Uncut Manhunt 2 surfaces on hacked PSPs

Code alterations undo some of Take-Two's changes to controversial Rockstar Game, publisher stresses ESRB knew of game's content in giving it an M for Mature.

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Manhunt 2 has been a lightning rod of controversy since it was first banned in the UK and received an AO for Adults Only rating (which would prevent the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Wii game from being released on any of those platforms) in the US. Take-Two Interactive made some edits to the game and resubmitted it in both countries, nabbing an M for Mature on the second go-around in the US, but still being denied classification in the UK.

The game finally saw a North American release yesterday, and by the end of the day, hackers had already discovered and posted online a way to undo at least some of Take-Two's edits to the game. Given the change in ratings, this raised the question of whether Take-Two's resubmission of Manhunt 2 to the Entertainment Software Rating Board included all of the same violence and objectionable content that originally earned it the more restrictive AO rating.

Take-Two was quick to address the issue this morning, releasing the following statement:

Multiple edits were made to revise Manhunt 2 for its M-rated version.

Hackers apparently have altered one of those edits to produce an illegally modified version of the game that can only be played on an unauthorized, modified PlayStation Portable handheld system.

All of the game material, and especially these specific edits, was submitted to and reviewed by the ESRB in accordance with requirements regarding disclosure that were enacted two years ago and any contrary suggestion is inaccurate and irresponsible.

Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick said, "I stand behind the game and the ESRB ratings process. It is unfortunately the case that no one in the entertainment software industry is immune from hacking. We hope that consumers will not engage in hacking or download illegally modified copies of our games. We encourage them to enjoy our games as they are meant to be played. We would also like to emphasize that Manhunt 2 is intended for an audience aged 17 and above."

An ESRB representative told GameSpot only that the board is aware of the issue and is looking into it.

When submitting 2004's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to the ESRB, Take-Two Interactive neglected to mention the "Hot Coffee" sex minigame, since it couldn't be accessed through normal play. After a hacker discovered the game and released an unauthorized patch to make it accessible, the ESRB bumped San Andreas up from an M for Mature to an AO for Adults Only.

Take-Two Interactive endured a firestorm of criticism, an estimated $50 million hit to the bottom line, numerous lawsuits, and a Federal Trade Commission investigation. Another of the publisher's games, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, was rerated from a T for Teen to an M for Mature two months after its release in 2006, when the ESRB decided that developer Bethesda Softworks failed to properly report the amount of violence in the game, and didn't properly disclose a "nude" female torso texture in the game that could not be viewed without an unauthorized patch.

Shortly after the Oblivion rerating, the ESRB established a new rule that allowed it to fine companies withholding such content during the rating process up to $1 million for a first offense.

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