be, what happened to your family, who Leo is, where the two of you have gone and ultimately why you ended up in the Dixmor Hospital for the Criminally Insane. While none of this is especially scary, it does tell an interesting story full of twists, turns and a ton of ultra-violence.
Even though the game may have a stronger narrative than the original game, in practice this is pretty much the same old game we played four years ago. The game's lack of any real innovation is certainly something the critics can use against the game, but if it wasn't like the first game was the most innovative game on the block. Like your top grossing Hollywood horror movie, Manhunt was more about style and mood more than gameplay and substance. If you are one of those people who didn't like the first game then I can guarantee that you won't like this game, but if did get into the horror aspects of the original then you might enjoy this significantly less scary sequel.
If you didn't play the original Manhunt then here's a quick refresher course. In Manhunt you play a deranged man who is being hounded by that pesky voice in their ear (in this case it's your "friend" Leo). In short the object of the game is to get from one place to another without being detected. But since there are guards, federal agents, evil doctors, and policemen patrolling the area, getting from one place to another unnoticed is easier said than done. In most action games all you need to do is grab your trusty gun and run around killing enemies, but since you just broke out of the insane asylum, you find yourself completely weapon-less. And don't even think about rushing in and taking them all on in a fist fight, this isn't Streets of Rage or Final Fight.
Thankfully there are objects lying all around the level that you can use to kill those guards patrolling the area. All you need to do is hide in the shadows and sneak up behind your enemy and perform a death move. Performing these death moves is actually pretty easy, when your enemy's back is turned you will need to be close to them and hold down the "A" button. The longer you hold that button the more gruesome the stealth kill will be. For example, you can just walk up and push the button quickly, while that will certainly kill them it won't be as graphic as if you held it down until the marker was either yellow or red. I won't lie to you, it's the stealth kills that get the most attention, I wouldn't be surprised if most of the people who bought this game picked it up exclusively to see Daniel Lamb kill people in gross and sadistic ways.
This Nintendo Wii version adds a motion-sensing element to the game. The game still plays like its PSP and PlayStation 2 counterparts, but now you will be able to use the Wii's remote to perform the stealth kills. In practice this is really more of a gimmick than anything, basically when you get into a kill situation the game tells you a direction to move the control while your virtual character does unthinkable things on the screen. The motions the game tells you to make roughly translate to how you would use each of the weapons, so expect to make stabbing, punching and hitting motions. This added element of interactivity is fun, but it doesn't really add to the gameplay like I was hoping it would. These motions are fun to perform once or twice, but when you're constantly having to do them it gets kind of annoying.
The good news is that there are tons of weapons and every single one of them (with the possible exception of the fire arms) a number of animations and specific motions. If you played the first game then you'll probably recognize a lot of the weapons, including the crowbar, shovel, handsaw, flashlight, pen, and even a plastic bag. And believe me, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's no shortage of weapons to use to kill your enemies. Well, actually, there IS a shortage of weapons (the items are placed few and far between), but you know what I mean.
The story is told over fifteen levels, which should take you around 12 to 15 hours to play through. Perhaps the most shocking thing for me was not the graphic murder sequences, but rather the fact that very little of the game actually takes place in the mental hospital. Perhaps it has something to do with the advertisements that came out for the game, but I halfway expected that the game would largely take place in the Dixmor Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Instead the intro level (which doubles as a training level) takes place in that location and the rest is out in the "real" world. This is actually kind of a relief, since I can see how playing most of the game in that dreary hospital might make me go insane. Not that the real world is any less dreary, but it's nice to see a variety of different locations that move the story along.
At its best Manhunt 2's locations are a perfect metaphor for the chaos and perversion that is Daniel's mind. One of the best levels involves you breaking into a nightclub that just so happens to have rooms set up for patrons who want to get their rocks off by killing and mutilating innocent victims. If that sounds familiar then it should, because what I described is basically the Eli Roth movie Hostel. Other inspired locations include a TV studio and a porno theater (which is showing a movie that is far more extreme than anything in that San Andreas "Hot Coffee" mod). Unfortunately not all of the levels are as consistent as the ones I described; there are a number of levels that feel phoned in (especially towards the end).
But what about that eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room? Clearly the reason this game is getting so much attention is because of the way over-the-top nature of the stealth kills. I won't lie to you, Manhunt's stealth kills are absolutely savage, and they will make even the most hardened horror fan squeamish. There are plenty of body parts being chopped off, tons of shots of heads being flattened by different objects, non-stop knifings and a move with a saw that you just have to see to believe. Or, at least, there would be if you could see any of it. Like the PSP and PlayStation 2 versions, this Nintendo Wii port features a heavy filter over the murder sequences to protect your precious eyes.
What surprised me is how much more you could see in the other two versions of this game. For some reason this Wii version feels slightly more toned down than the game on the two Sony platforms. Each of the stealth kills is heavily masked so half the time you won't have a clue what's going on. To be fair, you do still get the idea of what's going on, but you definitely can't feel the impact.
Getting past the extreme amount of violence (which is admittedly difficult to do), Manhunt 2 has some strange control choices for this Wii version of the game. The problem I can't running into was that the Wii's remote just didn't feel like it was the right control to use on a game like this. Ignoring the motion-sensing stealth kills for a moment, the rest of the controls don't work as well as their PlayStation 2 cousin. It's especially hard to survey your surroundings by rotating the camera, and I'm not a big fan of the way they used the nunchuk's motion control ability. Most of the problems I encountered with the Wii's controls could be easily overcome, but it doesn't change the fact that I would rather play this type of game with a regular game pad.
Like the control, the graphics in Manhunt 2 feel a little dated by today's standards. This Wii version of the game is definitely the best looking, but at the end of the day that's not saying a whole lot. Of course, I'm not really sure that how the game looks is really all that important to the actual effect. After all, this is the game that has these weird interference lines moving up over the screen at all times (giving off the impression that's it's a crummy old VHS tape or part of a surveillance video). The graphics get the job done, but don't expect this to compete with some of the better looking Wii games on the market.
While the graphics may not impress, the game's audio certainly will. Manhunt 2 doesn't have a lot of music, but the understated soundtrack definitely gets you in the mood to kill. Better still are the sound effects, especially when it comes to you walking across different surfaces and interacting with the background. I also enjoyed the voice acting, which sounds like it came straight out of one of those Saw movies. One could certainly argue that the dialog is campy and there are a few too many four-letter words, but that seems to be the vibe they are going for so I can't fault them for having a successful script.
The truth is that you probably don't need a two-thousand word review to tell you whether or not Manhunt 2 is your thing, you should already know if the game is your cup of tea. If you enjoyed the original game and don't mind the non-stop gruesome killings, then this game is right up your alley. If you don't care for the "torture porn" genre of movie making and get a bit squeamish at the idea of sneaking up behind enemies and sticking a pen in their neck, then chances are you should avoid this game at all costs. But then again, if you are the type of person that doesn't like that ultra-violent nature of the Manhunt series then you probably didn't read this review. If you did manage to make it to the end of this review then I suggest you check it out, you're clearly the kind of sadistic gamer that will enjoy cutting somebody's head off and using it to get into a private club.
While this is hardly the best version of Manhunt 2 on the market, it does make me wonder if we might start to see some of Rockstar's bigger (and better) games on the Nintendo Wii. Manhunt 2 is a good game for it is, but the Wii just doesn't feel like the perfect fit for such a gruesome action game.