- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

Here’s a couple of holiday stress-management tools for the mature gamer looking for some violently grotesque action.

Splatterhouse (Namco Bandai, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99)  College student Rick Taylor returns from his 16-bit origins to once again save his girlfriend, Jennifer, from the evil Dr. Henry West and give mature gamers an intensely violent experience.

This third-person gorefest features button-mashing levels of brutality loaded with upgradable combination moves and depraved contextual kills.

For example, squish the heads of beasts with a flick of the controller’s analog sticks, rip jaws in half, impale horned horrors and pummel demons into a blood-gushing pulp. It makes holiday dinner with the relatives sound not that bad.

All of this is found within a hyperrealistic horror universe as tongue-in-cheek as “Re-Animator” while always verging on the comic-book ridiculous. Imagine the Incredible Hulk starring in an H.P. Lovecraft novel as the wimpy boyfriend dons the Terror Mask and turns into a beastly brute to battle the forces of darkness.

Besides the raw power of fists, Rick finds an assortment of weapons, including a cleaver, chain saw, severed limbs and decapitated-head clubs, to use as he confronts unspeakable levels of the doctor’s depravity.

Our hero even can suck the blood from foes to restore health and unleash his Berserker mode to cover surroundings and the screen with gooey red retaliation.

Splatterhouse could use a boost from the vocalizations of a Bruce Campbell and is in dire need of screens that load more quickly, a problem that became more excruciatingly painful every time Rick died.

Extras and unlockables include playing the original 1980s trilogy of games, taking part in a 20-level Survival Arena, and collecting and reassembling photos of a naked Jennifer.

It’s almost too much for my male machismo massacre gene to handle.

Dead Nation (Sony Computer Entertainment America, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $14.99)  Can gamers ingest yet another zombie game? They can when caught up in this affordable top-down killing rampage loaded with nail-biting action.

Be it the solo or cooperative campaigns, the player finds himself in control of either Jack McReady or Scarlett Blake as they avoid the infected and escape from various urban environments in this post-apocalyptic universe.

Of course, let’s forget about the stealthy getaway and concentrate on slaughtering those flesh-eaters with help from upgradeable firepower, including rifle, submachine gun, shotgun, blade launchers, flamethrower and land mines.

Through 10 chapters, players find an irresistible level of pulse-pounding creepiness and delicious use of shadows as they try to survive against the hordes while nearly blind. The twist, my ghoulish friend, is it’s always dark and the beam from a flashlight acts a guide to get the hero to the next gated safe area.

Add in using exploding vehicles to clear paths, but make sure to get the goodies — such as gold to buy new stuff  out of the trunk before setting off the car’s alarm. Nearby ghouls surround and pound on the vehicle before it blows up real good, spreading assorted body parts.

By the way, Dead Nation’s zombies are always willing to wait in the shadows before springing forward, often dozens at a time or popping up from manholes or from above structures to startle the player. Nothing was quite as unsettling in this gamer as running into a pack of the infected and having them attack in a feeding frenzy while my controller vibrated with every bite.

Dead Nation is a harrowing experience for sure, and developer Housemarque spent some quality time developing a fine assortment of zombie animations and environments.

I just wish I could see them better. Other than the exploding body parts and head-shot gushes, it’s hard to really appreciate the detailed visuals pulled so far back.

An added level of fun comes in the statistical curiosity of watching the online worldwide ranking of zombie-killing countries update after each chapter. Of course, the United States leads the pack in its effort to rid the globe of the hungry infected.

Other than the minor visual gripe, Dead Nation is an incredibly priced download ready to fry the nerves.

Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Communities pages (http://communities.washingtontimes.com).

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