It's been a while since this happened, but somebody has managed to crank out a movie-based game that's playable for more than 10 minutes. Although Escape From Butcher Bay was produced by actor Vin Diesel, the star and producer of this summer's "The Chronicles of Riddick" movie, the tie-in here is less direct than usual; Escape takes place before "Pitch Black," the 2000 flick that itself served as a prequel to this summer's release. In other words, the game's developers didn't have to follow or re-create the plot of any of these movies.
Perhaps as a result, Escape turns out to be one of the best-looking first-person shooters yet on the Xbox and one of the most enjoyable Hollywood-developed games since Spider-Man 2 or The Lord of the Rings. Its challenge -- get Riddick out of Butcher Bay prison, a place that makes Alcatraz look like Sesame Street -- is made trickier by the requirement that you battle through the first part of the game without using any weapons.
During this period of hand-to-hand combat, the game's plot moves along through inmate interactions that make Escape feel a bit like a role-playing title. Once weapons enter the picture, however, the game transforms itself into an outstanding first-person shooter. And as an entertaining finish, the latter part of this title puts you behind the controls of a Mechanized Assault Vehicle, which inflicts monstrous damage on everybody and everything in its path. The lack of any multiplayer support here is puzzling, but it doesn't dent this game's appeal. -- John Gaudiosi
Most people would never hand over the reins to their credit card or PayPal accounts to an e-mail scammer, but when they fall prey to "phishing" or "spoofing" -- attempts to get users to log on to fake Web sites that look like the real thing -- they do just that. SpoofStick, a free browser toolbar add-on for Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, offers a last line of defense against this.
It untangles whatever technical trickery a scammer has used to mask the address of the phony site to display its real domain name. So if you think you're on PayPal.com but SpoofStick reports "You're on 220.127.116.11" -- a temporary address clearly unrelated to the popular funds-transfer site -- you might want to just close that browser window instead of continuing.
SpoofStick installs quickly and easily in both IE and Firefox, and -- unlike most toolbars -- doesn't have to take up much room. You can change the type of that message to small, medium or large and omit the words "You're on"; you can even change the color used to list the current site's address from the default green to some other hue.
SpoofStick is reassuring to have around, but it can't replace common-sense skepticism. The bottom line remains this: Never click a link in an e-mail instructing you to go to a site to type in your account information; instead, type in that site's address in your browser yourself.
-- Rebecca Rohan
Win 2000 or newer (with Internet Explorer); Win 98 or newer, Mac OS X, Linux (with Firefox), free at www.corestreet.com/spoofstick