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You can play by day, be spooked at night

October 30, 2003|Pete Metzger | Times Staff Writer

Video games aren't supposed to induce nightmares, are they?

Just try getting a good night's sleep after playing the stunningly eerie "Silent Hill 3" in a dark room.

In this disturbing story, gamers control Heather Morris, a precocious teen who winds up in a filthy, deserted shopping mall populated by angry zombie types hoping to maim her. But these aren't the kind of flesh-eaters you saw in Michael Jackson's "Thriller." There are demon dogs with their faces split open, humanoid chicken creatures that are missing arms but still pack a punch, and giant stilt-walkers with creepy worm-like faces and large spikes for hands.

It's not like you weren't warned from the get-go: "Some parts of this game may be considered violent or cruel," reads the warning. No kidding.

And while bone-chilling, the graphics are among the most complex and intricate available for the PlayStation2.

Each room is dirtier and more moody than the last, and in some hallways, Heather's flashlight provides the only means of illumination. So what is making that strange moaning sound?

Controlling Heather as she tries to escape from shopping hell isn't as smooth as it could be, but the point of the game isn't to get into a huge brawl with the undead, it's to survive. Saving Heather from becoming zombie chow requires solving numerous puzzles and locating items, such as a handy flashlight or a key hidden in the carcass of a dog. If you run past a needed item, Heather will sneak a peek at it to tip you off.

Adding to the fright factor, when Heather's health starts to run low after a mauling, you can feel her heartbeat in the controller.

Combined with the sights and sounds of this bad dream-come-true, gamers can expect a horrific good time.

But even after you close your eyes, the monsters are still there.

Ghoulish but cartoonish

To meet some decidedly more cartoonish creatures, get "Grabbed by the Ghoulies."

A polar opposite of the definitely-for-adults "Silent Hill," this one is perfect for the SpongeBob set, and entertaining for anyone with a sense of humor. With easy-to-learn controls and cute, playful graphics, "Ghoulies" offers all the fun of a county fair haunted house, but without the pesky pig smell.

Players control Cooper, who at the outset is lost in the woods with his pink-haired girlfriend, Amber. Cooper mistakenly insults the owner of a spooky old house, the villainous Baron Von Ghoul, who then proceeds to kidnap Amber. It's up to Cooper to save the day.

Along the way, Cooper has to do battle with a wide array of icky monsters, like green-haired zombies and ninja imps. Moving Cooper couldn't be simpler: one joystick to move him around, the other to punch, kick and stomp his foes.

Cooper also has the ability to wreak havoc on the Baron's abode. Watch out for flying vases, chairs and dishes.

As he searches the house for Amber, Cooper visits the trophy room, complete with scary monster heads mounted on the walls. Some come to life excitedly, forcing gamers to tap a series of buttons to calm the nerves, definitely giggle-inducing.

Just like being at the fair.

Pocket full of quarters ...

Quick reviews from around the gaming world.

Once you get used to the awkward controls, "Freedom Fighters" (All platforms, $49.99) is a blast. Soviets invade New York City and it's up to you to recruit and command a team to stop them. Love those tasty Molotov cocktails ... Overrated but fun nonetheless, "Viewtiful Joe" (GameCube, $39.99) is a throwback to side scroll games of days past. When Joe starts scrapping, he can slow down time, a la "The Matrix," to do some serious damage to his enemies. The movie-themed visuals also change from crisp and clear to weathered and scratched depending on Joe's status....The beautiful but vapid "Otogi -- Myth of Demons" (Xbox, $39.99) is missing key elements -- like a climax for finishing a level -- to make it a winner. The game play gets boring fast, but at least you can destroy the environments you're in.



"Silent Hill 3"

Good: Intensely detailed visuals; a truly frightening experience.

Bad: No place for the squeamish.

Details: PlayStation2; $39.99; Rating: M (blood, gore, violence).

"Grabbed by the Ghoulies"

Good: A perfect alternative to trick-or-treating for the kiddies.

Bad: Main character is a little generic.

Details: Xbox; $39.99; Rating: E (everyone).

Pete Metzger can be reached at

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