STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT,
Hearing a Jar Jar Binks-lookalike Gungan yell "Meesa gonna die!" as my droid tank shot him point-blank may have been the best part of this game. An excellent match for anybody with a set of Star Wars action figures in the closet -- or anybody who just likes blowing things up -- Star Wars Battlefront re-creates most of the movies' memorable battles.
You can fight from a first- or third-person perspective and on a variety of sides -- the Trade Federation's Droid Army, the later Empire or the Rebel Alliance. Gameplay follows a popular pattern: Its large battlefields are dotted with command posts, and your job is to run, fly or drive to one and occupy that position for about 30 seconds while blasting anybody who tries to take it back.
If you capture all the enemy's command posts or wipe out all its troops, you've won the battle. Battlefront features most of the flicks' settings, including the snowbound trenches of Hoth, Tatooine's deserts, the jungles of Yavin and Cloud City's towers, and just about every Star Wars vehicle you might remember.
In each battle, you can choose five characters, with the ability to select a new person to control if one gets killed (up until you run out of reinforcements). In most scenarios, you get one everyday soldier, one sniper, one heavy-weapons specialist, one medic or engineer and one "special troop." The last category includes the likes of destroyer droids (to mow down the opposition while generating a shield to protect themselves) and the Empire's dark troopers (who use their jet packs to fly to the tops of buildings).
Battlefront offers a single-player campaign mode, in which you play through the movies' battles in the same order as the original storyline; a multiplayer mode that's already drawing crowds of gamers to LucasArts' servers; and a chess-like conquer-the-galaxy mode that, like a game of Risk played with X-Wing and TIE fighters, requires a careful choice and timing of battles. For anybody who likes raw combat and wants to play with all the great toys from the movies, Battlefront is your ticket. -- John Breeden II
Win 98 SE or newer, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
SLY 2: BAND OF THIEVES,
Sony/Sucker Punch Productions
This action-adventure game -- arriving two years after Sly the raccoon's debut -- is a rarity in several ways. First, it's a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy. Veteran gamers may breeze through it, but the larger audience will be in for a thrilling, sustained ride. The second plus is a camera system that doesn't get in the way -- something that sounds simple but has sunk dozens of games. Third, this game departs from the original's linear setup to open up its world to wider exploration by Sly and the other characters under player control, Murray the bulldozing hippo and Bentley the intelligent turtle.
The teamwork-centric gameplay centers on eight big heists that the gang must undertake to recover the stolen parts of Clockwerk (the robotic bad bird from the first game). The brains of the operation, Bentley, has mapped out each job in detail, leaving the proper execution up to players. Both scenery, covering such locales as Paris, the snowy Canadian wilderness and the lush jungles of India, and characters are drawn in cel-shaded 3D graphics with the vibrant feel of a cartoon.
The game's humor comes through in its excellent voice-acting as well as the often half-absurd action. In one heist, for instance, Sly must dance in a ballroom while Murray lowers himself into the room to snatch the wings off a statue; for the escape, Bentley has to pilot a remote-controlled, bomb-dropping toy chopper. Players have to steer all these crazy characters in the right direction to pull off this objective. -- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, $40
If you don't know your first cousin twice removed from your second cousin once removed, genealogy software is vital to making sense of your extended family. Name-brand Windows developers have yet to meet this demand in the Mac market, but this application, developed by a small German shareware firm, is a respectable alternative to better-known, Windows-only programs such as Family Tree Maker.
MacFamilyTree sensibly emphasizes compatibility: It can read and write the standard GEDCOM file format used by other genealogy software, making it easier to import other family members' records. We tested this by opening a large family tree from a Windows genealogy application, and MacFamilyTree imported the data almost perfectly, losing only people's nicknames in the process.
This program's charting capabilities include such basics as descendant and heritage charts as well as a nifty timeline that graphs the overlapping lifespans of your ancestors. MacFamilyTree could, however, use a few more options -- for instance, it can't produce a fan chart, a common way of visualizing ancestry.
Once you've sorted out your predecessors' paths, a "publish" button lets you share your database by burning it to CD or creating a professional-looking Web site. OnlyMac's developers wrapped these features in an interface that echoes some of the best parts of other Mac programs, such as the iPhoto-style zoom sliders for charts and an iTunes-esque real-time search function. The programmers did, however, miss a few things: Keyboard entry can be dreadfully slow, not all of the icons are labeled and the documentation is minimal. -- Kevin Savetz
Mac OS X 10.2.8 or newer, $45 at www.onlymac.de