2008: A year to dismember

Fallout 3
With Fallout 3’s VATS system, players target specific limbs in a semi-turn-based combat. Add in the Bloody Mess perk, in which limbs spontaneously explode off the body of a vanquished foe, and you have the Game of the Year. It is also not uncommon to encounter dismembered corpses hanging from chains around Fallout 3’s shattered wasteland. While not an active part of gameplay, it does set a savagely hopeless tone.

Dead Space
From the get-go, Dead Space makes no bones about its gameplay mechanic. If the severed hand on the cover or the Thanksgiving Dismemberment Demo didn’t make it clear enough for you, perhaps this will:

Above: Would you kindly?

The premise is simple – you must blow the arms, legs and heads off your assailants in order to kill them. No torso shots, noob.

Gears of War 2
Brain-splattering headshots and chainsaw dismemberment were a part of the first Gears of War, but 2 ups the stakes with disintegrating meat-shields. Once the arms and legs have been shot off, you’ll have to look for another wounded Locust to take for cover.

Left 4 Dead
Exploding heads are just the beginning in Valve’s zombie outbreak masterpiece. Removing the legs from attacking zombies will slow them down, but they’ll continue to drag themselves toward your luscious brains until you put them down for good.

Call of Duty: World at War
Dismemberment is portrayed vividly at the start of the Peleliau stage, after a rocket attack on a Japanese-held beach. Limbless survivors writhe in the sand, and you’re invited to put them out of their misery. Interestingly, none of the corpses of American soldiers littering the beach are missing limbs. In Nazi Zombies mode, the zombies’ limbs and heads can be shot off or removed by explosives. Also, a cheat in co-op mode causes Exploding Headshots.

Ninja Gaiden II
As you carve your path through waves of enemies in Ninja Gaiden II, dismembered foes crawl toward you for last-ditch suicide attacks. The solution? After you’ve lopped off their limbs, shred the fallen torsos to pieces so they won’t come back to haunt you.

Let’s quickly touch on a few other titles from 2008 in which detached limbs played a vital role. Wii shocker No More Heroes is rife with decapitation and splitting enemies in half with swings of the Wii-mote. There’s also an overdrive mode, in which anti-hero Travis Touchdown knocks dudes up into the air before dismembering them with his beam katana. Dark Sector’s glaive weapon handily removes any appendage it impacts with an explosion of blood and screaming. Even the E-rated Dragon Quest IV has players systematically dismembering the final boss.

Ironically, ESRB darling Mortal Kombat stands out for not allowing players to cleave each other into bloody stumps in this year’s Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was also criticized for beingtoo tame, and almost certainly would have scored a point or two higher if Stormtroopers’ limbs had been detachable. Get on it, Euphoria engine!

This year in particular, games seem fixated on dismemberment. Yes, the industry has always had its Dooms and Postals, its Mortal Kombats and Manhunts. But this last year has seen a focus not just on general gore but very specifically on graphic dismemberment as a significant element of gameplay in high-profile mainstream releases. Why is 2008’s crop of games so intently focused on severed limbs? With a little digging, we can uncover the basis of this preoccupation and come to a greater understanding of ourselves and our world.