SPIDER-MAN 2: THE GAME, Activision/Treyarch
This loose interpretation of the movie preserves its basic storyline -- the evil Dr. Octopus is running rampant in the city and Spider-Man has to save the day -- but gives gamers plenty of ways to depart from that path. Each chapter in the game has a specific goal, but you're allowed and encouraged to take time to do some good in the city. Rescue a civilian from danger or take an injured person to the hospital and you'll win "hero points" that yield new powers and skills. And you can do this for hours on end if you want to.
Fighting has been revamped to allow such complex combinations as air juggles and multiple-hit attacks on enemies. Better yet, swinging from building to building on your spider threads feels much more natural (if that's the right word). The stiff, restrictive feel of previous Spider-Man games has been traded in for simple, responsive control of direction, height and distance.
As for graphics, the living, breathing scenery -- far below you, cars move and people mill about -- will certainly keep your interest. (Those graphics look a little sharper on the Xbox.) Voiceover work, meanwhile, was done by the original actors, including Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina.
-- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, $50
This game shipped almost a year late but still looks and plays as if it's unfinished. The original Driver -- a creative chase-and-be-chased experience that featured '70s cars with a variety of entertaining gameplay modes -- is far superior to this re-tread of a sequel. So are the numerous other games that invite gamers to jump in and out of their vehicles to explore rich cityscapes. Here, just getting out of the car is a klutzy, ugly experience, marred by poor gun targeting, rigid animations and bad collision detection.
The artificial intelligence is even dumber than Driver 3's unpredictable, sloppy physics model. Cops will drive their cars into water (you can swim in the game, although you look like you're drowning in the process) and thugs stand in the open and ignore you until you're on top of them. The only positive in the game is the computer-generated cinematics, enhanced by Hollywood voice actors such as Mickey Rourke, Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Madsen. Die-hard fans of the franchise may be tempted to rent this one, but if they do, they'll be surprised at how little has changed since Driver 2. -- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
The idea of this free program -- a small application that provides constantly updated forecasts -- is to ensure you're never again caught without sunscreen or an umbrella . You might think looking out the window would suffice for that, but AWS, of Gaithersburg, says more than 30 million people have registered for WeatherBug since its debut in 2000.
This release works like earlier ones -- click on the small temperature icon at the end of the taskbar to get a window displaying current conditions, the local forecast, weather radar, photos and live camera views -- but provides more details, bigger graphics and more customization. You can now follow links to travel weather, news updates and more, and the regular temperature icon will now flash if there are severe weather alerts in your area (pick from 23 categories, including winter weather advisories and civil emergency messages).
The one minor downside of this free download is the banner ads that grace the bottom of its full weather display (it will offer to change Internet Explorer's default search engine, too). A $20-per-year Plus version nixes those ads and adds such convenient options as the ability to track conditions at six places at once, 13 more types of customizable weather alerts and updates on airport delays and international forecasts.
Unlike some other programs that run in the background full time, WeatherBug didn't gum up the test computer, even on a dial-up connection. The software also lived up to AWS's "not spyware" pledges, passing a scan for privacy threats conducted with the AdAware utility. -- Sacha Cohen
Win 98 or newer, free at www.weatherbug.com
AGENT RANSACK, Mythicsoft
For years, Windows has included a variety of sadly limited tools to locate files. Agent Ransack -- along with a more comprehensive, paid version called FileLocator Pro -- leaves those offerings in the dust in terms of speed, utility and accuracy.
Agent Ransack delivers a host of common-sense improvements to file searching. It can search through multiple unrelated folders at once. It can pore through the contents of many files instead of just looking at their names; files located this way are shown with a glimpse of the matching text to help you decide whether they are what you wanted.
Agent Ransack can save your custom search criteria for re-use and even supports the geeky but powerful option of "regular expressions," a sort of wildcard notation that allows experts to focus their queries with surprising accuracy. Wizard-type front ends make these features approachable for beginners, while experts can stick to an advanced interface.
Ransack's big brother, FileLocator Pro -- available at a bargain $13 registration -- does everything Ransack can, but also searches inside even more documents, including PDF files and .zip archives. It displays a bigger sample of each found file's contents; if you want to inspect the whole thing, it includes its own near-universal document viewer. FileLocator Pro can also be customized and augmented extensively with scripting and plug-ins. -- Gabriel Goldberg
Win 95 or newer, free at www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack