Manhunt 2 is the follow-up to the original Manhunt, released on consoles and PCs back in 2003. The original game was a twisted tale filled with violent action, as well as stealthy gameplay, and the follow-up looks to deliver more of the same grisly goods. With all of the controversy that has surrounded Manhunt 2 in the past few weeks, it would be easy to write off the game as another episode of "Rockstar behaving badly." But that wouldn't really be fair to the game, which--as we discovered in a recent hands-on session--is shaping up nicely as an entertaining, if sometimes ultraviolent, tale of redemption.
You play as Danny Lam in Manhunt 2, a young doctor who, after some craziness with a privately funded neurological weapons program known as The Project, ends up in the business end of a mental asylum. After a freak power outage, Danny and his buddy Leo manage to escape. Together, they embark on the sometimes ghastly adventures that will help Danny reclaim his past and what's left of his sanity.
Rockstar showed off three of the early levels in the game. The first level, called ghosts, features Danny and Leo looking to sneak into a building that contains drugs Danny stashed away; drugs that will help him "clear his head." However, getting there is a matter of dealing with the watchdogs--masked baddies that are entirely capable and willing to cause you great physical harm. These watchdogs stake out the area but, luckily for Danny, they aren't the brightest of guys. Using the game's stealth mechanics, you can sneak Danny through the shadows, either slipping by the enemies or, more likely, sneaking up on them and blasting them with whatever weapon you can come up with, be it mace, an axe, a syringe, or even a table saw.
A stealth meter on the lower-right corner of the screen gives you an idea of how well hidden you are; if the meter is filled to the top and blue, you won't be seen by a bad guy. But if an enemy is close by and suspects that you are near, a minigame will pop up where you have to keep the Wii Remote and Nunchuk perfectly still, and that ratchets up the tension. A green dot appears onscreen, surrounded by a slightly larger circle; if the dot moves out of the circle based on your movement, you'll be spotted. Whenever an enemy finds you, you'll have two choices: duke it out using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as analogues for your fists or run like a little girl. If the encounter is one-on-one, you can usually punch your way to freedom. However, if you're getting ganged up on, it's probably a good idea to run (though squealing is optional). If you put enough distance between you and an enemy, you can usually reset the enemy's awareness, giving you enough time to slink back into the shadows where you belong.
After finally making his way to the drug house, Danny has to search all of the trunks and cabinets in the house, looking for his hidden stash. It isn't long before more bad guys show up, and you can take them out using either your weapons or one of Manhunt 2's stylish (and gory) execution-style kills. To pull one off, you simply sneak up behind an enemy and hold the A button; as you hold down the button, an icon appears onscreen that changes colors. The longer you hold it (as the icon changes from white to green to yellow and eventually red), the more ghastly the execution. To do so, you'll follow the onscreen icon indications for how you should move the controls. In response to some of the controversy surrounding the game's brutality, Rockstar has added visual effects that conceal the full visual effect of the violence; for the most part the action is obscured, though you can make out the occasional splatter of blood. While that might disappoint the gorehounds, the gruesome sound effects as your enemy chokes or coughs and wet things go splat on the ground, leave little else to the imagination.
The next level was an updated version of the "sexual deviants" level we saw in our last look at the game. Here, Danny needs to break into a fetish club (which is a front for a torture lab run by The Project). This time around, the developers at Rockstar Toronto have added more dialogue between Danny and Leo, but the core mechanics are still the same. You'll use your stealth abilities liberally in this level, but there's also some great action (such as the first environmental execution you make, bashing a guy's head into a toilet) and even some darkly humorous bits (like when you use the severed head of an enemy to gain entrance into a deeper part of the torture center).
The other new level being shown was "red light," which requires Danny to gain access to a safe house that happens to be a derelict movie theater on the wrong side of town (though, one might wonder if there is a good part of town in Manhunt 2). This time, instead of watchdogs or burly guys in gimp masks, the enemies lying in wait for you are the Kings, a street gang that has taken over the area and is willing to work over anyone who steps on their turf. This level is more open-ended than either of the previous two, and though you have more latitude when dealing with the Kings, you have the added complication of security lights strewn throughout the level. If you move too quickly in front of them, the lights will activate, giving you fewer shadows in which to hide.
Because Danny is pretty useless when outnumbered, your best bet when dealing with multiple enemies is to pick them off one by one. To do so, you can use objects to create a distraction, such as tossing a brick against the side of a truck or tapping your weapon on a wall. A handy radar screen will show you which enemies are nearby, as well as their alertness level. If they get close enough, you can grab them and go to work. However, you'll want to make sure to stash the bodies because enemies who see their disposed-of friends will go on emergency alert immediately. If you're equipped with a proper weapon, you can take a swing attack at a nearby enemy, first by hugging a wall and then swinging with the Wii Remote.
To gain access to the safe house in the red light level, you'll have to first cut through a wire mesh fence with a pair of pliers you find along the way. After dealing with another wave of bad guys, you make your way into another abandoned building and eventually onto the second-floor ledge, where Danny watches as some cops rough up one of the locals. Using a jump execution attack, Danny quickly deals with the two police and then makes his way into a building that specializes in "adult novelty items." After beating down the proprietor of the sex shop, Danny makes his way onto another ledge and then eventually finds himself in the safe house. This is where Danny immediately finds pictures and reminders of his past. He can only presume he placed them there to remind him of something--but of what? And, furthermore, where should he head next in his continuing quest to reclaim his life?
The three missions comprise the second, third, and fourth missions in Manhunt 2, respectively. As such, there are lots of tutorial screens to introduce you to the various mechanics and features in the game. As you make your way through the 16 levels, you'll load up with new weapons (including guns, which will become available earlier than in the first Manhunt), fight new enemies, and get embroiled in increasingly disturbing situations. It's true, Manhunt 2 may not be for everyone, but those looking for some seriously creepy atmosphere and gritty action will have plenty to shiver at when the game is released--when else?--on Halloween. Stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks.