WASHINGTON: Like Christmas season, the Halloween season seems to get longer every year. My local grocery store starts selling Halloween candy the day after Labor Day, and costumes have been on display at the mall for more than a month now. And if you work on Wall Street, you ve experienced more terror in the last few weeks than Freddy Krueger has dished out over the last 25 years.
It s a shame that we ve never gotten a decent Freddy Krueger video game – it would be nice if ol Mozzarella Face were around to distract us from our real-life nightmares. Instead, two popular franchises have consistently delivered the scares over the years: Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The much-anticipated Resident Evil 5 won t be out until next spring, but a new Silent Hill mystery has arrived just in time for Halloween.
There are a few good horror games that have been released this year. Sega s grungy Condemned 2: Bloodshot is thoroughly terrifying, while Atari s Alone in the Dark, while flawed, has its nerve-racking moments. And Electronic Arts has savvily chosen October to release the year s most bone-chilling game – so far.
Dead Space (Electronic Arts, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99)It will probably be a few centuries before space travel becomes routine – which may be a good thing, given the nasty creatures we ve encountered in movies like Alien, Pitch Black and Sunshine. Dead Space sends a resourceful engineer named Isaac to investigate a mining ship, the Ishimura, whose communications have gone dead. Of course, that means everyone on board has probably gone dead, too.
The culprits are the Necromorphs, a charming race of aliens who feed off human flesh. Sometimes they gang up on you, while at other times they pretend to be dead and attack when you get too close. You can only kill them through strategic dismemberment, which means ripping their limbs off one by one. The most distinctive levels of Dead Space take place in zero-gravity, which adds a disorienting feeling to your overall state of panic.
While Dead Space freely cribs from movies as well as classic sci-fi horror games like System Shock 2, it has a flavor all its own, thanks to its beautifully gory graphics and marvelous sound effects. (You can hear the monsters skittering around ventilation shafts, and they make a satisfying squish when you step on their heads.) It s one of this year s most invigorating games. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
Silent Hill: Homecoming (Konami, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) The Silent Hill series is all about atmosphere, from the fog-drenched streets of the title town to the blood-soaked halls of the Otherworld. I ve never been able to make much sense of the plots (not even in the 2006 movie), but the always disturbing imagery and dependable scares have kept me coming back.
Homecoming introduces Alex Shepherd, a soldier returning to his hometown of Shepherd s Glen. Alex s brother and father have disappeared, and the search, of course, leads you-know-where. Which means the return of all the beasts you ve come to know and dread – the faceless nurses, the giant insects, the flayed dogs – as well as some impressive new monsters.
Alex is a much better fighter than the typical Silent Hill protagonist, which may make the game too easy for die-hards of the series. But the sharper controls and more fluid camera angles are definite improvements, and the gloomy visuals and moody music establish a strong sense of foreboding. Homecoming has some drab sequences and some unimaginative puzzles, but delivers enough jolts to make the trip worthwhile. Three stars.
Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice (NIS America, for the PlayStation 3, $49.99) Disgaea 3 features a Halloween-worthy cast of demons, witches and, well, exploding penguins. It s a strategy game rather than a survival-horror game, and it aims to make you laugh rather than scream.
Mao (really), the top student at the Evil Academy, is determined to dethrone his father, the overlord of the Netherworld. To become powerful enough, he has to endure dozens of strategic contests, accumulating a team of versatile comrades along the way.
The battles are very challenging and sometimes quite lengthy, so devoted admirers of Disgaea will get plenty of value. But the graphics haven t advanced at all since the PlayStation 2 chapters, and NIS hasn t added enough new features to make Absence of Justice worth most players time. Two stars.