Ironically, the controversy that’s met Manhunt 2 is most definitely a sign that Rockstar is doing something right. The wobbly, half-drunk camerawork, the relentless, slimy dialogue, the long passages where it feels like your heart might slip out of your mouth and slide across the floor - when the BBFC said this is a game of unremitting bleakness, well, it’s sort of hard to argue. That’s the point.
If there’s a flaw to Manhunt 2, it’s a problem that plagued its predecessor: guns. It’s fine when they’re used sparingly, in bursts, but some missions lean on them too heavily. As Daniel’s memory begins to return, the past trickles back in a series of flashbacks to six years before. One mission sees you in the role of Leo, descending a skyscraper and picking off Project mercenaries with a sniper rifle. Clichéd and beset by rather average AI, it’s a too-long scene that rather spoils Manhunt 2’s elegantly contrived, slowly ratcheting sense of creeping dread.
Additionally, while in theory guns can be used to perform up-close executions, the procedure to perform this - pressing on the right stick while targeting an enemy at close range - can also mean that if you’re not quite close enough, you’ll be aiming all over the place, mostly while nearby hoodlums are shooting you in the head. Indeed, the presence of guns remains a dilemma for the Manhunt series - most games reward your progress by offering up an increasing arsenal of exciting and destructive weapons, but what do you do when your game’s specialty is learning how to sever someone’s spinal cord with a sharpened toothpick? Manhunt 2 is a little closer to solving this teaser than the first game, but it doesn’t quite solve it.
Still, for the most part, this is an artful, engaging game that’s far more about strategy and patience than merely dumb brutality. And interestingly too, this is a game that senses how you play it: act gruesome and you accumulate style points, play stealthy and avoid combat and you go without, but have the promise of unlocking extra features after the game’s completion. Meaning, actually, that far from the BBFC’s crowing about Manhunt 2’s lack of moral core, that this is actually a game about morality - namely, how good, essentially conscientious people can be forced, cajoled, or brainwashed into doing awful or reprehensible things - and how they can also eventually regain their humanity. Presuming the world can actually get their hands on it at some point, hopefully soon that will become clear.
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