How will you survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse? After 40 years of zombie movies, from "Night of the Living Dead" to "28 Days Later," your first line of defence should be clear: don't get infected. Then run.
Video game characters are a different breed, however. They don't run away from horror, they run toward it, with whatever weapons - baseball bats, shotguns, chain saws - they can scare up. And thanks to so-called "survival horror" games like "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill," I know how I'll handle myself when judgment day arrives.
In movies like George Romero's "Dead" series, zombies often serve as a metaphor - for conformity, consumerism, government paranoia or other social ills. Horror games rarely betray such ambitions, usually aiming just to scare you out of your wits. But when a game can make you feel like you're the one who's under attack, it can be more effective than any other kind of terror.
• "Condemned 2: Bloodshot" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3): Poor Ethan Thomas. His investigation of a serial killer in the original "Condemned" really messed with his head, and he's sought refuge in the bottom of a liquor bottle. But his old colleagues need his help with another case, so they prop him up and send him back out into a city where half the population has gone homicidally insane.
Ethan is still so woozy that he needs a shot of booze before he can fire a gun. Fortunately, he's got plenty of other choices for weapons, from his bare fists to your basic nail-encrusted two-by-four to a toilet seat. The hand-to-hand combat is some of the best ever seen in a first-person adventure, and it's satisfyingly grisly.
Some cleverly executed crime-scene investigating sequences break up the mayhem, and the story offers plenty of jolts. Not only does Ethan have to deal with hordes of murderous homeless people and track down a new serial killer, he also has to confront his own alcoholism and discover his role in a supernatural conspiracy. It's a big improvement over the first game, and points toward (spoiler alert) an even more exciting conclusion to the trilogy. Three stars out of four.
• "Dark Sector" (D3, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3): Early on in "Dark Sector," made by Digital Extremes of London, Ont., black-ops agent Hayden Tenno is infected with a toxin that turns other men into vicious, crazed killers. Fortunately for Hayden, he's affected differently: the substance gives him superpowers, chiefly a three-bladed "glaive" that he can sling from his right arm.
The glaive may be the coolest new video-game weapon in years. It works like a boomerang, so it zips right back after you've used it to slice off some monster's head. The gameplay works a lot like "Gears of War": You find some cover, poke your head out to fire the glaive (or an actual gun), then duck back into hiding. The glaive even develops new powers, eventually letting you control its flight in slow motion.
The downside is that the rest of "Dark Sector" doesn't live up to the groovy weapon. The environments are boring, the enemies are repetitious and the plot is nonsensical. The long-distance combat is a rush, and I hope the developers will use it in a better game next time. Two stars.
• "Obscure: The Aftermath" (Ignition, for the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2): In the original "Obscure," from 2005, a group of teenagers discovered their classmates at Leafmore High had been turned into mutants. In "The Aftermath," the Leafmore survivors are now enrolled at Fallcreek University, where more strange things are happening thanks to a trendy drug that all the cool kids are using.
"The Aftermath" nails one aspect of the teen horror movie, in that the characters are every bit as grating as the dimwits in a "Friday the 13th" sequel. And the vision of a frat party being overrun by drooling, brain-dead brutes comes pretty close to my own college experience.
The graphics are about 10 years out of date, diminishing the effectiveness of some of the game's gorier moments. And fighting the monsters can be frustrating, due to sluggish controls and camera angles that often block your view of the action. "Obscure: The Aftermath" is good for a few cheesy laughs, but feels too amateurish to be scary. One star.
On the Net:
- "Condemned 2: Bloodshot": http://www.condemnedgame.com/
- "Dark Sector": http://www.darksector.com/
- "Obscure: The Aftermath": http://www.obscureaftermath.com/