Manhunt 2 Review
It's not as shocking as you'd expect, but Manhunt 2 still satisfies your primal instincts.
The stylized filters visually express Danny's rage and confusion, so they're cool from a story perspective. But they linger for a few seconds after the execution is over and you are deposited back into the level proper, which is a big frustration in a stealth game where you need to stick to the shadows. That moment can mean the difference between life and death. Manhunt 2 is often very unforgiving of your mistakes, and a couple of hunters with nightsticks are tough to handle. Forcing you to wait for the filter to clear so that you can see where you are going is an unnecessary annoyance in a game that requires so much precision of movement.
As you would expect from a stealth action game, you can hug walls and peek around corners. On the Wii, peeking is handled by tilting the Nunchuk, which is a clever design move that feels just right. There are some other mechanics at play too, such as your need to be perfectly still should a hunter get too close while you're lurking in the shadows. At these times, he might be inches from your face, and you need to ensure that you stay completely hidden. On the Wii, this means holding the Wii Remote perfectly still (a natural solution), whereas you press a contextual button on the PS2.
There are a number of nagging gameplay issues, with enemy artificial intelligence sitting high on the list. Enemies get stuck jittering between objects, forcing you to unstick them by grabbing their attention. They'll occasionally run past without noticing you or patrol a 3-foot-square area over and over again for no apparent reason. Another big annoyance is specific to the Wii: The A button is given too much to do. This button is mapped to using weapons, climbing, picking up bodies, executing targets, and more. You may want to execute your foe, but God forbid if you happen to be standing on a dead body because you'll pick it up instead--and the ensuing animation will turn you from murderer to victim. And speaking of buttons, the Wii version doesn't let you skip cutscenes. Considering stealth games always benefit from some trial and error, this is a grievous offense because you are forced to watch the same scene multiple times if you have to reload.
Danny can hold his own somewhat in standard melee combat, as long as he is armed with the right weapon. You'll use clubs, knives, shards of glass, and plenty of other instruments. On the Wii, you attack your foes by swinging the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, but on the PS2, you mash a button. In both versions, melee fisticuffs are deliberate affairs, and you should only expect to handle one enemy at a time with ease--if that. If you attract the attention of more than one, it's better to run back into the shadows. Mistakes will cost you: Some weapons will knock you down--and it takes forever to get back up, which almost always spells certain death.
There's also a small assortment of firearms in Manhunt 2. Shooting enemies isn't as gratifying as beating them to a pulp, but headshots still produce a smattering of blood. In most of these circumstances, you'll be hugging a wall or crouching behind an object, popping out to take potshots. The Wii again proves itself to be a natural home to shooting mechanics here, letting you aim with the Wii Remote and firing with the B button. On the PS2, you enter aiming mode by holding L1 and firing with R1. Danny is not a weapons expert, so perhaps accordingly, the controls handle loosely. Nevertheless, shooting doesn't feel as precise as you would like, particularly on the Wii, where the jittery targeting reticle never lets you feel quite in control of whether you'll land that elusive headshot. It's also not as challenging as the proper stealth elements mostly because your foes have the aiming skills of a third grader with a water pistol, and have a tendency to unload one clip after another into walls.
Yet there's no doubt that fans of sneaking will get a lot out of Manhunt 2. Aside from the occasionally flaccid gunplay, the game is highly challenging, especially so on the appropriately titled insane difficulty level. Some of the level designs are truly tricky, such as one in which a helicopter's spotlight keeps you constantly on the move. This isn't for everyone; if you're prone to fits of frustration when playing games like Splinter Cell and Hitman or expect to recover from mistakes easily, Manhunt 2 won't do you any favors. But if you're into that sort of thing, you'll enjoy the 15 hours or so of gameplay it provides and may even want to try unlocking the alternate ending.
It may not have the same primal impact as the original Manhunt, but the sequel features plenty of tense stealth gameplay to complement its violent subject matter. The clarity of that violence--and some Wii-specific annoyances--makes the PlayStation 2 version the superior one. But either way you slice it and dice it, fans of the original will have something new to chew on with Manhunt 2, which is a good, sneaky adventure.