Take Two Interactive's Rockstar Games brand seemingly has always been in the target sights for controversy, from the Grand Theft Auto titles to Bully to the first Manhunt title. While a lot of the negative talk against Rockstar's titles has been highly unjustified, there is no doubt that Manhunt 2, the upcoming PS2-PSP-Wii sequel to their already brutal and adult stealth action game was going to be extremely graphic. The game itself, which has your player character questioning his sanity as he attempts to escape from being a guinea pig in an insane asylum, features the same kind of highly brutal melee violence that the original game had as your character sneaks his way to kill victims with glass shards, chain saws and others. Hands-on previews on various web sites stated that while the game was highly graphic in nature Manhunt 2 was no more violent than today's slasher flicks like the Saw and Hostel series. However no one expected the events of last week to happen to the game.
The British Board of Film Classification, which also handles ratings for video and PC games in that country, rendered a decision to ban the sale of Manhunt 2 in UK stores last week (the Irish equivalent rating board quickly followed up with their own ban of the game). In its printed decision the board stated that in other games they try to recommend cuts or changes to make the game acceptable to the ratings system. However in Mahunt 2's case the board felt that could not happen, saying, "Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game" The statement concluded with the board saying that in their opinion allowing the sale of the game in the UK would cause "a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors, within the terms of the Video Recordings Act, and accordingly that its availability, even if statutorily confined to adults, would be unacceptable to the public."
Later that week, Rockstar Games admitted that the US's ESRB ratings board has slapped an "AO" (Adults Only) rating on Manhunt 2. This rating would be bad enough for the game since nearly all retailers do not allow the sale of games with such a rating. However it was later revealed that Sony and Nintendo don't even allow AO rated games to be sold for their console systems (Microsoft doesn't either, by the way) which effectively bans the sale of the game. In a statement near the end of the week, Take Two Interactive announced that they would temporarily delay the release of Mahunt 2 (it was scheduled for release on July 9) as they look into their options which could include appealing the decisions of the BBFC and ESRB, cutting content in the game to get a lower rating, release the game on the PC (which would bypass the console companies' bans on AO rated material) or simply cancel the game outright. In their statement about Manhunt 2's delay, Take Two stated, "We continue to stand behind this extraordinary game. We believe in freedom of creative expression, as well as responsible marketing, both of which are essential to our business of making great entertainment."
So what happens now? FiringSquad decided to contact a number of game developers to get their opinions on this latest dust up by a Rockstar Games title and what it might mean for the industry as a whole. FiringSquad contacted Rockstar Games a number of times to get a Manhunt 2 interview; those requests were not returned. FiringSquad also contacted the ESRB for comment but their spokesperson declined our request, saying that their policies keeps them from talking publicly about a game's rating for 30 days after the ESRB gives their designation for a game.