A screen shot from 'Overlord.'
Jackie Estacado's little friends emerge in 'The Darkness.'
A huge element of what makes video games so addictive is that they allow you to be something you're not: an NFL quarterback, a high-flying ninja, a spaceship pilot.
And since most of us try to behave ourselves in real life, the only place we can be evil — without consequence — is in video games.
The most popular games in which you play a bad guy are Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto" epics, which make it fairly easy to get away with murder.
"Destroy All Humans!" made an alien invader the hero; "Stubbs the Zombie" put you in the shuffling shoes of an undead flesh-eater. Even Nintendo has gotten into the act, letting one of its villains take center stage in the "WarioWare" games.
It's fun to be bad every now and then — within the safe confines of virtual reality.
—"Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3" (Atlus, for the PlayStation 2, $49.99): Your character in "Persona 3" isn't necessarily evil — he's just got a head full of demons who are clamoring to get out and raise some hell.
The most disturbing image in the game comes from the way he unleashes the monsters: by holding a gun-shaped "evoker" to his head and pulling the trigger.
The latest in Japan's long-running "Shin Megami Tensei" franchise (the title means something like "true goddess resurrection") follows a group of students who all have the power to awaken the demonic "personae" within their heads.
They're also the only people who can stay conscious during the Dark Hour, a nightly episode during which their school turns into a monster-filled labyrinth. The kids' mission is to discover the source of the Dark Hour and prevent the "shadows" from taking over Tokyo.
"Persona 3" offers a satisfying role-playing experience, with challenging battles and an often-surprising story. And it balances the adventure with a "social sim" in which you have to build relationships with your classmates and other people around Tokyo. The stronger your friendships are, the more powerful personae you can summon.
"Persona 3" smoothly mixes genres to create one of the PlayStation 2's most memorable RPGs.
Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
—"The Darkness" (2K Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99): Young mob hit man Jackie Estacado is definitely a bad guy, and he gets even worse when he turns 21 and discovers he is host to the Darkness, an ancient evil that thrives on human hearts.
That's not the only bad news for Jackie, who also learns that his crew's boss, Uncle Paulie, wants him dead.
You see all the action through Jackie's eyes, with the Darkness appearing as two snapping, reptilian heads on either side of the screen.
The Darkness can chomp on Paulie's henchmen, call on demonic minions or even summon a black hole. But its powers diminish in bright light, so it needs Jackie to shoot out streetlights and stay in the shadows.
"The Darkness" begins in a grimy, bizarrely underpopulated New York City, but soon shifts to a second location where Jackie learns more about his horrible legacy.
It offers an intriguing mix of stealth and first-person shooting, and the Darkness' powers (which increase as the game goes along) add freshness to what could have been a routine urban-crime game.
—"Overlord" (Codemasters, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): It's hard out there for an evil mastermind, particularly if you've just been resurrected from the dead and only have a handful of subservient gremlins to do your bidding.
Fortunately, once you start regaining your memory and rebuilding your fortress, more of the imps join your mission.
That's important, because your minions do most of the work, and they are fun to watch as they smash obstacles, slaughter innocent animals and leave an impressive trail of destruction.
The controls in "Overlord" are somewhat awkward, and its puzzles are generally obvious, typically requiring you to rally a certain number of minions and then have them rush whatever's in your way.
Still, "Overlord" delivers a witty, tongue-in-cheek twist on the sword-and-sorcery genre.