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Strategic dismemberment. Those two words say everything you need to know about "Dead Space."

The key to survival in the M-rated shooter/horror game from Electronic Arts is blasting appendages off your foes. Only then are they weak enough to be eliminated.

The game is set aboard a deep-space mining ship that’s dropped out of contact with its parent company. You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer who’s part of a team sent to restore communications. Soon after arriving aboard the USG Ishimura, your team is attacked and scattered by strange creatures. It’s not long before you realize that the creatures are the zombified remains of the ship’s crew.

You spend the rest of the game fighting hideous necromorphs, repairing critical machinery and trying to figure out what’s going on. Can you trust your teammates? Is your girlfriend still alive aboard the Ishimura? How are the zombies, a strange religion and an alien artifact related?

The necromorphs’ appearance is gruesome enough to earn an M-rating, with their mixture of human body parts and alien attachments. However, the manner of dispatching them solidifies the rating. Your weapons are generally industrial cutting tools pressed into new uses. They’re quite effective at severing limbs and heads, which is the only way to take out the necromorphs. Another effective weapon is your foot. If you knock a foe down, you can kill him with a quick stomp – and a sickening squish.

This is the point at which the game’s creepy atmosphere takes a bit of a hit. Body parts react like they’re made of Styrofoam, breaking off with ease and rolling around like they’re nearly weightless.

However, the rest of the time, the game maintains a high level of tension and suspense. The story line and level construction keep you on edge, never knowing what will happen or what will pop out at you. The realistic graphics maintain a high degree of creepiness. And the foreboding music and sound effects complete the package.

The gameplay is solid, offering plenty of action and variation. While you’re repairing machinery and blasting necromorphs, you often need to slow down time, move objects with kinesis and jump around in zero-gravity environments.

All of this variety makes the controls a bit complex. However, you’re given plenty of time to master a skill before a new one is added to your arsenal, so you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed.

"Dead Space" succeeds in creating a true horror/action experience. However, it’s an experience that’s not so much enjoyed as it is survived with a sense of accomplishment.

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PCOn the Web: www.noknownsurvivors.com

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