KUMA\WAR,

Kuma Reality Games

True-to-history war games -- whether they're set in the '40s, like Activision's Call of Duty, or the '60s, like Electronic Arts' Battlefield: Vietnam -- have conquered a sizable chunk of the video-game market. Kuma\War, a new online-only, broadband-required game, takes things a step further by allowing its subscribers to relive actual missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots, often only weeks or months after they have occurred.

The service offers a free seven-day trial and then costs $10 a month, with two new missions released each month. The current selection includes "Uday and Qusay Hussein's Last Stand in Mosul," "Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan," "Samarra Bank Heist" and "Fallujah Police Station Raid." (The latest mission, however, re-creates the 1980 attempt to rescue the 53 American hostages in Iran.)

New York-based Kuma touts the way its creation weaves real war footage, newspaper clippings and other current-events material into each pre-mission briefing. But the company doesn't seem to have put nearly as much effort into creating the game's environments and animating its action: Poor graphics, dimwitted artificial intelligence and such basic game-play failures as the inability to peek around corners in firefights combine to make Kuma\War frustrating and unrealistic. In a single-player mode, you lead a squad of four soldiers through hostile terrain, only to find that this hapless crew can't even file out of an alley or aim properly under the computer's direction. The only way to complete a mission is to manage all your troops directly, switching control from one to the next as needed.

Kuma\War's multi-player mode takes the horrible AI out of the picture but doesn't fix any of its other flaws. When games such as THQ's Full Spectrum Warrior and Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon franchises offer edge-of-your-seat action and graphics just this side of CNN, there's no excuse for this kind of a shoddy job. Those other games also don't suffer from Kuma\War's inherent creepiness; seeing this developer try to cash in the latest developments in Iraq with a new mission leaves me queasy. -- John Gaudiosi

Win 2000 or newer, $9.99/month at www.kumawar.com

EUDORA 6.1,

Qualcomm

Two cheers to Qualcomm for sticking with Eudora: This wireless-technology firm has few strategic reasons to keep developing this e-mail client, but it has just released a new upgrade anyway.

Eudora 6.1 -- available for $50 or in a free version that embeds an ad frame in the bottom-left corner of the screen -- adds more convenience: A search bar and right-click shortcuts allow quicker searching not only within your messages but of the Web. You can now file a message into a mailbox by right-clicking on any instance of the mailbox's name in its text. Eudora's Content Concentrator, which hides previously quoted text in messages, can now be switched on or off with a drop-down menu. Synchronizing IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) accounts takes less time, both for individual folders and entire accounts -- a welcome improvement in a program first developed for the older Post Office Protocol.

The Mac version now imports e-mail and address book entries from Apple's own Mac OS X software. The Windows version's revised Outlook importer quickly reeled in a set of Outlook mail folders but sloppily translated an Outlook contacts list, losing some home addresses and duplicating some entries.

Eudora's SpamWatch filter, which aims to learn by watching your own patterns of use, works well, and a number of third-party plug-ins extend that capability. And more comprehensive usage tracking (for your own enlightenment, not Qualcomm's) can detail exactly how much of your time spam wastes.

Given the size and processor-intensive nature of this program, however, we wish Qualcomm would build out its address book, then add a calendar and to-do-list module to make Eudora a complete alternative to Microsoft's virus-prone Outlook.

-- Alan S. Kay

Win 98 or newer/Mac OS X or newer/Mac OS 9, $50 (or free in ad-supported version) at www.eudora.com

FIRE 1.0,

Epicware and others

Fire's initial bid for your attention is its promise to connect you to six instant-messaging services -- AOL Instant Messenger, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Internet Relay Chat and Jabber -- without forcing you to sacrifice such service-specific features as file transfer (although AOL often balks at this), custom emoticons and special buddy-list icons.

But the lasting appeal of Fire, which finally hit version 1.0, is its simplicity: Its open-source development process put users first and pruned away the marketing-driven excess of commercial competitors: Fire has no processor-hogging games, no horoscopes, no ads.

As a result, Fire's interface is uncluttered and intuitively organized -- a refreshing change from the optical overload that makes the AOL, MSN and Yahoo programs resemble Times Square billboards. It includes such sensible options as adjustable window transparency (so you can glance at your work through Fire's windows), drag-and-drop customization of its toolbar and automatic logging of your conversations for later viewing.

This lean, clean machine, however, lacks audio and video chat, owing to the proprietary mechanisms employed by each of the big services. The lack of any integration with Mac OS X's Address Book -- an advantage of Apple's own iChat -- also seems a huge oversight. But Fire's developers have already said that last feature is on their to-do list for a future release. Those responsible for the overstuffed AIM, MSN and Yahoo messengers should take note of this responsiveness to user concerns. -- Bob Massey

Mac OS X 10.1 or newer, free at fire.sourceforge.net

Kuma\War: ripped-from-the-headlines realism, but a bad game nevertheless. The latest Eudora concentrates on convenience. Fire 1.0, an open-source messenger, is useful and intuitive.