It's hard to live up to controversy. Anybody who has rented Caligula or listened to "Cop Killer" knows that reputation frequently stirs the imagination to depths more grotesque than any one bit of pop culture can reach. Earlier this year, the ESRB slapped an Adults Only rating on Manhunt 2—an effective ban, since console manufacturers don't allow AO games to be released for their machines. Rockstar delayed release and softened the game's brutal executions by blurring them with static.
The expurgated version remains bloody and profane, but no more so than a typical M-rated shooter. The difference is in the setting. Where most games disguise violent fantasies beneath science-fiction trappings or Lord Of The Rings costumes, Manhunt 2 is rooted in the here and now. Protagonist Daniel Lamb is a nebbishy American everyman seeking vengeance against the shadowy conspirators who fried his brain and stole his identity. He plods through the game like Travis Bickle, with a slack calmness, then bursts into eerily efficient, gleeful violence. As with any good piece of exploitation, the dirty, callow bits of snuff are the most fun. Danny can sneak up behind enemies and dispatch them in various gory, satisfying ways. When played on the Wii, kills are pulled off by stabbing, thrusting, or jerking the remote. The tiny speaker in the controller gushes sound effects during the slayings, tickling some warped pleasure center in players' lizard brains. If only the reason for all the mayhem were slightly more compelling. Rockstar's usual cutting cultural commentary is absent, making Manhunt 2 feel like a more modest game than its reputation indicates.
Beyond the game: Like many Rockstar games, Manhunt 2 is a mélange of filmic references. Fight Club, Memento, A Clockwork Orange, and The Ipcress File cast large shadows on the plot. The first third of the game feels like the decaying urban underworld of Seven.
Worth playing for: Hiding in the shadows isn't as simple as dodging into the dark. When a hunter peers into the blackness, players must hold the Wii remote completely still. One twitch of the controller, and the jig is up.
Frustration sets in when: Brian Cox's creepy turn as the sadistic "Director" in the first Manhunt isn't matched in the sequel. The game's voice acting, while solid, is largely forgettable.
Final judgment: The Wii's most dangerous game.