Manhunt 2 has had an interesting development cycle. It's hard to think of another game that has been so steeped in controversy, politics and debate. But while the politicians and TV talking heads can go on and on about violence, corporate responsibility and protecting the children, the people who the game is actually made for (you know, gamers) are much more curious about how Manhunt 2 actually plays.
The game starts off with a massive lightning storm temporarily causing a blackout at a rundown and dingy insane asylum, which rather inconveniently causes all the cell doors to pop open, spewing forth a small army of violent crazy people. Your character, Daniel Lamb, suddenly snaps into consciousness while strangling an old female doctor as your cell door opens. Shocked at what you're doing, you drop her body and stumble out into the hallway in what segues into a mini-tutorial on how to sneak and kill. It also nicely showcases some of the ... questionable aspects of the game, since in the first five minutes you are peed on, spit on, and throw up twice.
Of course, the most controversial part of Manhunt 2 is not the urination -- it's the wide variety of grotesque ways you can kill people. While it is possible to engage enemies in normal hand-to-hand combat, this will almost always mean your death. The way you're 'suppose' to kill someone is by sneaking up behind them with a weapon and performing an execution. If done correctly, you will be treated with a short cutscene of you horribly eviscerating your opponent. Well, at least you'll assume you just eviscerated the perp, since Rockstar edited the cutscenes to appease the ESRB and ended up making them an unintelligible mess of quick cuts, bad camera angles, and blurred effects. Unless you're extremely squeamish, you're not going to be disturbed by the violence of the executions, but the cutscenes may give you epilepsy.
One of the biggest problem with the executions in Manhunt 2 is due to another gameplay change that Rockstar implemented to get the M-rating for their game. There are three levels of executions in Manhunt 2, each one more brutal and gory than the last, but each riskier to pull off (since you have to stand behind a person who doesn't know you're there for an extended period of time). Originally, you were going to get points for how gory your executions are, but in an effort to make it look like weren't encouraging players to be violent, Rockstar removed the point system entirely. What this means now is that there is no reason to explore the execution gameplay mechanic.
Once you realize that you get absolutely nothing for performing the most brutal executions other than an increased risk of getting caught (and having to restart from the last checkpoint), you just start doing the basic simple execution. It's fast and it's the least risky and it is just as effective as the more brutal ones. It's a shame, because the different levels of execution was a big part of the original Manhunt's gameplay and removing any purpose for utilizing them really hurts the gameplay in Manhunt 2.
Luckily, the actual stealth/sneaking part of Manhunt 2 is pretty fun. Daniel controls perfectly thanks to a fantastic and simple control scheme, so hiding around in shadows and sneaking up on people works quite well. The levels have a good amount of variety and are setup nicely with lots of dark corners to crouch in and tricky enemy patrol patterns. It is not the hardest stealth game in the world, but over all offers a satisfying challenge.
Graphically, Manhunt 2 looks pretty nice for a PSP game -- and definitely the best looking game Rockstar has put out on the system. The character models look solid, especially Daniel's and the levels manage to look fairly unique. You'll see a lot of dilapidated buildings, but it doesn't feel like you're just playing the same level over and over again. There is also a grainy film effect that overlays the screen, giving the game an extra gritty and dark look and works well with its overall theme. The framerate is also quite solid and I never experienced any kind of bad slowdown.
After all the controversy surrounding Manhunt 2, it was a little disappointing to find out that it's just a fairly straight forward stealth/sneaking game with a tries-too-hard script filled with plot holes and lame twists. The much talked about executions have been neutered to the point of silliness and what disturbing imagery there is quickly loses its shock value. In the end, your enjoyment of Manhunt 2 comes down to your love of stealth games or your love of movies like Hostel 1 & 2 which throw violence and torture at you and expect that alone to entertain you. It is not a horrible game by any means, and has solid enough core gameplay but there are way better games out there right now that you could (and should) be playing instead of this.
PSP Fanboy review: 6.5