As noted by Joystiq, the ESRB is currently listing the upcoming PC version of Manhunt 2 with an Adults Only (AO) rating.
GamePolitics readers will likely recall that the console versions of Manhunt 2 generated a major controversy in the summer of 2007 when the game was banned in Britain and tagged with an AO here in the States. Rockstar subsequently released a toned-down version that earned an M (17+) rating for the U.S. market.
That was a critical milestone, because the Big Three console makers won’t license AO-rated games for their systems, which makes it tough for a publisher to earn a return on its investment. That’s why you don’t see any AO-rated console games. While the open architecture of the PC negates licensing concerns, an AO-rated Manhunt 2 would still get thumbs-down from major retailers like GameStop and Wal-Mart.
That means that Rockstar is either planning a digital distribution campaign for Manhunt 2 or that it will edit the PC version – as it did with the console editions – to earn an M from the ESRB. Of course, there is a third scenario: Rockstar could ship an M-rated version to retailers while distributing an AO-rated version online.
We wonder how Valve might react to handling an AO game if its Steam service, which currently distributes Rockstar’s GTA IV online, is under consideration as a potential digital distribution source for Manhunt 2.