PARIAH, Groove Games/Digital Extremes

With Pariah's cool sci-fi story line, high-tech military hardware and online game play, we were hoping we could finally put away Halo 2. But this action title doesn't have enough good ideas to compete against Microsoft's popular first-person shooter, or most others for that matter.

The most interesting part of this game is its plot: Dr. Jack Mason, a down-and-out research scientist escorting an infected patient, Karina, crash-lands on Earth and then loses his patient while picking up her infection. Then he has to find Karina, learn the truth about his mysterious disease and fight off the local thugs -- all before the military moves in and nukes the planet. But this premise is never brought to life by the game's ongoing character development, while the game play itself shows no such originality.

Again and again, you find yourself running through the same old drill -- go into an environment, shoot some enemies, pick up dropped items and repeat. The inclusion of vehicles to drive and guided sequences that have you firing away while moving on a pre-set path don't liven things up nearly enough. Only the weapons-upgrade system provides some novelty. When you find "weapon cores" in the game's various levels, you can use them to enhance your arsenal up to three times -- for example, by reducing a rifle's recoil, adding protective shields and enhancing your target scope's vision.

The computer-controlled enemies display some moments of intelligence, but for the most part they're dumber than a box of meteorites. On one level, the enemies would run away from us, hiding behind rocks and debris -- then jump out back into the open after a few seconds, where we could easily mow them down.

Online game play is as humdrum as the single-player mode, featuring all the usual multiplayer options (for instance, death match, team death match and capture-the-flag scenarios) and nothing noteworthy beyond a slick, useful map editor to create your own outdoor levels. -- Tom Ham

Win 98 or newer, Xbox, $50

NETNEWSWIRE LITE, Ranchero Software

RSS -- an abbreviation for really simple syndication -- can turn any developing Web news junkie into a full-fledged addict, but first you need the right program to tap into this technology. With RSS, instead of navigating to your favorite sites to see what's new, the information comes to you. All you have to do is decide which RSS feeds to subscribe to.

Better browsers, including Firefox, Opera and Apple's Safari 2.0 (the version included in Mac OS X Tiger), incorporate simple RSS readers of their own. But NetNewsWire Lite lets you subscribe, read and organize feeds faster and more conveniently than those programs.

The design resembles that of Apple's Mail, with a three-pane layout that presents subscribed feeds, each feed's headlines and an abstract of the selected headline. By pressing the space bar, you can jump from one headline to the next, scanning hundreds in minutes. If an abstract looks interesting, hit Enter or double-click its headline to open that page in your browser.

The most useful feature in NetNewsWire Lite has to be its ability to sort subscriptions into folders, which lets you survey hundreds of categorized feeds without scrolling through a lengthy list. Because the program always pushes the newest content to the top of each feed and keeps track of what you've already read, you don't wade through old posts. You also can read headlines just by clicking on the Dock icon, which shows a count of how many new items are available.

Several desirable features are restricted to a $25, non-Lite version -- for instance, search and filtering capabilities, podcasting support and the integration of such Web-based RSS aggregators as Bloglines. But the free release offers more than enough effortless functionality for most RSS fans on a Mac. -- Bob Massey

Mac OS X 10.2.8 or newer, free at www.ranchero.com/netnewswire/

FAVORITESYNC, FavoriteSync.com

On the road and can't remember that great travel blog you bookmarked at home? You could try Googling your way back -- most likely getting thoroughly lost long before you stumble upon the old site -- or you could use this free, Web-based application. FavoriteSync allows you to access your Internet Explorer bookmarks from anywhere by uploading them to a password-protected account on this company's site or on another file-transfer protocol server, should you have access to one.

The simple desktop software works behind the scenes, updating IE's Favorites folder each time you add or delete a bookmark (or at intervals that you schedule). A star icon at the right end of your Windows task bar indicates when it's syncing. Right-click on it to open an Options box that, among other things, lets you request a warning if favorites will be added or deleted. You also can elect to share your favorites with friends or the Web universe at large. Further tinkering is possible if you know HTML and programming, but most users won't bother and won't need to.

FavoriteSync doesn't work with Mozilla Firefox, but a test version of that extension is available at the FavoriteSync Web site. Because it is still in testing, you might not want to be the first kid on the block to try it out. -- Sacha Cohen

Win 95 or newer, free at www.favoritesync.com

Pariah starts with an interesting plot, but its game play shows no such originality.FavoriteSync gives users access to their bookmarks from any computer.