- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Dead Space 2 (from Electronic Arts and Visceral Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99).

A disturbing science-fiction/horror adventure returns to entertainment consoles to dazzle anyone enamored with gore and splattering action.

Set in the year 2414, this third-person macabre masterpiece frays nerves and will make the weaker gamer cower as he seeks to destroy an alien artifact tied to the release of a parasitic mutation.

What’s the story? Paraphrased from the product literature: Three years after engineer Isaac Clarke survives the Necromorphs aboard the USG Ishimura starship, he awakens in a medical facility on Sprawl, a massive space station orbiting Saturn. The near-deserted metropolis is now a graveyard and incubator for the familiar plague of grotesque mutations he must now destroy. Remember, “On Sprawl, no one cares if you scream.”

Play the role: A player takes control of Isaac and peers over his right shoulder throughout this terrifying dark ride.

As the hero walks — and often runs — through the city, he will crawl through air vents, jump from train cars, move through bloodstained corridors, hide in a child’s nursery and use a flashlight to poke around shadowy corners.

SEE ALSO: Zadzooks: Dead Space 3 review

While exploring, he finds that life gets more complicated in areas with zero gravity. Sure, our hero has magnetic boots to get him back to the ground, but floating amid the carnage is required and can be as rewarding an endeavor as it is dangerous.

Isaac uses an ingenious holographic menu system to keep track of munitions, items collected and weapons as well as newly uncovered data. A player will love being able to monitor the hero’s health through a glowing meter on Isaac’s suit as well as use suit meters to keep track of powers and ammunition levels.

He also will find workbenches to upgrade tools and storage areas to change uniforms and can buy tools with accumulated credits and hack into rooms containing more goodies.

Get to the action: From the moment Isaac is cut out of a straitjacket, he must fight alien organisms that can reanimate human corpses — or parts of them — each creature more deadly and ruthless than John Carpenter’s Thing.

Of course our hero will require some heavy-duty powers and tools to survive attacks from the assortment of monstrosities that only someone well-versed in Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft could dream up.

Let’s start with a simple plasma cutter and a line gun that uses bursts of energy to injure enemies or a javelin gun that can impale a poor Necromorph from great distances. Better yet, find the schematic and buy the industrial saw to use circular blades that can shoot out or hover around Isaac to mutilate anything that gets near him.

To add to the strategy, Isaac can manipulate gravity to move objects, including hurling many types of pointy items at the creatures.

He also can jolt an area with stasis to slow down everything, which is helpful when blasting groups of quick-moving enemies or trying to prevent decapitation while sneaking through a high-powered overhead fan.

Creatures requiring termination include a brute containing a pus-filled yellow sac that spews quick-moving, slug-shaped parasites, winged suckers that look like mynocks and attach and envelop a victim.

Let’s also add mutated babies that explode on contact and packs of naked children that sport sharp teeth and wolverine-length fingernails.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): Isaac being encased in his slick engineering suit armor, breaking a glass panel to suck an enemy into space and quickly tripping an air lock to avoid suffering the same fate, walking down a transport corridor covered in digital billboards, being stuck helplessly upside down as mutants attack, and experiencing zero gravity in a working trash compactor.

Violent encounters: I think we have a winner for the grossest game award. I’ve seen some doozies, such as Splatterhouse, Aliens vs. Predators, Gears of War 2 and Dead Rising 2, but nothing tops the levels of gratuitous and gooey violence revealed in Dead Space 2.

Seeing someone cut his own throat or the copious amounts blood gushing from a decapitated enemy within minutes of beginning the action is merely a taste of what awaits the player as he goes deeper into this mortician’s butcher shop.

Isaac must vivisect enemies, often one appendage at a time, to destroy them and often is rewarded with munitions and health packs for stomping on the bodies until they are bloody pulps.

He also can use enemies’ appendages as projectiles to shoot at other hostiles and often will have to walk among the entrails of the fallen.

Additionally, enemies scream in anguish during every encounter, and some will spit or puke acidic bile at long distances, burning away at the hero’s protective gear.

Read all about it: I’ll offer two choices for the comic-book-loving fan. Either Image Comics’ 2008 six-issue limited series Dead Space, which acts as a prequel to the games (collected as a hardcover trade-paperback-size volume, $24.99) or IDW Publishing’s 2010 Dead Space Salvage, which continues the story after the conclusion of the first game (graphic novel, $17.99, also available on the iPad for $7.99).

Pixel-popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. Dead Space 2 really delivers on creepy with too-lifelike visuals of the creatures and their haunted house-style attacks. These nasty beasts are always hiding in the dark and will burst through walls or the tops of elevators.

Within a brow-perspiring level of cinematic realism, the player quickly realizes he often is cornered by these menaces and must unleash all of his diabolical weaponry to exterminate them.

Multiplayer: In four-versus-four online matches, players can side with the humans or Necromorphs. Although humans have objectives, such as constructing a shock mine or detonating a fuel core, it is way more fun to transform into Lurkers or one of the childlike Pack and simply mangle those pesky sacks of living flesh.

What’s it worth? It takes some major bravado to shut off the lights in the entertainment room and jump aboard the “Aliens”-like, interactive story of Dead Space 2. Some of the violence was just too much for me (and overwhelming for a disgusted mother who just occasionally listened to the game from a distance — she made me write that), but learning the fate of Isaac was just too compelling to stop the slaughter.

* Send e-mail to jszadkowskiwashingtontimes.com.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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