Coming soon to the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2: a game that's banned in the U.K and probably won't be sold by major game stores in the U.S. in its current form.
"Manhunt 2," an upcoming action game from "Grand Theft Auto" development house Rockstar Games, has been labeled Adults Only by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, according to a spokesman from Rockstar Games. Major retailers, including the big game chains, won't sell AO games, effectively guaranteeing the game won't be for sale next month as originally scheduled unless Rockstar changes the content.
Asked whether the studio would delay the game (which is scheduled for a July 10 release), Rockstar spokesman Rodney Walker told MTV News: "That's the last thing we want, but it's too early to say."
Walker provided "Manhunt 2" publisher Take 2 Interactive's statement on the game's rating: "We believe the process of rating video games is to help people make informed entertainment choices and not to limit them. '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.' "
This revelation followed news that the British Board of Film Classification — which rates entertainment, including video games, for the U.K. market — declared that it had rejected "Manhunt 2," denying it a rating.
Talking to British gaming Web site MCVUK.com, BBFC director David Cooke said the game was rejected because the game "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."
On Wednesday (June 20), ESRB president Patricia Vance told MTV News that the AO rating for "Manhunt 2" was issued earlier this month and that Rockstar has a 30-day window to resubmit a modified version of the game or make an appeal to the ratings board. As for why the game merited the board's most stringent rating, she said: "The ratings assigned by ESRB are based on the consensus of our raters, who consider several factors including not only the content itself, but also elements such as the reward system and degree of player control. It should be noted that this is not the first time that an AO rating has been assigned for violent content, nor will it likely be the last. However, our system affords publishers the opportunity to modify and resubmit games that receive the AO rating in light of the business ramifications that such a rating currently presents."
The first "Manhunt," released in 2003, put the player in control of a death-row inmate named James Earl Cash who was forced to commit grisly murders at the behest of a cackling mastermind and snuff-film creator named the Director. Kills could be committed with nail guns and baseball bats. Created by Rockstar North, the team behind the "Grand Theft Auto" console games, "Manhunt" was criticized for its violence but hailed by some game critics for its development of stealth gameplay and innovative use of sound (the Director's voice could be set to only be heard through a headset a gamer wore while playing the game).
For "Manhunt 2," signs pointed to the title being both less and more extreme than the first. Gone from press previews were mentions of snuff films and Directors. Instead, a more traditionally violent video game premise: one man's struggle to stay alive in an insane asylum gone mad. The new game would allow a broader range of weapons, including a phone and a suffocating plastic bag, actions that were glimpsed by MTV News on the PS2 version of the game that was shown at Sony's PlayStation Gamers Day in San Diego in May. While the game caused no furor at that event, such a title was sure to garner attention on the Wii, where its kills are triggered by the system's motion-sensitive controller.
Cooke told MCVUK that the board could see no justification for anyone to play the game: "To issue a certificate to 'Manhunt 2,' on either platform, would involve 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."
The gaming blog Joystiq.comconfirmed with game retailers Blockbuster and GameFly on Wednesday that neither would carry "Manhunt 2" if the game retains its AO rating.
[This story was originally published at 6:26 p.m. ET on 06.19.2007]