Hackers Resurrect ‘Manhunt 2’s Gory Glory

Hackers were able to make their copies of the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation 2 (PS2) versions of the game “Manhunt 2” even more violent less than one day after the game was released Oct. 31.

The discovery could put Take-Two Interactive and its subsidiary Rockstar Games on the defensive once again, handling another round of bad press about “Manhunt 2.”

The unauthorized hack does not fully restore the content deemed unacceptable in the “Adults Only” rated version of “Manhunt 2” (“MH2”) which was shunned by major platforms in June in the U.S., and banned outright in the U.K. and Ireland. The operation does restore content that was obfuscated by Rockstar with the approval of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in North America.

“What parents, and indeed all consumers, need to be aware of is that computer software and hardware devices are susceptible to unauthorized modification. Parents should be cognizant of whether or not their children are engaging in unauthorized modification of their games, consoles or handhelds, as those modifications can change game content in ways that may be inconsistent with the assigned ESRB rating,” the ESRB stated.

“That be being said, the vast majority of consumers have not made the unauthorized modifications to their hardware necessary to view the content at issue,” the group continued.

Making the Rating

Rockstar had to make multiple edits in order to meet the ESRB’s standards and bring “MH2” down to a “Mature” rating, Take-Two said. It is from one of those edits that hackers were able to create the modified version for the PSP.

Extraneous content — scenes that did not advance the plot of the game — was completely removed. However, violent content in scenes deemed crucial to the video game’s storyline was merely concealed. The hackers were able to remove special effects filters the developer put in place to obscure the violence in those scenes. Those changes were made under the guidance of the ESRB and were fully disclosed by Rockstar, the ESRB said.

It likely took a person with a relatively high level of technical skills and coding know-how, as well as a modified PSP, to produce the unauthorized version of the game. However, the altered version has been released on the Internet with instructions on modifying the code to remove the concealing special effects, according to the ESRB.

Once the changes to the game’s code have been made and other unauthorized software programs have been downloaded to the hardware device to circumvent security controls, gamers can clearly view the hidden violent acts, the ratings organization warned.

“Rockstar did completely remove scenes that were not necessary for the plot line or game play,” Michael Pachter, a Wedbush analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s unreasonable to expect that they would go back to square one and re-create the entire game. I think with hindsight, that they would have developed a different game had they realized that this one would be so controversial, but it’s not reasonable to expect them to do so after the fact, and it would not have been economically feasible.”

Another Hot Coffee?

The unauthorized hack of “MH2” recalled another controversy involving Rockstar and modified game content. The so-called Hot Coffee mod from 2004 involved a supposedly inaccessible minigame included in Rockstar’s top-selling “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” video game. In the unmodified version of the game, players at one point in the story line are able to only hear muffled voices of Carl, the main protagonist, and his girlfriend having sex. The Hot Coffee modification enables players to actually see the two characters as they engage in sexual intercourse as well as control the protagonists actions during the act. Although developers had disabled this portion of the game, the release of a modified version for the PC led to the discovery of the minigame on versions for the PS2 and Xbox.

“The difference between Hot Coffee and this [case] is this required some serious hacking skills to get at,” said Mike Goodman, an analyst at Yankee Group. “Hot Coffee was something no one knew was in the game, but this was known to be in the game.”

Known or not, the exposed content could bring more damage to Take-Two’s public image.

“It’s bad for Take-Two insofar as it brings more unwanted negative publicity. No, it’s not nearly as bad as hidden sex scenes, which were gratuitous and added nothing to the game or story in ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ At least in the case of ‘Manhunt 2,’ the object of the game is murder and mayhem, so graphical depiction of murder was appropriate. The objection was the extent of that graphical depiction and Take-Two took reasonable steps to modify [that],” Pachter stated.

This time around could be worse for Take-Two, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“It’s worse because the general media has picked this up and it’s an election window,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This is an easy topic to talk about if you don’t want to talk about Iraq, and it particularly appeals to conservatives.”

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