In the weeks before the high-profile BBFC ban of Manhunt 2, Pro-G were one of the lucky few to play the game. Unlike most of those lambasting the game, I was invited to Rockstar Games' plush London offices to bloody my virtual hands and sit slack jawed as I was introduced to one of the darkest corners of gaming's imagination.
As a warning for squeamish readers, Manhunt 2 is a very adult, gory game, featuring extremes of violence unrivalled by other releases that had previously managed to court more headlines and column inches. In describing this game, there is a necessity to touch on some fairly brutal imagery, so if you are easily disturbed, or looking for a game for a youngster, then check out the rest of the site.
However, if you already know that an interactive medium like the video game is perfect for the most terrifying horror-based entertainment you'll ever know, or just appreciate that an 18-rating can mean 'tackles adult issues' rather than simply 'too nasty for kids', then you should hope the reported ban gets lifted, as Manhunt 2 will likely appeal to avid fans of Nightmare on Elm Street as much as it will disgust Daily Mail readers.
From the outset, the latest from Rockstar gets you doing things with your fingertips that you never imagined you'd be doing. From killing a man with several pen stabs to the face and neck through to removing intestines with pliers, almost every moment of Manhunt 2 is brutal and shocking.
'The plot puts you in the shoes of the game's antihero Danny, who awakes in a high security asylum to find himself throttling a nurse he knows nothing about.'
There's no doubt that this level of violence is sensational, and it certainly veers away from being essential at times, but it is backed up by a plot and script that explores some very adult topics from a very adult standpoint, and like the nastiest horror films or darkest war movies, it's undeniably enjoyable at times.
The plot puts you in the shoes of the game's antihero Danny, who awakes in a high security asylum to find himself throttling a nurse he knows nothing about. Having given over six years of his life to a mysterious research project he cannot remember, Danny's memory and perception have become confused and out of control.
The first level sees you take control of Danny at the moment he releases his grip from the nurse's neck, and leads you through a tutorial-focussed escape from your prison, so you can begin to find out exactly why you have ended up where you are, both physically and mentally.
For those who remember the first game, it will be immediately apparent that a very similar approach to stealth has been implemented in Manhunt 2. It is not like the tight, regimented sneaking of Metal Gear and Splinter Cell, instead allowing for a looser, more improvised type of evasion. You can certainly use all sorts of clever techniques to manipulate your way past guards and enemies, but there isn't quite the same plodding pace here that defines the high-tech stealth titles.
It is still far from frantic though, and Manhunt 2 seems almost always tense, unhurried and deliberately disturbing. That doesn't mean it is totally frag free, and a good chunk of one of the two levels available for the hands-on had a heavy focus on gunplay. Whereas before the trigger-happy sections all came at around two-thirds of the way into Manhunt, and almost superseded the sneaking, this time the two are intermixed throughout the game. At times you will have no access to any firepower, and at others it will seem like a pure third-person-shooter.
The action itself has a heavy focus on the various kills that get a generous and leering cinematic treatment. An intentionally basic melee system is available for the moments when your cover is blown, but in general most of the kills you commit will be from behind with the element of surprise on your side. When behind an enemy, holding the square button down will set an execution meter ticking. Releasing the button immediately will trigger a basic execution, while taking the risk of getting caught by holding your finger down for longer will exact a medium or heavy kill.
In Rockstar's world a basic execution might just involve an angle grinder and a spine, while a heavier attack may result in an intricate attack with a saw, which the in-game camera will capture in gory detail, with a slight sense of slow motion and cutaway shots to capture every moment. The Wii version lets you act out each blow of these executions, which sadly can't be replicated by the PS2, but the action was still shocking and trilling throughout the levels played.
Murders using environmental elements such as telephone cords and toilet cistern lids are even gorier than the very bloody, uncensored standard kills, and are indicated on the level maps so that you can lure enemies to the spot where you will end their lives. The shooting works using a fairly standard control system, with a simple and workable cover system included for hiding and aiming from behind a wall or crate.
Visually, Manhunt 2 on the PS2 falls a little short of the attention to detail in the Wii version, which features dynamic blood splatters and an overall shine and sharpness that is just about missing on the Sony console. However, Rockstar's violent creation is still a very nice looking title by PS2 standards, and appears to push the aging console to places it has rarely been before. Certain levels take place in the form of flashbacks, or see you taking control of another character from the game world, and overall the depth of both plot and gameplay seem comparable to many of the PS2's more admirable titles.
Here is not the place to debate whether games like Manhunt 2 offer catharsis and release, or harvest aggressive intentions. Either way, being violent has rarely been so much fun, and with a couple of simple tweaks to some of the few remaining bugs it looks like Rockstar's answer to American Psycho is going to be one of the last great games on the PS2, if it does see a release. If a copy ever does make it to a shop shelf, the vocal anger from the people who would rather see then game's makers sent to hell has assured its success; but ignoring the hype, and turning a blind eye to the controversy, Manhunt 2 appears to be a very well made video game.
If you want to read how motion controls add to the game, check out our thoughts on the Wii version of Manhunt 2.