The makers of Dead Space had one mission in mind during development: They wanted to make the ultimate horror survival game. So they watched a ton of scary movies to determine what sent the heebie-jeebies shooting through people's spines.
Their research, coupled with some innovative gameplay ideas, was a complete success: Dead Space is a masterpiece of gaming and a front-runner for the best game of the year.
Like the classic film "Aliens," your character is investigating what happened to a mining ship in the deepest regions of space. The crew is missing, but something else is there, and it is not very friendly.
As with "Aliens," Dead Space boasts richly detailed sets, complicated characters and some truly nasty monsters to run from. But unlike the 1986 movie, Dead Space is so completely captivating it's nearly impossible to put down. (It's also only to be enjoyed by adults; the gore factor is off the charts.)
The last game to offer such incredible immersion was last year's much-heralded Bioshock. As in Bioshock's story, Dead Space revolves around someone on the spacecraft apparently trying to play God, only to have something go horribly wrong. But unlike Bioshock, the developers of Dead Space use a third-person view without any other displays on the screen to make controlling Isaac, the poor guy stuck in the middle of this mess, fully immersive. (It's amazing no one has thought of this before.)
Throw in the perfect sounds and score, the great graphics and lighting tricks, the flawless controls and the fact that sometimes monsters will look dead until you get close to them, and you've got a breathtaking experience.
Grade: A+ (peerless).
Details: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms; $59.99; rated Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language).
It's perfect for Halloween night
The remarkably moody world of Silent Hill Homecoming will do nothing to help ease your power bill. That's because playing this creepy thriller at night will require you to turn on every light in your living room. The freaky zombie types, the deserted, fog-enshrouded city, the eerie score and the bump-in-the-night noises are the stuff of which nightmares are made.
While lighter on the action than most games -- the majority of your time is spent exploring some seriously haunted environments -- the cinematic quality of said environments are full of better production design than a lot of actual horror movies.
And although the plot takes a while to unfold, and some of the characters' actions seem a bit unusual, even for what's left of the creepy town, SH Homecoming is a great Halloween treat for adults looking for a little chill.
Grade: B+ (Who dreams up this stuff?).
Details: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms; $59.99; rated Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes).
Mercenaries sequel flames out
When the first Mercenaries game came out in 2005, it offered so much promise. Here was a true open-world sandbox game: See a building? Take it down. It was great fun and gave us cause to fantasize about how great its sequel could be with the power of the next-generation systems.
Sadly, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames doesn't live up to its potential. The story, graphics and gameplay are mostly average, and its "heavy on the plot and less on destruction" focus made us long for the pure sandbox fun of the original.
A lot of what M2 does has already been done, and better too.
Grade: C (wasted potential).
Details: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 2 platforms; $59.99-$39.99; rated Teen (language, use of alcohol, use of tobacco, violence).