Originally created 12/21/06

Video game ghouls offer respite from chaos of Christmas season



'DEATH JR. II: ROOT OF EVIL'

PLATFORM: PlayStation Portable

THE BASICS: Konami, $39.99

THE VERDICT: ** out of ****

Death Jr., the insecure son of the Grim Reaper, is one of the more appealing new characters of the last few years, at least to those of us with latent goth sensibilities. Too bad the games he's headlined haven't lived up to his potential.

In Root of Evil, DJ and his doomchick buddy Pandora contend with a deranged nature goddess named Furi, and there's something likably perverse about making Nature the villain. The journey encompasses some colorfully weird locales, from the River Styx to a toy graveyard to a waffle house where the syrup is made of acid. Unfortunately, the game play gets dull quick: Most of the time you're just twirling DJ's scythe or Pandora's whip, and most of the challenges are a bit too straightforward. The controls are a little sloppy as well, making it hard, for example, to see enemies that are attacking you from off-screen.

We really do like Death Jr. - the character - and we want to see how much fun he'd be in a better-designed game.

'F.E.A.R.'

PLATFORM: Xbox 360

THE BASICS: Vivendi, $59.99

THE VERDICT: **** out of ****

As F.E.A.R. begins, a mysterious army has taken over a government compound and slaughtered everyone in the joint. You're part of an elite strike force, First Encounter Assault Recon (there's your acronym), sent in to clean up the mess, but your enemy isn't your everyday terror cell.

Instead, you're confronted with a force of supersoldiers who are psychically controlled by a maniac named Paxton Fettel. He can get into your head too, feeding you hallucinations of a creepy, dark-haired girl in a red dress.

F.E.A.R. is a first-rate, first-person shooter, but the paranormal elements elevate it into a much scarier experience. Some of the visions are genuinely gruesome, much more than in your standard blastathon or even in "survival horror" games like Resident Evil. F.E.A.R. suffers from repetitious enemies and bland level design, but the regular doses of shock make it worth the ride.

Why aren't there any Christmas-theme video games? Why not a Santa Claus stealth-action adventure? Or Three Wise Men kart racing?

Most games, with their embrace of mayhem and chaos, don't mesh well with the peace-on-Earth message of yuletide.

Some find the holidays more frightening, though: The crowds at Wal-Mart, the incessant carols, the dreaded office parties are enough to send us racing for the relative comfort of a graveyard full of hungry zombies. A good scare can be enough to chase away the holiday blues - or at least allow us to pretend it's Halloween and we still have two months to do our Christmas shopping.

Let's give Santa a break and pay a visit to some of our favorite video-game ghouls.



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