From a blood-soaked twist on Greek mythology to stealth combat in the near future, two new video games offer excellent but very different action thrills.
For a strategic, methodical approach to action games, "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory" is worth the $50. For the same price, "God of War" is a frenzied, breathless experience that'll leave your fingers ached and cramping.
If you've read Clancy books, you already know what to expect in "Chaos Theory." (There's even a book version, "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell," written by none other than ... David Michaels?)
The M-rated game for GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Windows computers casts you as lone wolf Sam Fisher, the head agent in a secretive U.S. government agency called Third Echelon, to stop some renegade computer code from crashing the global economy and starting World War III.
The best trick to survival: Take it slow, crouch toward targets and eliminate them as quietly as possible.
Fisher has access to the latest weapons, and sometimes you'll have no other choice but to open fire.
But being sneaky is almost always a better, more thrilling choice: Fisher can hang upside down from a pipe, then snap the neck of an unwitting assailant beneath him. To avoid detection in narrow corridors, he'll do a groin-pulling split jump near the ceiling. The enemy will never even know he's right above them.
It's a good idea to create as dark an environment as possible, so be sure to turn off any lights and use night-vision goggles.
Light was a factor in the real world, too. I had to close the blinds and turn off the lights because the dank, dark environments were often hard to see with any glare on my screen.
With the lights appropriately dimmed, the graphics on the Xbox version I played were superb.
There are several multiplayer options, including a great cooperative mode where you and a partner have to work together to solve missions. Special moves require two people, such as standing on a teammate's shoulders to get a better view.
"God of War" takes much of what you learned about Greek mythology and spins it into a bloody, vengeful tale of anti-hero Kratos.
He's a tattooed, musclebound mortal who has little choice but to do the bidding of Athena, Zeus and company, who are getting worried about the warlike ways of -- surprise -- Ares.
Rather than use their own self-absorbed omnipotence, why not let some poor mortal do all the dirty work?
The main tools of destruction are the blades of chaos, dual fiery daggers attached to chains that let Kratos slice through enemy hordes like a human weed whacker.
You'll eventually gain access to godly powers. Once you sever Medusa's head, for example, you can turn enemies to stone.
Hardcore gamers will appreciate the combo moves. These deadly acrobatics can only be executed by pressing the controller buttons in rapid, perfectly timed succession.
Parents, be forewarned: even by M-rated standards, there's a lot of sex and violence, including digital breasts and bloody decapitations.
But it's hard to put down.