HAUNTING GROUND, Capcom
This survival horror game starts you off with a unique disadvantage: You don't get any weapons -- nor, as a young girl who wakes up in a dark dungeon, do you even have physical strength on your side. Your only advantages over such foes as the behemoth gardener Debilitas, a murderous brute with the IQ of a 5-year-old, are your smarts and your small size. And as much as you might want to escape, the main castle gate is locked.
So when the troll-like Debilitas draws near (as telegraphed by his thundering footsteps and a change in the soundtrack), your first response must be to get out of the way and scramble under a table, behind a bathtub curtain, beneath a bed or in the dark shadow behind a door. Then you can only peek from your hiding place and hope the bad guy moves on.
Thankfully, you are not totally alone. Eventually, you rescue a friendly albino German Shepherd named Hewie who becomes your constant companion. Hewie can sense when an enemy is near before you can and will bark at traps to warn you. He'll also attack pursuers, buying you some time to escape. In between, he acts just like a real dog, whining if you don't praise him enough or plopping at your feet to relax if you stand still too long.
Hang on long enough, and you'll get a few makeshift weapons that can temporarily stun your enemies.
The scenery is drawn in distractingly beautiful detail, but you're better off focusing your attention on looking for the next dark corner to hide in, survive the immediate threat and, eventually, discover how you can escape this grim existence. -- John Breeden II
PlayStation 2, $40
PHOTOMESA 3, Windsor Interfaces
Digital photographers who have tucked away so many pictures on their computers that they can't find any of them should consider PhotoMesa 3.
This photo sidekick offers a speedy way to browse through thousands of images. This unusual way of navigating -- what its developer, University of Maryland computer science professor Ben Bederson, calls a "zoomable image browser" -- allows you to click the left mouse button to zoom in on any image, then click the right button to glide back out. As the cursor passes over a thumbnail image, a larger version of that picture appears. Movement this way is ultra-fast, since it eliminates some mouse clicks or keyboard taps required in other photo organizers. Those differences may seem minor, but they add up when you are trying to scan thousands of photos stored in different folders (which PhotoMesa can all display on the same screen).
Should zoomable browsing not suit your style, you can revert to a conventional image-browsing mode. Like other organizers, PhotoMesa 3 offers a variety of ways to annotate and search image collections; you can label and browse photos by people's names, by category, by time or keywords. But unlike many other photo organizers, PhotoMesa doesn't include any image-editing tools. And it does take a while to learn all of its viewing and annotating options. -- Leslie Walker
Win 2000 or newer, $25 at http://www.photomesa.com