Rockstar's latest and arguably most controversial game turns out to be its weakest. The Take Two-owned publishing label has a history of games that draw media debate and politicians' ire, most notably its "Grand Theft Auto" series.

Rockstar’s latest and arguably most controversial game turns out to be its weakest. The Take Two-owned publishing label has a history of games that draw media debate and politicians’ ire, most notably its “Grand Theft Auto” series. So it’s no surprise “Manhunt 2″ is as aggressively violent and grisly as an Eli Roth film. But it’s also tedious, incoherent, dated, and lifeless. Controversy may be this game’s only hope of drumming up sales.

Last spring, before its intended summer release, “Manhunt 2″ was banned in the U.K. and received an Adults Only rating from the U.S. Entertainment Software Ratings Boardwhich essentially banned it in this country as well.

Rockstar defended the game on free-expression grounds, but ultimately toned down the most brutal moments in order to get an M ratings. It then rode the attendant wave of publicity to a new Halloween release date.

Execs should consider that publicity a blessing, since “Manhunt 2″ has almost nothing worth recommending.

Take, for example, a sequence halfway into the game. In what should have been a sick and twisted set piece, escaped asylum inmate Daniel Lamb, the protagonist, strolls onto the stage at a rundown porno theater and opens fire. However, it turns out to be little more than a tedious gun battle, highlighting the game’s wretched controls. The porno movie in the background features no nudity, and the dirty talk is lame.

Furthermore, it turns out the patrons are agents from a secret government project that has victimized Lamb and his family; like most everyone else in “Manhunt 2,” they deserve killing. It’s as if the game’s developers had no problem with the main character thrusting a shard of glass into someone’s throat, but were horrified at the idea that he would do it without moral justification.

This isn’t the only way Rockstar has made the game toothless. In order to get the M ratings, brutal executions have been obscured with a blurring effect and a dark filter. An arm swings, there’s a splash and a sputter, and the vague shape of someone doubling over. The experience is like a bad murder mystery in which death takes place with the lights out.

Even if the execution scenes had worked as they should have, “Manhunt 2″ would still be little more than a plodding stealth game requiring lots of patience and even more reloading. There’s no incentive to take risks, since the scoring system for kills was removed to get the M. The best way to play is by being brisk and efficient, rather than trying to set up the elaborate kills around which the game was built.

Finally, the terrible graphics in “Manhunt 2″ can’t be overlooked. Subject matter aside, this is an utterly hideous game, with no business sitting on shelves next to current releases.

Manhunt 2

Reviewed on Wii. Rated M. $40-$50

Production

A Rockstar Games presentation of a game developed by Rockstar London and Rockstar Toronto for the Playstation 2 and the Wii.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more