RED DEAD REVOLVER,
The developers of the controversial Grand Theft Auto: Vice City trade in submachine guns for six-shooters in Red Dead Revolver. This slick spaghetti Western of a game, played from a third-person perspective, assigns you the role of Red, a bounty hunter looking for revenge against a motley crew of outlaws. It includes all the usual elements of Western flicks, such as quick-draw showdowns at high noon and attempts to board running trains from your trusty horse, in a set of equally straightforward missions.
Red Dead Revolver's main departure from conventional shooters is its targeting system. As in other games, you simply maneuver the target reticule over the enemy and press fire to let loose with your pistol, shotgun or other weapon -- but here, you can target particular body parts, with specific results. If you hit an outlaw in the leg, he'll fall forward; shoot him in the shoulder and he winces backward.
Revolver's graphics aren't up to PS2 quality -- its characters look quite blocky and lack the detail we've come to expect from new games -- but Rockstar's creative use of such visual tricks as changing lighting and slow-motion draw scenes make up for those technical shortfalls. They don't, however, make up for the fact that you can polish off this game in less than 10 hours; $50 is a steep price for such a short trip out West. -- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
BEYOND THE LAW:
THE THIRD WAVE,
Modern Games, Bad Robot
It's an ugly scene in this game: Terrorists are operating in Washington and New York, and they don't play by the rules. On the other hand, you don't either, nor do the secret groups of anti-terrorist freelance agents you command.
The overhead-view interface works much like that of Eidos's popular Commandos series. But actual combat goes by much faster than in those titles. And your agents come with a much more varied set of abilities -- for instance, bodyguards excel at fighting but sneak around poorly, while computer techs easily pick locks and disarm computer security but can't shoot too straight.
Your enemies -- perhaps unlike real terrorists -- tend to walk fixed patrol routes, which lets you learn their patterns and take them out at just the right moment to avoid alerting their comrades. Otherwise, though, this game is hard work. You must stay aware of the entire tactical picture: If you miss one camera or make a whisper too much noise, you might as well sit back and wait to get killed -- or, at best, watch your hoped-for surgical strike melt down into a mess of collateral damage. And your government employers hate messes.
The landscapes generally portray the District and New York accurately; cut scenes shown before each mission add realism, and it's nice to be able to save our hometown. -- John Breeden II
Win 98 or newer/Mac OS X 10.1 or newer, $20 at www.magnumgames.com
ALL-IN-ONE SECRETMAKER 3.8.6, SecretMaker Team
This suite of data-privacy utilities allows even novice users to dodge many of the dangers of today's Internet with a few clicks in its cartoonish interface. But some of its capabilities cater only to the paranoid, and their use by beginners can lead to serious collateral damage.
SecretMaker's Spam Fighter Pro, which works with POP and Web-mail (but not IMAP) accounts, analyzes incoming e-mail -- except from people you've sent mail to yourself or added to a "whitelist" of permitted users -- and tags suspect messages' subject lines for easy filtering. Banner Blocker and PopUp Killer perform a similar service for Web browsing, deactivating pop-ups and banners on Web pages, aside from those sites you've whitelisted.
Cookie Eraser is less refined; it will erase these small files that Web sites use to track your visits, but -- unless you add particular domains to its "allow" list -- it doesn't distinguish between the often helpful cookies set by sites you visit and those placed by third-party sources such as advertising networks. SecretMaker's Privacy Protector will replace the basic identifying data your browser sends out automatically with fake equivalents -- a powerful tool, but not one you're likely to need much.
This suite's Windows, Office and Explorer Cleaners delete temporary files left behind on a PC; they carry a high risk of data loss and should be used only if you don't trust the people with whom you must share a computer. Finally, the misleadingly named Worm Hunter limits only the number of e-mail messages that can be sent at once; that might brake a virus's spread but -- unlike a firewall program -- it won't block any worms from invading your PC.
SecretMaker packs a lot of tools into one bundle for an appealing price. But it's not a complete solution, and it needs to be used with care. -- Michael Tedeschi
Win 98 or newer, free at www.secretmaker.com