When Rockstar Studios tweaked controversial video game Manhunt 2 to make it suitable for a US Mature (M) rating rather than Adults Only (AO), it didn't actually remove the offending material, it has emerged. And now hackers have worked out how to expose the supposed excisions.
Rockstar owner Take-Two Interactive last night confirmed that the hack, originally posted for the Sony PlayStation Portable version of the game, exists, Associated Press reports.
The discovery could get the company into hot water with the US Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which has already had to rebuke the publisher for including hidden content in its games.
Manhunt 2: should have been cut?
That was the notorious 'Hot Coffee' scene in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a sexy romp included in the game but made unaccessible by players - inaccessible, that is, until some bright spark released a patch to enable the sequence.
Among the following furore, in September 2005, the ESRB formally warned publishers: "If you fail to notify us of previously undisclosed, non-playable, pertinent content... and such content becomes playable through a subsequent authorised or unauthorised release of code to unlock it, rendering the original rating assignment inaccurate, punitive in addition to corrective actions may result."
Which is, of course, largely what has happened with Manhunt 2. The key difference is that the now-exposed content was not hidden from the ESRB, which is why the game was originally given an AO rating rather than an M.
AO indicates a title is suitable only for players aged 18 or more. An M rating allows 17-year-olds to play too. These ratings carry no legal weight, but many major US games retailers will not stock AO-rated titles, and both Sony and Nintendo will not allow publishers to state such games are compatible with their consoles.
To placate hardware makers and retailers, Take-Two tweaked Manhunt 2 then submitted the new version to the ESRB. The organisation duly rated it R.
Similar tweaks failed to win over the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which last month once again refused to rateManhunt 2. Here an unclassified game can't be sold legally.
The newly exposed hack is unlikely to impress the ESRB, which could force Take-Two to reissue the game in a form that's proof against the patch - or risk regaining that unwanted AO rating.