Earlier today, the British Board of Film Classification gave Manhunt 2 a thumbs down, banning it from sale in the UK due to its "unremitting bleakness" and "casual sadism." Now it appears the Entertainment Software Rating Board is ready to hand down its own most restrictive rating to the latest controversial offering from Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games.
A Take-Two representative told GameSpot today that the ESRB has issued an initial rating of AO for Adults Only to Manhunt 2. While not an outright ban, the rating would severely limit a game's sales potential, as most major American retailers have chosen not to carry games rated AO.
As for the reason this is only an "initial" rating, when the ESRB rates a game, it notifies the publisher 30 days prior to publicly releasing its decision. This gives publishers unhappy with ratings the chance to either modify their games and resubmit them for a second assessment, or go before the ESRB's appeals board to challenge it directly.
"We believe the process of rating video games is to help people make informed entertainment choices and not to limit them," a Take-Two representative said. "Manhunt 2 was created for mature audiences and we strongly believe it should receive an M (Mature) rating, aligning it with similar content created in other forms of media. We are exploring our options with regard to the rating of Manhunt 2."
While Take-Two doesn't agree with the idea of an AO-rated Manhunt 2, one parent watchdog group believes it's only appropriate. Earlier today, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood demanded that the ESRB give Manhunt 2 an AO rating, saying that "harmful effects of ultra-violent video games on children will be magnified by playing them on the interactive Nintendo Wii system."
The group's announcement contained a statement from Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston, who explained, "The content of Manhunt 2 and the unique physical interaction with the Wii control combine to take [the game's simulation] a level closer to reality--we can expect that the effects of this experience will be even greater."
The group directed like-minded individuals to contact ESRB president Patricia Vance with their concerns, and Vance today issued her response.
"We have received the letter from CCFC and, while we might take issue with some of the statements made within, we sincerely appreciate their expressed concerns," Vance said. "Our ratings are intended to provide guidance that allows parents to choose games they deem suitable for their children, and that is a responsibility we take extremely seriously."
Manhunt 2 is currently slated for a July 10 release on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Wii. For more on the game, check out GameSpot's previous coverage.