By MATT SLAGLE
The Associated Press
Friday, June 22, 2007; 2:47 AM
-- Players of the video game "Manhunt 2" would have assumed the role of a scientist with amnesia who escapes from an asylum and then goes on a bloody killing spree as he tries to remember his past. But consumers may never see it on store shelves.
Following bans by Britain and Ireland, as well as a ratings predicament that would have made it nearly impossible to buy in the United States, publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. decided that it might already be game over for "Manhunt 2."
In a short statement Thursday evening, the New York-based company said it was temporarily suspending plans to distribute the game while it reviews its options.
"We continue to stand behind this extraordinary game. We believe in freedom of creative expression, as well as responsible marketing, both of which are essential to our business of making great entertainment," the company said.
But earlier in the week, Britain banned the game because of the violent content. Ireland followed suit a day later, and then Italian Communications Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Thursday that he would seek to have the sale of the game canceled there as well.
In a statement, Gentiloni called the game "cruel and sadistic, with a squalid environment and a continuous, insistent encouragement to violence and murder."
In the United States, meanwhile, the video game industry's self-regulated ratings board gave a preliminary version of "Manhunt 2" an "adults only" rating instead of the more lenient, and far more popular, "mature" rating for ages 17 and up.
Slapping "Manhunt 2" with the Entertainment Software Rating Board's most stringent rating would likely doom sales. Large retailers including Best Buy Co., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. won't stock AO-rated games.
Rockstar was given 30 days after receiving the ESRB's suggested rating to present an appeal or make changes to the game.
A spokesman for Rockstar declined to comment on Thursday's suspension, which was announced hours after Take-Two issued a statement saying it was determined to bring the title to market regardless of criticism.
Another issue had to do with the console makers: Nintendo and Sony disclosed they have policies barring any AO-rated content on their systems.
Microsoft Corp. has a similar policy, but "Manhunt 2" wasn't planned for its Xbox 360. There are no such restrictions on games for personal computers.
The suspension was the latest setback for creator Rockstar Games, which has come under fire for its popular, critically acclaimed "Grand Theft Auto" series of urban crime games. Take-Two is still dealing with the fallout of a shareholder coup earlier this year that ousted its chief executive and nearly all of its board.
Rockstar and Take-Two have long been a focal point for debate over the effect of video-game violence on children.
Two years ago, Rockstar was forced to replace its first edition of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" after a hacker discovered a password-protected game inside it that involved a sexual encounter.