More classically restrained horror movie than guts-in-your-face splatter-fest, RE4 pulls you into the action from the start. Gamers control dashing Leon Kennedy, a U.S. agent whose search for the president's kidnapped daughter leads him to a European countryside populated by zombie-like villagers, who are none too happy to have him there. Think of this as a fun, less complicated version of the amazing Metal Gear series: lots of great, easy-to-control action mixed with an engaging story.
Which raises the question: If a scary game comes out in winter, is it still scary? In RE4's case, you'd better believe it is.
Details: GameCube platform, $49.99, rated mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
Stuck in first gear
The Getaway: Black Monday is an ultimately disappointing trip back to London's seedy underground. The background graphics in this sequel to the 2003 hit game the Getaway offer an amazingly detailed glimpse of Big Ben and the sights, but the characters are more blocky than British. The driving portions of the game are better rendered than most racers but oftentimes lack any kind of excitement. And the controls were clunky and, at times, nonresponsive. Too bad the sum of the parts doesn't add up to a better whole.
Details: PlayStation 2 platform, $49.99, rated mature (blood, drug reference, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
Players and playmates
Playboy: The Mansion is what would happen if someone created an adult version of the Sims in which everybody walks around without shirts.
In this one, your sim is a young Hugh Hefner as he tries to build a global phenomenon, Playboy magazine.
Line up the right interviews and essays, as well as snap a sexy photo for the cover and an even sexier one for the centerfold, and roll in the dough from the magazine sales. Use the dough to upgrade the mansion and hire new and better staff and Playmates. Simple, yet fun adults-only entertainment.
Details: PlayStation 2 and Xbox platforms, $49.99, rated mature (nudity, strong sexual content, use of alcohol)
With unnatural force
As gory as the Punisher is — and it is one of the goriest games ever — it's also maddeningly inconsistent. Score points by sneaking up behind some oblivious henchman and jamming a knife in his face, but get penalized if your interrogations go too far and your subject dies as a result. Huh?
Also, either we're the best Punisher there is or the normal mode is kind of easy. Still, graphics and gameplay are cool if you can get past all the, uh, "punishing," which we really couldn't.
Details: PlayStation 2 and Xbox platforms; $49.99; rated mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language).
Elevating their game
NBA Street V3 is the latest
NBA Street V3 is the latest — and by far the best — of the popular three-on-three hoops series. A brightly colored, stylized gem, playing round ball in V3 is like watching a LeRoy Neiman painting come to life. Game play is smooth, addictive and can be fully customized (even down to your baller's shoes.) An added bonus: Gamers can make Shaq and Kobe play nice together, even if they won't in real life.
Details: All platforms, $49.99, rated everyone
For more video game coverage, see latimes.com/videogames.
For previous columns, or to e-mail Pete Metzger, visit latimes.com/gotgame.