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? Let's just put all of our cards on the table and be completely honest about the reason that most people have heard of this game. Thanks to the ESRB misadventure, Manhunt 2 has come down from an AO (adults only) rating to your standard M (mature) rating. To do this Rockstar Games had to remove some of the most graphic elements from the game (such as a brutal castration sequence) and put some "stylish" blur effects over the actual stealth kills. I personally have mixed feelings about this, but when it comes right down to it none of these changes would have altered my score any. Manhunt 2 is not fun because of the death kills (even though they are the most satisfying part of the game); it's the atmosphere and story that should keep you playing the game.
But because everybody is going to want to know just how edited this game is, perhaps I should spend a few minutes addressing most people's concerns. There's no getting around the fact that this game has been edited (maybe not neutered, but certainly edited), when you go to perform a kill the game adds a strange filter over the screen that makes it a little harder to see exactly what's going on. Don't get me wrong, you can still make out what is happening, but you will see some static interference, weird red outlines, and some very chaotic camera work. For some people this effect will ruin the experience, but the filter does fit the tone of the game and it never looks as out of place as you might expect going in. Still, it's a shame that Rockstar Games wasn't allowed to release a version that let you choose which way you saw the game, I'm definitely not a fan of the ratings board telling developers what they can and cannot do.
Getting past the extreme amount of violence (which is admittedly difficult to do), Manhunt 2 has a solid control scheme that generally doesn't get in the way. This is not a fast-action kind of game; instead it's a slow plodding experience where you sneak from one shadowy area to another. Because of this the gameplay is understandably slow, but it definitely gets the job done. Pretty much every one of the buttons has a use in this game, and only the two shoulder buttons have more than one application (you can use them to strafe back and forth or if you push them together they will aim your weapon at the closest enemy). There are times when it would be nice to have more control over your character, but you're playing an inmate at an insane asylum that has been off his medication for some time now ... control is a fleeting thing to begin with.
Like the control, the graphics in Manhunt 2 feel a little dated by today's standards. On one hand this game doesn't look any worse than the original Manhunt, but at the same time it certainly doesn't look any better. 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 PSP 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. I ended up playing the entire game with my headphones on, something I almost never do when going through my PSP games.
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.
Manhunt 2 isn't a very good looking game, it hasn't innovated at all since the first game, and there are no scares to be had in this game. But who cares? The game is full of atmosphere, has a compelling story and is more violent than just about anything else on the market. If you enjoyed the first game then you should definitely check this one out, but I must warn you - this game is not for everybody.
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