ESRB Defends Manhunt 2 Rating After Investigation

Following the news of an unlockable uncensored version of Rockstar's controversial Manhunt 2 for PSP, advocacy groups like the Parents Television Council and anti-media violence types like Senator Leland Yee called for the game's ESRB-issued rating to be changed from Mature back to its original Adults Only rating.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board investigated the situation and has issued a response, defending the game's M rating in light of the hacked versions of Manhunt 2. "We do not believe these modifications fully restore the product to the version that originally received an AO rating, nor is this a matter of unlocking content," the statement reads. "Our investigation indicates that the game's publisher disclosed to the ESRB all pertinent content in the authorized Mature-rated version of Manhunt 2 now available in stores, and complied with our guidelines on full disclosure of content."

The statement goes on to further distinguish between this instance and the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, Xbox) Hot Coffee mod in a number of ways. Whereas the Hot Coffee mod unlocked content Rockstar had knowingly included in the game and hadn't disclosed to the ESRB, Rockstar disclosed the content in question and modified it via censor blurring to be compliant with an M rating.

Lastly, the process requires a modded PSP as well as unauthorized copies of the game. It's a much more complicated process than getting Hot Coffee to work on PC or PS2, which only required a cheat device for the console version. The statement uses these same issues to differentiate the Manhunt 2 modifications from the re-rating controversy surrounding Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, PS3, X360), which was changed from T for teen to M for mature for the availability of a partial nudity mod and graphic in-game violence.

The ESRB was aware of the content in question in Manhunt 2 because Rockstar disclosed it during the game's initial submission to the rating board--where it received an Adults Only rating and was barred from release. Only after a modified version was resubmitted did the title receive a rating of M for mature.

ESRB president Patricia Vance added a comment in the statement addressing the M rating, adding that even without being Adults Only, Manhunt 2 is still clearly for adults. "Manhunt 2's rating makes it unmistakable that the game is intended for an older audience," she said in the statement. "The unauthorized hacking into the code of this game doesn't change that basic fact."

The M rating denotes games suitable for an audience of 17 years or older, while titles given an Adults Only rating are intended for gamers at least 18 years of age. However, most retailers won't carry Adults Only titles, effectively making the rating the kiss of death for a developer.