Way back in 2003, a certain game, from a certain well known and infamous British publisher was released on the unsuspecting masses. This game was Manhunt. It was released on the PS2 in November 2003 to generally favourable reviews… things were going well. Then, all of a sudden, the media launched a full-scale attack. Suspicions of Manhunt being linked to a murder resulted in its prohibition in a number of countries. It was branded “filth” and appalled parents the world over because of its explicitly violent content. The curious public lined up at stores to see what the fuss was about. Business was good again!
The fuss and buzz has all but dissipated now, but that didn’t stop Rockstar from announcing a sequel. Unfortunately, its currently caused more problems than it was worth, with its release being blocked and delayed for ages before finally being heavily censored to ensure its presence on store shelves. The result is a good sequel that fans of the original will like, but it fails to replicate the suspense and grit of it’s predecessor.
The protagonist this time around is a rather unfortunate researcher who goes by the name of Daniel (or Danny) Lamb. The game begins with our unexpectedly bespectacled hero giving a white-coated woman a thorough strangling as he wakes up confused in a cell within an institute for the criminally insane. From here, he is guided out of the institute by a mysterious character called Leo Kasper. Together, they hunt for the truth of what exactly happened to them, whilst being hunted through their adventure by vicious employees of the ‘Pickman Project’ . Unlike the original game, a more cinematic plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a psychological thriller drives Manhunt 2. Oh, and the main character actually speaks. I don’t want to dwell too much on the storyline, as it is all about bite size plot progressions that would be spoilers if detailed. It is good though.
The gameplay in Manhunt 2 remains largely the same as its predecessor, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but there are some welcome additions. The idea is to progress through the level towards the objective, viciously slaughtering any of the freaky villains that get in your way. Your character is a scientist, and therefore has no combat experience. Instead, Daniel Lamb must rely on stealth to keep out of sight, but when the coast is clear, you can sneak up on the enemy and ‘execute’ them in one of three different ways with an array of guns and makeshift weapons. Repeat, repeat and repeat. Luckily though, the trademark ‘execution’ system has undergone a bit of a jazzing up. Not only are the traditional executions a bit more creative, but you can now perform executions with firearms and even the environment i.e. Manhole covers and even toilets. In order for Manhunt 2 to steer clear of an AO rating, the execution sequences were moderately censored with a visual filter, which can be a bit annoying but you definitely get the idea about what’s happening.
One of the most obvious disadvantages of the PSP is its lack of buttons, but Rockstar have done a great job here bringing the bulk of the previously console exclusive experience to a handheld. With a brief learning curve, newcomers will find themselves mentally disturbed within a matter of minutes! As a matter of fact, after an hour or so of play, this PSP version feels pretty much the same as the console releases of the original. The PSPs lack of four shoulder buttons is something that can’t be helped though, but rest assured, it isn’t a real hindrance here. The L button strafes left and the R button strafes (duh) right. This makes it all that much easier to line up an execution but, unfortunately, the player has no real control over the camera besides entering the scarcely needed first-person mode. The instability of the camera is most notable when faced with numerous enemies in a confined space, where the jerking movements reach seizure inducing levels.
Another undeniable gameplay weakness would be the gun-fighting sections. They’re not awful as such, they just can’t seem to match the intensity of the stealth gameplay that the series is famous for. The shooting sections were always destined to be worse on a handheld by default thanks to the solitary analogue, thus the player relies entirely on the lock-on feature, which reduces these sections down to a rather brainless and dull affair.
Whilst were on the subject of brainlessness, its necessary to mention the atrocity of the AI; being spotted by the enemy never seems to be a problem as it can always be resolved by running round in circles before returning to the shadows. The AI seems to pick up the slack later in the adventure but never seems to show any real intelligence. Even on the ‘Insane’ difficulty, you wont find Manhunt 2 hard to beat in less than ten hours.
Sonys little black handheld visually captures Manhunt 2 to a tee. In fact, it almost looks like an exact port of the PS2 version. The character models look better than any PSP game I’ve played and the environments are eerily detailed. One of the main drawbacks is the PSP versions lighting effects; a lot of the shadows and darker textures in the game look washed out, and even a bit blocky sometimes. Despite these minor flaws however, Manhunt 2 runs at a generally good frame rate and remains one of the finest looking games on the system.
Through the earphones, Manhunt 2 sounds excellent. The gunshots sound genuine, and every single snap, crackle and pop from the various execution sequences never fail to amuse. Keeping in line with the original, Manhunt 2 also boasts an incredibly atmospheric soundtrack which, while appropriate to the overall experience, is extremely limited with a lot of tracks in a loop or just sounding similar. The voice acting though, is absolutely bang on. The dialogue in the cinematic sequences is both involving and convincing and the vocabulary for the AI is vast and…colourful, for lack of a better word.
When you begin playing Manhunt 2, it’ll be hard to put down. There’s a deep, well developed and twisting plot, brought to life with visuals you thought you’d never see on a handheld . However, when you see every single execution, and reveal the mysteries of the plot (which should take around seven or eight hours) you’ll probably struggle for a reason to play again. Still, it deserves a shot, not because it’s controversial, but rather because it’s actually good.
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