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The Week in Games: June 29, 2007

News from the virtual world:

—HUNTING SEASON: Oh, Rockstar Games. Again and again you get slammed for the sex and violence in games like "Grand Theft Auto," "Bully" and "State of Emergency." And yet, you keep coming back for more.

The latest target is "Manhunt 2," a simulated murder spree through such charming locations as an insane asylum and an extreme sex club.

For fans of movies like "Saw" and "Hostel," it's probably nothing shocking, but the interactive element — the fact that you're doing the killing — has gotten under the skin of game watchdogs.

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Britain and Ireland have banned the game outright. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which evaluates games in the U.S., slapped "Manhunt 2" with an AO (adults only) tag — in effect banning it, since Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony won't allow AO-rated titles on their consoles.

Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar's parent company, eventually pulled the game from distribution.

We probably haven't seen the last of "Manhunt 2." Most analysts expect Rockstar to tone down the gore enough so that the ESRB will change the rating to a less restrictive M (for mature). And Rockstar has once again milked plenty of free publicity out of controversy.

A lot of players who didn't care about "Manhunt 2" are interested now, and the demand will surely be there when the game finally emerges, even if it is watered down.

—I FOUGHT THE LAW: Absolutely no one was surprised by the "Manhunt" flap, but another U.K. ban came out of nowhere.

The game in question is "Law & Order II: Double or Nothing," based on the long-running TV drama. It came out in 2003, but it was just discovered that it contains an image of a real-life murder victim.

James Bulger was 2 when he was abducted and murdered by two 10-year-old boys in Merseyside, England. There's a well-known closed-circuit TV image of the abduction; it's that picture that appears on a bulletin board in the "L&O" game.

After the boy's family protested, GSP, the game's U.K. publisher, withdrew it from sale.

Ariella Lehrer, president of U.S. developer Legacy Interactive, apologized. "The image was included in the game years ago and without any knowledge of the crime, which occurred in the U.K. and was minimally publicized in the United States," she said.

Future pressings won't include the image, Legacy promised.

—STRINGER THEORY: Sony CEO Howard Stringer has been rallying the troops, promising shareholders in Tokyo that the struggling electronics giant was making the shift "from recovery to profitable growth."

And a big part of that turnaround, he said, will be the PlayStation 3.

While acknowledging the console's rocky launch last year, Stringer noted: "All the production problems have been solved. We are making a comeback already."

He also noted that it took a while for earlier versions of the PlayStation to become profitable.

"We always lose money in the hardware initially, and we recover that money gradually," Stringer said. "We believe that the PS3 going forward will be vital to our future, and succeed."

Stringer's comments came two days after Ken Kutaragi — the man known as "the father of the PlayStation" — officially retired from his post as Sony Computer Entertainment's chairman and chief executive.

Despite his legendary status, Kutaragi took much of the blame for the PS3's difficult rollout. He was relieved of day-to-day responsibilities as president last year, and announced his retirement in April.

—NEW IN STORES: A mobster gains supernatural powers in 2K's "The Darkness," for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. ... 2K Sports' over-the-top baseball game "The Bigs" comes to bat on most systems. ... Also due on just about every console are the movie tie-ins "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (Electronic Arts), "Ratatouille" (THQ) and "Transformers" (Activision). ... The 360 gets a couple of console exclusives, the fantasy adventure "Overlord" (Codemasters) and the World War II shooter "Hour of Victory" (Midway). ... NIS brings the fantasy strategy game "Grim Grimoire" to the PlayStation 2. ... And Midway delivers a batch of its popular "bar games" (like trivia and solitaire) to the DS in "Touchmaster."

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