TOM CLANCY'S RAINBOW SIX: LOCKDOWN, Ubisoft

The Rainbow Six series has earned the respect and loyalty of gamers with its ultra-realistic tactical game play -- on the PC version, at least.

For once, it wasn't about rushing in and killing everything in sight. It was about planning and knowing when to hold back. For their console counterparts, the games became less of a realistic experience and more of an arcade one. Although the past few console versions have maintained the heart and soul of Rainbow Six, this latest one feels a little stale and diluted.

As with most Rainbow Six titles, the storyline is somewhat plausible and the sense of urgency is created rather convincingly. At the start of the game, a terrorist group, the Global Liberation Front, steals a deadly cyber-virus, which it plans to unleash at the NATO summit in Spain. It's up to you and your Rainbow Six team to track down, capture and retrieve the stolen virus.

The game spans 14 missions, all of which are typical Rainbow Six fare -- hostage rescue and search and destroy. Lockdown also implements solo or sniper missions, which goes completely against the grain of the game and, quite often, feels kind of shallow.

For example, in one mission, the primary objective is to take out targets from long distance while your team inserts itself deeper behind enemy lines. What happened to sneaking in and taking the enemy by surprise? These sequences end up feeling a little too staged.

Another sore spot is the enemy artificial intelligence. The original Rainbow Six had exemplary AI for the enemies, who strategized their moves, used cover effectively and even knew the right times to throw grenades at you. In Lockdown, enemies run in the paths of bullets and duck in and out of the same corners (so you know exactly where to shoot). If the developers would have given the AI more "intelligence," then maybe players would have some sort of challenge.

Both versions have online multi-player modes; however, the Xbox version has a few more game-play options, including the ability to play with up to four players cooperatively on Xbox Live. Online play wasn't as smooth as we would have liked, but that could be because there weren't too many people playing. -- Tom Ham

PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50

INDIGO PROPHECY, Atari/Quantic Dreams

The idea of convergence between games and movies has been around for some time -- and the developer who created Indigo Prophecy has seamlessly blended game play aimed at the mass market with a rich, multi-character fiction that could easily be translated into a Hollywood film.

This Mature-rated game puts you in several roles: an alleged murderer named Lucas Kane, as well as the detectives Carla Vincent and Tyler Miles, who track the ritualistic murders left in Kane's wake. A fourth character, Father Markus Kane, is also playable at times.

As the game's rich story unfolds in a snow-swept New York City -- and exactly how the action unravels is determined by your actions -- a disturbing horror plot is revealed. The game's intuitive design allows anyone, including novice gamers, to easily jump into the action. The game gives you full control over every action as you control the characters either through mundane actions such as doing laundry or heroic ones such as fighting enemies.

The mundane tasks, including choosing dialogue options when interacting with other characters, are handled with on-screen menus, while the action sequences require a "Simon Says" replication of directional commands. The game's design actually allows you to get to know the main characters of the story much more deeply than any other game I've seen.

The use of multiple camera angles, split screens and picture-in-picture images keeps the on-screen action fresh and helps cover up some of the minor blemishes -- slightly askew lip syncing and only decent graphics, for example.

What Sega started years ago with Shenmue -- becoming a starring player in a fully realized virtual world -- has been taken to the next level in this sleeper hit. -- John Gaudiosi

Win98 or newer, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $40

Indigo Prophecy, from Atari and Quantic Dreams, puts players in the middle of a compelling murder mystery set in a snowy New York City.