After 15 years, GTA dev's anti-piracy measures are still only hurting legitimate players


In 2008, Rockstar brought its full line-up of PC games to Steam, and players quickly discovered that several of those titles were distributed with illegal cracks made by pirate groups. 15 years later, that fact is still having unintended consequences for legitimate players of the GTA dev's classics.

If you were a PC gaming fan back in 2010, you might recall that players discovered the logo for the piracy group Myth buried inside the executable file for the official Steam release of Max Payne 2, suggesting that Rockstar simply downloaded a pirated version of the game for the Steam launch instead of manually replacing the original disc-based DRM system. The discovery quickly went viral, and within days, Rockstar replaced the cracked executable with a 'clean' version - though the pirated exe was still in the game folder, simply renamed as 'testapp.'

It turned out that Max Payne 2 wasn't the only game Rockstar brought to Steam with an executable cracked by a piracy group. The exe file for Manhunt originally released on Steam with a signature from a piracy outfit called Razer 1911. When the Max Payne 2 crack was unearthed, the publisher also quickly replaced the cracked Manhunt exe with a fresh version free from any pirate fingerprints.

But, as a recent video from YouTuber Vadim M demonstrates, the Manhunt exe swap had quite a few more unintended consequences. The PC version of Manhunt actually has multiple layers of digital rights management, or DRM. Since the game was originally released before digital distribution became the norm on PC, the first layer is a simple disc check through a technology called SecuROM.

The second DRM layer is where things get interesting for Manhunt. If the game discovers that the code for the SecuROM check has been tampered with, it does everything it can to make playing a miserable experience. As soon as you open a door, every single other door in the game locks down permanently. Picking up health items makes the game crash. If you somehow manage to keep playing through all the issues, after 15 minutes the game will simply stop accepting any inputs.

There are numerous other game-breaking inconveniences like that, seemingly built with the intent that even if a piracy group managed to deactivate one roadblock, they'd never manage to find them all. But that wasn't what ended up happening. For the Razor 1911 crack, hackers simply emulated the functions of the SecuROM check so that the game never even realized it had been cracked.

In other words, if you pirated Manhunt back in the day you were never affected by these game breaking issues - which takes us back to the version of Manhunt that's still being sold on Steam today. See, when Rockstar replaced the cracked Manhunt executable with a 'clean' version, the company simply removed all the SecuROM files and called it a day - which caused all anti-piracy inconveniences to activate at once.

So the only people who were ever affected by the health pickup crashes or automatic door locks were those who purchased legitimate copies of Manhunt through Steam after 2010. While these issues have been fixed thanks to community patches, the vanilla version of the game still being sold on Steam to this day will, by default, treat you like a pirate.

The Vadim M video has also gotten other players digging into the files for other Rockstar games released around the same time. And yep, sure enough, it seems that even the likes of Midnight Club 2 - a game you can't even buy on Steam anymore - still bears the telltale signs of a Razor 1911 crack. I guess intrusive DRM is just as inconvenient for developers to deal with as it is for players.

Here's hoping that GTA 6 won't be inspiring any similar articles 15 years from now.