This Halloween, something once thought dead will come back from the grave. Video game maker Rockstar, the creator of the “Grand Theft Auto” series, said it has revised its much-maligned “Manhunt 2” (“MH2”) game — this time with a Mature rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
The game’s initial Adults Only (AO) rating, revealed in June, resulted in an effective ban of the game in the U.S. when Nintendo and Sony refused allow it to play on their systems.
“‘Manhunt 2’ is important to us, and we’re glad it can finally be appreciated as a gaming experience,” said Sam Houser, founder and executive producer of Rockstar Games. “We love the horror genre. ‘Manhunt 2’ is a powerful piece of interactive story telling that is a unique video game experience. We think horror fans will love it.”
“‘Manhunt 2’ is an extraordinary game, as we eagerly anticipate its release in North America,” Strauss Zelnick, chairman of Take 2, Rockstar’s parent company, added.
“MH2” will go on sale Oct. 31, with games for Nintendo’s Wii as well as Sony’s Playstation 2 (PS2) and Playstation Portable (PSP) platforms.
“Upon reviewing modified versions of the PS2, PSP and Wii versions of ‘Manhunt 2’ submitted by Take2/Rockstar, the ESRB assigned a rating of M (Mature 17+) with content descriptors for ‘Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, and Strong Sexual Content,'” said Patricia Vance, president ESRB.
Too Much at Stake
Take 2 had to modify the game for an “M” rating because neither Sony or Nintendo would permit “AO” games to be published on their respective platforms, Michael Pachter, an analyst at WedBush Morgan, told TechNewsWorld.
“Had Take 2 not toned down the violence, they could not have released on either the PS3 or the Wii, and they would have generated no return on the development expenditure,” he pointed out.
In development for several years, “MH2” represents a significant investment for the company. The sequel comes some four years after “MH1” was released in 2003, and Pachter said Take 2 had “probably intended to release it a couple of years ago.
“[That’s why] they didn’t make it for the PS3, because they chose to make a PS2 game,” he explained. “They probably intended to release it a couple of years ago, before there was a PS3.”
Second Time’s the Charm
In the game, protagonist Daniel Lamb, a former scientist who finds himself locked up in an insane asylum for six years, and Leo Kasper, a former government agent, escape after Lamb awakens with no recollection of his life before the asylum or why there is a white-coated corpse on the floor. As the game progresses with the two escapes on the run, Kasper teaches Lamb all he knows about murder in order for them to stay alive and fight against “The Pickmen Project” and the henchmen pursuing them.
The original version of “MH2,” like its predecessor, featured gameplay that was heavy on the gore factor, with players able to choose the level of violence used to annihilate their victims — “Hasty,” “Violent” or “Gruesome.” Gamers also had the ability to decapitate their enemies and add the severed heads their belt as a sort of grisly accessory. The heads could be used later as weapons or to distract other enemies.
In addition, the game’s designers built in what they called an “environmental kill” function, enabling players to kill their enemies in horrific ways using resources available in that location. For instance, they could shove them face-first into a charged fuse box, strangle them with a phone cord or drown them in a toilet. Players could even opt to “Up the Gore,” for more realistic blood effects, including bruising, gunshot wounds, gashes, head wounds and blood spraying on the screen during fight and execution scenes. In the edition made for the Nintendo Wii, the game utilized the system’s motion-sensitive controller, requiring the player to emulate the murderous moves the character was enacting.
The game’s unprecedented realism combined with the extreme level of violence and gore led to nationwide bans in the UK and Ireland after the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Irish Film Censors Office (IFCO) refused to certify the game in their respective countries. Adding to “MH2″‘s problems in Britain, “MH1” was at one time linked to the murder of a 14-year old boy, an allegation that was later proven false.
Rockstar has not released details on the modified version of the game, but critics of the AO rating maintain that the game is no more violent or gory than many popular films released in recent years with an “R” rating, including the “Saw” series, “Hostel,” and Rob Zombie’s upcoming remake of “Halloween.”
Although he has not seen “MH2,” Pachter said, he liked “MH1” “very much” and thinks the controversy was unwarranted.
“The ratings board overreacted, and I suspect that the AO rating on the original version of ‘Manhunt 2’ was politically motivated, as the ESRB and the foreign ratings agencies have been under pressure to be more conservative with their ratings over the last few years,” he said.
“Politicians who have never played the video games, like Hilary Clinton and Charles Schumer, seem to grab headlines with tough positions on sex and violence in video game,” he continued. “I agree that the game is not any more violent than many ‘R’ rated movies, which allow children in if accompanied by a parent.”
However, despite the initial controversy, Pachter said he is fairly confident that the revised game will also receive approval in the UK and Ireland from the BBFC and IFCO.