British censors on Tuesday banned a video game for the first time in 10 years, rejecting U.S.-published Manhunt 2 for what they described as an unrelenting focus on sadism and brutal slaying.
The decision by the British Board of Film Classification, or BBFC, means the game, from publisher Take-Two Interactive Software, which made the controversial Grand Theft Auto series, cannot be legally supplied anywhere in Britain.
The ban prompted one U.S. family group to start lobbying for a rating to ensure major American retailers cannot sell the game in which players become an insane asylum escapee sneaking up on enemies and killing them in gruesome ways.
In a statement on the board's Web site, BBFC director David Cooke said rejecting a work was a very serious action and not taken lightly. He said the board preferred to consider cuts or changes but that was not possible in this case.
'Manhunt 2' is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing, he said.
There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game, Cooke said.
Take-Two could not immediately be reached for comment.
The BBFC noted it was the first game to be denied a classification since 1997, when Carmageddon was rejected for having players run down pedestrians. That decision was overturned on appeal.
The BBFC said the Take-Two label Rockstar Games that created Manhunt had the right to appeal the decision.
Manhunt 2 is a follow-up to the 2003 original, which was classified in Britain for people aged 18 and over.
The original game created a storm in Britain in 2004 when the parents of a 14-year-old boy who was stabbed to death blamed the game for inspiring his 17-year-old killer.
The U.S. nongovernmental organization that evaluates games, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, has not yet given a rating for Manhunt 2, which is slated for a July 10 release.
The Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood urged people to write the ESRB and demand an Adults Only rating, which means it could not be sold by major retailers.
An Adults Only rating is the only way to limit children's exposure to this unique combination of horrific violence and interactivity, group co-founder Susan Linn said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith in New York)