updated 6/22/2005 7:18:32 PM ET 2005-06-22T23:18:32

If you think first-person shooter video games aren't a big deal, consider this: Microsoft Corp.'s "Halo 2" for Xbox had $125 million in sales the first day it was released last year.

It's no surprise then, that others would want to cash in on this bonanza. Among the latest would-be "Halo" heirs is the unfortunately named "Pariah" (M-rated, $40 for PC/$50 for Xbox) —but it's one gamers would be better off avoiding.

There's the confusing, emotionally vacuous story about a medic named Jack Mason (that's you) whose transport ship is shot out of the sky near an Earth prison bristling with factions of angry soldiers.

He'll drop a steady stream of expletives in his constant pursuit of his evasive prisoner, a gorgeous walking biohazard named Karina.

Why she keeps running away is just the first of many annoying questions I was unable to resolve, even after completing the game in a mere six hours. By then, Mason wasn't the only one cursing.

The action begins promisingly enough in a gorgeous outdoor environment with roiling rivers and swaying trees.

But it wasn't long before I found myself lurking in a first-person shooter cliche: lots of metal walkways, dank corridors and elevators.

This endless spelunking was interrupted by a few interesting moments, including one level on a moving train and another where I had to leap from one ship to another while we zoomed over a canyon.

Problem is, the gameplay rapidly degenerated into digital target practice, with no real moments of triumph or sense of accomplishment.

A few hours into the game, my sole motivation for pressing on was to see it all end as I knocked off one stupid computer-controlled enemy after another.

Consider the manual required reading. It's the only way to learn about the background of the characters and how to use one of the game's more intriguing features: weapon customization.

Scattered throughout the levels are energy cores you can attach to your arsenal. Using these cores, I imbued the grenade launcher (my favorite weapon) with a remote detonator, giving me perfectly timed blasts.

Another plus that gives "Pariah" some lasting value are the included online multiplayer modes, where you can engage others in various fighting styles.

A level designer lets you create your own maps, adjusting the terrain and placing bunkers, machine gun turrets and vehicles as you see fit.

"Pariah" probably would have been a decent contender a few years ago, but it simply can't stand up against today's superior competition.

Two stars out of four.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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