'Splatterhouse'

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Platforms: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

Rating: Mature

"Splatterhouse's" legacy undoubtably will be the new heights to which it elevates video game gore.

True to the name, it's swimming in blood, with the most minor of attacks spraying the screen with blotches of red while the more advanced moves practically coat the entire level in the stuff.

Throw in some special kills that trigger some very painful-looking interactive cutscenes, and the award for the goriest game in existence is now handily in this game's possession. A subtle reliance on cel shading slightly mutes the effect, but only slightly.

But Namco justifies the whole disgusting display by applying some real weight -- figuratively as well as literally -- to all those attacks. "Splatterhouse's" storyline encompasses a good eight to 10 hours of play time, and the novelty of all that blood would dissipate awfully quickly if the storytelling and gameplay propping it up weren't so surprisingly strong.

"Splatterhouse's" core action plays out like any number of recent action games in the "God of War" and "Dante's Inferno" vein. One button handles light attacks, the other heavy attacks, and using the attack buttons in different combinations allows Rick (that's you) to escalate the impact of his arsenal.

A handful of limited-use weapons -- planks, cleavers, chainsaws and more -- provide a temporary uptick in offense when available.

As the story explains, though, Rick is no ordinary protagonist.

In fact, he's kind of a geek -- albeit one fused with a mask that transforms him into an inhumanly strong hulk. Along with the aforementioned blood-coating attacks, the extra strength allows him to, for instance, pick up an enemy, pull his arm off and use that arm as a bat.

Well-timed special attacks fill the battleground with usable "weapons" of this magnitude, adding a nice level of risk/reward and effectively discouraging the exercise of banal button mashing. Combined with the game's nice control balance, the combat system is much more thoughtful than the bloodlust might initially imply.

Doubly surprising is "Splatterhouse's" story, which begins ambiguously but makes a gradual, continual transformation into something surprisingly artful.

The story of Rick, his talking mask his girlfriend and the maniacal Dr. West doesn't quite add up logically, and the mask has more than a few annoying things to say while harassing Rick. But "Splatterhouse's" first two-thirds construct a legitimately wicked horror story, and when the narrative focus shifts from Rick to West in the final third, the game handles it with a surprising level of care and spirit.