By Lou Kesten
In the movies, the horror genre covers a surprisingly wide range of moods. At one extreme, you have all-out splatterfests such as “Friday the 13th” and “My Bloody Valentine,” which revel gleefully in creative ways to dismember the human body. At the other end, you have subtle shockers such as “The Others” and “The Orphanage,” in which emotional trauma is more troubling than physical pain.
Video games don’t do “subtle” very well. There are a few psychological thrillers out there — most prominently, the “Silent Hill” series — but most horror games emphasize carnage. From “Resident Evil” to last year’s “Dead Space,” the idea is to assault you with a seemingly endless supply of monsters. How scary can a couple of ghosts be after so much bloodshed?
That’s not to say that horror games aren’t effective. “Condemned 2: Bloodshot,” for example, delivers plenty of jolts, particularly if you play with all the lights out. But if you don’t have a strong stomach for gore, you should probably stick with “Wii Bowling.”
“F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin” (Warner Bros., for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, $59.99): Monolith Productions’ “F.E.A.R.” saga is a curious mix of Japanese-style horror and military mayhem. The J-horror inspiration is seen in Alma, a spooky, dark-haired girl clearly drawn from similar spirits in movies like “The Grudge” and “The Ring.” The high-tech weaponry your character wields will feel familiar to anyone who’s played “Halo” or any other first-person shooter.
In the original, the special ops group F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) discovered a plot to create an army of psychic soldiers. Alma, who appeared in hallucinations throughout the game, was the most powerful subject of those experiments. In “F.E.A.R. 2” she’s called “the mother of the apocalypse,” and of course you’re the only one who can stop her.
The Alma hallucinations are nerve-rattling, and the monsters in the later parts of the game are engagingly bizarre. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get to the good stuff; you’ll spend hours battling faceless mercenaries before things get truly weird. Still, the combat is solid, and the payoff is truly disturbing. Three stars out of four.
“The House of the Dead: Overkill” (Sega, for the Wii, $49.99): This long-running series of shooting games is much less ambitious, with a simple goal: Kill all the zombies before they kill you. In “Overkill,” new developer Headstrong Studios has jacked up the comedic element, presenting the material as a cheesy ’70s horror flick, a la “Grindhouse.”
This is a “rail shooter,” meaning you don’t control your character’s movement other than to point your gun and blast away. There’s absolutely no depth — other than trying to calculate the right time to reload — but it’s fast-paced and fun, especially with a partner. Two stars.