Friday, November 09, 2007

'Manhunt 2' video game removed from major US retail chain

SAN FRANCISCO, United States (AFP) - A major US retail chain yanked "Manhunt 2" from its shelves after hackers published ways to resurrect gory scenes blurred to make the ultra-violent video game tamer.


Shortly after "Manhunt 2" was released this week, hackers found a way to restore obscured scenes, but only on Sony's PlayStation2 and PlayStation Portable devices modified with "hardware hacks".

After hackers posted their techniques on the Internet, Target Stores removed the video games from store shelves. Target routinely stocks video games with "mature" ratings but does not sell "adult-only" rated video games.

"We received additional information that players can potentially view previously filtered content by altering the game code," Target corporate officials said Thursday in a written response to an AFP inquiry.

"As a result, we have decided not to carry the game."

Rockstar Games Inc. delayed the July release of its sequel game, set in an asylum for the criminally insane, after Britain, Ireland and Italy banned it and it was given a damning "adults-only" rating in the United States.

An adults-only stamp from the US Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) would have kept the game off leading video game consoles at the dictates of makers.

Rockstar had its software engineers blur out enough of the gruesome game content to appease critics and get it an ESRB rating of "mature," which means it can be sold legally to people that are at least 17 years old.

Rockstar, and its parent company Take-Two Interactive Software, did not return requests for comment.

"Manhunt 2" was developed as a "horror experience" on par with other entertainment such as film, Rockstar said in a note to fans posted on its website.

"We are very proud of 'Manhunt 2' and believe it builds on what the team accomplished with the first title of the series," Rockstar wrote in the note.

"We do not think video games should be singled out for special treatment from the authorities."

ESRB investigated the hacks and concluded that they involved sophisticated manipulation of software and hardware that went far beyond simply "unlocking" hidden content.

Rockstar had a run-in with the ESRB two years ago after hackers released a software modification that unlocked hidden sex graphics in "Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas." As a result the ESRB upped that game's rating to "adults-only."

The "Manhunt 2" situation is different in that Rockstar played by the rules and is not to blame for the software shenanigans, according to ESRB president Patricia Vance.

Hackers haven't restored all the blurred violence in "Manhunt 2," an ESRB investigation determined.

"Manhunt 2's rating makes it unmistakable that the game is intended for an older audience," Vance said. "The unauthorized hacking into the code of this game doesn't change that basic fact."

Consumers need to be aware that software and hardware devices are susceptible to unauthorized modification, according to Vance.

"Parents need to be vigilant about monitoring what their children are downloading on the Internet and ensure that they are not making unauthorized modifications to software and hardware that remove the controls the industry has so diligently put in place for their own protection," Vance said.

Just weeks before the scheduled European launch of "Manhunt 2," Britain, Ireland and Italy banned the savage computer game, maintaining it encourages "violence and murder."

The game became the first to be banned by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in 10 years, following a similar decision by the Irish Film Censor's Office (IFCO).

Original "Manhunt 2" computer-graphic images include blood-spattered people attacking each other with syringes, axes, and knives amid scenes of decapitations and gut-wrenching mutilations.

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