MORTAL KOMBAT:

DECEPTION, Midway

The sixth title in the seemingly endless Mortal Kombat franchise -- 12 years and counting -- is about much more than blood-soaked, hand-to-hand fighting. Yes, Chess Kombat is now a reality: This mode plays just like chess, except when two pieces meet on the same square, they have to battle it out.

That's not the only departure from MK tradition. In the light-hearted, habit-forming Puzzle Kombat, you score points for connecting multiple blocks of the same color. There's also an attempt at a third-party adventure game, Konquest; it would be a waste if completing it didn't unlock characters and weapons you can use later on.

Deception's core fighting game sticks with the last title's system, in which each of 24 fighters can switch among four fighting styles (three martial arts, one armed) during a match. But "Combo Breakers" can now stop an opponent from overpowering you with a combo move. You get only three per match, so use them wisely. Fatalities are depicted in more gruesome detail than ever, which will certainly earn this game some friends in Congress.

Better yet, the action now spans the Internet: On both the PS2 or the Xbox, you can jump online and fight people from across the country, with minimal lag over the required broadband connection. (Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat can also be played online.) -- Tom Ham

PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50

SILENT HILL 4: THE ROOM, Konami Digital Entertainment-America

Silent Hill 4 starts when you wake up in your comfy little efficiency apartment and realize that, with the door chained shut and the windows sealed, your only exit is through a portal leading to various horrific worlds filled with malevolent zombies, blood-sucking insects and murder victims. As in earlier Silent Hill games, you explore these odd worlds in third-person mode but can also retreat to your apartment to heal and re-arm (your weapons include golf clubs and guns); there, the game switches to first-person perspective.

The interaction between real and nightmarish worlds is thoroughly creepy. While imprisoned in your apartment, you can watch things going on outside, even if you can't do anything about them. The things that happen in the alternative reality below seem to have effects on the real one -- after a girl is murdered in the underworld's subway, you see police cars and firetrucks swarming outside your apartment. In the course of all this, you slowly learn that your entrapment in your apartment is due to a series of grisly murders that occurred years ago. Exploring the nightmare world to find out how it and reality are connected might be your only chance of escape.

Like other Silent Hill games, this one is a nightmarish sight, filled with unlit subway stations, abandoned orphanages, haunted hotels, dark forests and other locales infested with lurking enemies. Fans of blood and gore and things that go bump in the night won't be disappointed. -- John Breeden II

Win 98 or newer, $30; PlayStation2, Xbox, $40

SPINRITE 6.0,

Gibson Research

If your hard drive is having hard times, SpinRite could be your lifeline: It can recover files from seemingly trashed drives and keep healthy drives from getting sick in the first place. All it needs is a little luck, a lot of time and some tolerance for 1992-vintage computing. SpinRite runs off the DOS command line, not as a regular Windows application, because it interacts with a hard drive's components much more closely than Windows permits.

It relies on a disk sub-system called Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) that can scan for trouble and relocate data from failing sectors. Windows doesn't tap into this capability, but SpinRite does. And where older versions could fix only drives formatted in Windows 95 and 98 file systems, SpinRite 6.0 can manipulate a disk's raw data, regardless of format -- Windows, Linux or even Mac (if a Mac's drive has been plugged into a PC for repair).

I put SpinRite to the test with a drive that had drowned in a flooded basement last fall. The program took 27 hours to rescue the drive's data, bit by bit, but at the end the drive awoke, allowing a successful transfer of its data to a new disk. -- J.B. II

Win 95 or newer, $89 at grc.com/sr/spinrite.htm

Mortal Kombat: blood and chess. Silent Hill 4 plumbs new depths of creepiness.