Despite the Hype, 'Manhunt 2' Stinks as a Game

Gory movies such as "30 Days of Night" and "Saw IV" come and go without much of a fuss. Directors Martin Scorsese and Joel and Ethan Coen can throw buckets of fake blood across the screen.

But when video-game companies indulge in graphic violence, watchdogs go ballistic.

Critics say video games are different, that acting out a murder in a game is much worse than simply watching one. They also say it's too easy for kids to buy games that are published for mature audiences.

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I'd argue that it's probably easier for a 13-year-old to sneak into an R-rated movie than to buy an M-rated game, but game stores could be more diligent.

Eventually, video games will get the same consideration movies do, and politicians and clergymen won't freak out every time one gets a little too bloody.

Then we can focus on what's important: Is the game any good?

— "Manhunt 2" (Rockstar, for the Wii, $39.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $29.99): Here's Exhibit A in this year's debate over game violence.

It begins with a mass escape from a high-security mental hospital, and by the end of the first level you'll have slashed, beaten or kicked to death dozens of inmates and guards.

(In a typically charming Rockstar Games touch, you'll also have human waste hurled at you.)

The vaguely interesting story involves learning your role in a top-secret experiment that led to your incarceration, but your moment-to-moment motivation is to kill and kill again.

But the sloppy controls (especially on the Wii) take all the fun out of becoming a remorseless killing machine.

Your character often freezes for no good reason, usually just as you're trying to pull off a sneak attack on an enemy — and, usually, leading to your death.

"Manhunt 2" is also crippled by graphics that would have barely passed muster on the original PlayStation. Characters regularly get stuck in walls and doors, and the artificial intelligence of the enemies is terrible.

Such technical issues are inexcusable for a company with Rockstar's resources.

No stars out of four.

— "Dementium: The Ward" (Gamecock, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): This game starts off in a mental hospital, too, but this one's just about deserted — except for the zombies that occasionally rise from the floor to try to rip your head off.

And there's a scene early on, in which a little girl is dragged off by a grotesque monster, that's more unsettling than anything in "Manhunt 2."

Nintendo's cute little DS is hardly the ideal platform for a horror game, but if you turn off the lights on put on some headphones, "Dementium" proves to be an engrossing experience.

Your goal is to figure out what sort of sick experiments have been going on in the hospital, and there are some decent puzzles mixed in with all the hellspawn-slaying.

You move with the DS' arrow keys, aim with the stylus and shoot with the left trigger, and the controls work nicely.

There are a few glitches — less-than-helpful maps, a goofy save system — but they don't detract too much from a truly scary game. Three stars.

— "Clive Barker's Jericho" (Codemasters, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99): No hospitals here, thank goodness. Instead, it begins in a lost desert city, home to the ancient Firstborn.

Jericho itself is the code name for your seven-man commando team, charged with stopping the Firstborn from spreading throughout the world.

"Jericho" is an ambitious melding of survival horror and squad-based combat. As the team leader, you can take control of any of the other six commandos, who each have special powers: One can slow down time, one can guide bullets with her mind, and so on.

Alas, the execution isn't up to snuff. While the monsters seem to attack the same way every time, your squadmates die a lot of cheap deaths.

Levels are cramped and repetitive, and some dopey button-pushing sequences take you right out of the combat.

"Jericho" has some spectacular moments, but it doesn't achieve the excellence of Clive Barker's previous game, "Undying."

Two stars.