The games we've been playing this week.
Tom Orry, Editor - XCOM Enemy Unknown, Xbox 360
XCOM seems so unfair at times. Of course, it's all down to the roll of a dice, but when odds are in your favour and you still fire wildly wide of your target, resulting in that soldier being eviscerated by an alien nasty, it's hard not to get worked up. I'm not proud of it, but I've hurled insults at the game on plenty of occasions, and, quite out of character, gave it the middle finger when one of my most senior squad members bit the dust.
It's this raw emotion that XCOM manages to elicit that makes it such a good game. You're not directly in control of your squad's actions, but you're not a complete bystander either, and reliance on stats to determine ultimate success or failure can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Neon Kelly, Video Production Editor - Frog Fractions, Online Browser Game
If you're of a certain age, you may have been exposed to educational video games when you were younger. I say, "if you're of a certain age" as I have no idea if they're still commonly used today. Even if they are, I highly doubt they're as batsh*t crazy as they were during the 80s. Back then, one of my favourites was a game called Podd on the BBC Micro. The aim here was to type instructions to an anthropomorphised tomato, and then see whether or not he would obey.
I'm going off on a slight tangent here, but seriously – what was the point of that? I spent endless hours testing that tomato's capabilities. I learned that he could laugh, dance and fly; with the right provocation, he could also explode. But as an adult, I've since learned that tomatoes do none of those things – not unless you've ingested a dangerous quantity of household chemical. SO WHERE WAS THE EDUCATIONAL VALUE IN THIS STUPID GAME?
Frog Fractions is a loving tribute to the inanity of educational software. In fact, that's barely an adequate description – but just trust me and click the link in the title above. It'll take you about 15 minutes to play through the whole thing (yes, there's an ending). It won't teach you anything, but it'll give you a good laugh.
Martin Gaston, Reviews Editor - Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo: Reach, Halo: ODST, Xbox
Last weekend Matt Nellis and I played 27 hours of the Halo series for the Extra Life charity drive. It was great - you can watch the archived stream and you can still donate to us. I don't actually remember playing any of Halo 3, mind. I can watch myself playing it on the stream but in my memory I have absolutely zero recollection of any of the game being played other than watching Matt do the bit at the end. That's insane. Sleep deprivation is a real thing, people!
After all that, though, I haven't spent much time this week playing games. I hope you will understand. The idea of holding an Xbox controller at the moment makes my hands feel funny. Thank heavens I can take a long break before another Hal—oh, wait.
Though I must, once again, say thank you to everyone who joined in with the stream and to the valiant heroes that played along with us in co-op. We would have never finished without you because, seriously, we overran so much on the original Halo it was ridiculous.
David Scammell, Deputy News Editor - Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 2, Xbox 360
I just can't believe how poor it is. I'd heard the chatter before playing, and I'd guffawed at the odd suggestion that it was somehow worse than Episode 1 - something I simply couldn't imagine being possible given that game's incompetence. But they're right. Sonic 4: Episode II is abysmal. I'm not confident in calling it the worst Sonic game yet (which may say a fair bit about SEGA's recent treatment of its icon), but it's certainly not far off.
At first glance, Episode II seems relatively fine. Sonic feels far more like Sonic than he did in the original. There's a sense of momentum, for one, and that 'sticking to walls' nonsense has been removed. Which is a start, I guess. But the ineptness of the level and boss design, and almost anything else for that matter, makes Episode II a shining example of how not to make a video game. The music is so bad that it's the only time I've had to purposely mute my TV while playing a video game, too.
I'm stuck on a part that I don't think I'll ever manage to beat. Most of you will probably find that quite funny, given my recent Extended Play performances, but I'm not sure it can be attributed to a lack of skill, rather awful design. If you've played it, you'll likely know the bit I mean. It's in one of the acts of the Oil Desert Zone, which sees Sonic and Tails climbing a cylindrical corridor that's (quickly) filling with sand. No matter what I try, there's a particular U-shaped section that I always get caught on, and am faced with watching Sonic and Tails croak it over and over again. After seeing the Game Over screen countless times, I gave up caring. The game isn't good enough to warrant the effort it supposedly requires. That Metal Sonic boss can get stuffed, too.
Sonic 4: Episode II isn't just bad, then, but it's also the first game in years that I've had to walk away from for its sheer cheapness - and I'm not sure I'll ever go back.