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A screenshot of Dead Space 2

Electronics Arts

Electronic Arts's Dead Space games are basically geek fantasies.

If this doesn't come across in the franchise's brainy engineer protagonist - whose name, Isaac Clarke, is an overt tribute to two of the world's most famous science-fiction writers - then it certainly does in the action.

When we aren't "strategically dismembering" our nightmarish foes with tools-turned-weapons - like a supercollider contact beam designed for breaking apart minerals - we're solving puzzles that might, say, involve reconstructing a centrifuge in an authentically depicted zero-gravity, zero-atmosphere environment in which the only sound is Isaac's laboured breathing inside his high-tech engineer's suit.

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It's nerdvana.

The series' second game begins with our unlikely hero waking up on a densely populated space platform above Saturn called the Sprawl. The station is in chaos, overrun by the same creatures he fought in the first game; dead humans mutated into vicious monsters by an alien artifact discovered on a remote planet.

Every encounter with these creatures is a test of our skill and endurance. Ingenuity is key, too. Example: Clever players with quick reflexes who run out of ammunition can use Isaac's kinetic power to pick up and hurl the giant claws they blast off of monsters back at their former owners, nailing them to walls.

In later chapters combat becomes even more challenging - and potentially frustrating. I was forced to draw on all of my stamina and nerve as I ran up against relentless aliens that could not be killed, only temporarily slowed. Every fight felt like Ripley's final battle against the queen in the movie Aliens.

There is no rest. During Isaac's brief respites from physical terror he battles his own mind, which is under constant assault by the alien artifact. He frequently sees terrible visions of his long-dead girlfriend, who coaxes him into doing some highly questionable things. One unforgettable - and sincerely disturbing - scene involves player-controlled self-mutilation.

It's a dark game - not just figuratively, but literally. Terrified of the sprawl's inky black corridors I found myself cranking up my television's brightness past recommended levels in a futile attempt to make out a little more detail in the shadows.

Enhancing the spooky atmosphere is a haunting ambient soundtrack that alternates between ominous creaking metal, the moans of unspeakable creatures lurking in the dark, and the sounds of people howling in pain in other parts of the facility.

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While I appreciated the game's truly terrifying tone, things are occasionally taken a little too far. In a chapter set in the station's elementary school, I found myself shooting spindly, glowing monsters composed of the bodies of children and babies. It's too much, even for an adults-only horror game. In fact, especially for an adults-only game - some of us have kids.

I started off calling Dead Space 2 a geek fantasy, and I meant no disrespect. I, too, am a pushover for its stunning stellar vistas and intricately detailed futuristic world. It's a shame that Electronic Arts's gamesmiths occasionally take the horror to such sensationalistic levels, but I'd be lying if I said this geek didn't have a gruesomely good time.

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