No, it's not on the list; yes, it will be reviewed.

Hey there folks! As you can see the poll has changed so it’s time to vote on the next batch of reviews! I’ll be announcing the second Broke Game review in a couple days, but for now you can start voting on what’s coming in March. Now, before you freak out and say “Hey, there’s no Mass Effect 3, on this poll! What sort of shoddy operation are you running?” Don’t! I’m already buying ME3 and will be reviewing it as well in March. Think of it as a sort of bonus for you all being so nice. Also, the answer to what sort of shoddy operation I’m running is simple… “very.”

Also, you’ll see that right now we have a big, fat goose egg in the donations tally, and if it stays that way then I can’t buy any games to review no matter how you vote. If you’ve donated before then I thank you and come to you hat in hand and humbly ask for you to chip in a few bucks again. If you’ve never contributed then quit your lollygagging and help out already would ya! Remember, the name of the site isn’t “Brad the Well-Funded Gamer,” so without your contributions I really can’t keep the reviews coming.

Alright, enough admonishment, get to voting!

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Photos courtesy of ABC

While I don’t really consider myself a TV snob, I do have a soft spot in my heart for smartly written comedies. The shows that really get me going are those with wit, fare like Arrested Development (canceled), Better Off Ted (canceled), Breaking In (nearly canceled, but revived for one more shot) and Community (desperately clinging to life). With that in mind, friends keep telling me I should be watching Cougar Town, which made its grand return to television earlier this month to abysmal ratings. Industry friends whose opinions I respect immensely (among them Cougar Town uberfan Jeff Cannata) keep telling me to look past the title and watch what they swear is the most well-written comedy on TV. In spite of the raves I just can’t do it, and here’s why.

Middle-Aged White People Drinking Wine and Being Snarky? No Thanks

Pretty much every advertisement I’ve seen for Cougar Town has showcased series star Courtney Cox (more on her later) and friends drinking wine and bitching about their idyllic suburban lives. In an era when lots of families are struggling just to make ends meet, why on earth should I care about the non-problems of a bunch of fortysomething yuppies who are beginning to wonder if life has passed them by? Basically every ad I’ve seen for the show portrays it as a comedic version of Desperate Housewives, and I have no interest in setting foot in that world. It may just be that ABC is doing a bad job portraying the soul of the show in 30 second chunks, but so it’s been enough to keep me away.

The Courtney Cox Factor

I wasn’t a big fan of Friends back in the day and consequently have no real connection to that show’s stars and their current projects. For the same reason that old fans of Monica may be apt to check out the show to see what she’s up to now (yes, I mean Monica and not Courtney), I’m inclined to skip the show because I have no connection to either the character or the actress. From what I’ve seen of Courtney Cox in other work she’s a capable actress, but not outstanding, and I don’t know if I could ever see her carrying a show on her shoulders. From the looks of things it seems the majority of viewers tend to agree with me.

I’ll Admit It, I Can’t Get Past the Title

Really, at the end of the day I still just can’t bring myself to watch a show called Cougar Town. If it’s really as smartly written as folks claim then I’m sure the title is some sort of self-aware joke that has been picked over multiple times on the show itself, but for outsiders like me I can only assume this is a program about a city full of middle-aged women who want nothing more than to sleep with their sons’ football team and bang their daughters’ boyfriends. If this were a show that was about a town full of actual cougars then yes, sign me up. I know show fans automatically assume that all of my criticisms are now rendered moot because I admit that the title has done me in, but they have to understand that it’s probably the primary reason most folks aren’t watching.

I cop to the fact that I come to this discussion from a place of ignorance, as I’ve never watched a single episode. I also believe that if I tried Cougar Town I’d probably like it, but I just can’t get there. There are too many roadblocks in the way to get me to set the DVR, and too many other shows I’m already watching to make room for another. As much as I hate to see smart shows go down the drain, not even I can get myself worked up for Cougar Town‘s imminent demise. Sorry to Jeff and Abed, I just can’t do it.

Last week the site didn’t get a whole lot of updates due to some pretty crazy stuff going on with my schedule. Even though I didn’t have time to write, I did have time to run, so here’s the Week 2 recap of the Couch to 5K Challenge.

Week 2, Day 1: 1.5 minutes running, 2 minutes walking x6

This week the program added 30 extra seconds of jogging time, but also tacked on an equal amount of walking. When it’s all said and done there was an additional minute of running time compared to last week, and I definitely felt it. I didn’t really change my pacing any from Week 1, and the three-day layoff (I’m not supposed to run Sun or Mon), coupled with the added time turned into a recipe for burning lungs. As I wrapped up the last run I was wiped out, but I’m hoping that it gets easier as the week progresses.

Week 2, Day 2: Same routine

I screwed up right out of the gate today. The wife and I were talking as we did the five-minute warmup walk and we both totally missed the cue to start running. At what should have been the 45 second mark the cheery English lady piped in for me to keep it up, and suddenly I broke into a somewhat ashamed trot. I tried to make up for lost time by running a little longer during the first leg and starting a bit earlier for the second, but I have no idea if I properly made up the missing time. Looking back I should have just restarted the program for the day, but I’m a little late with that solution. Also, a change of venue with more sharp turns led to a shorter than average run, so overall I’m kind of disappointed with how today went. Even though I finished, I could have done much better.

Week 2, Day 3: Same routine

It’s the last day of running this week and I’m determined to come out strong. Unfortunately, nature hates me and greets me with a stiff headwind that I’m going to have to run straight into for pretty much the duration of my jog. There’s really no way to avoid the wind, so I’m just going to make a game out of it. I’m determined to keep my normal mile pace while facing the wind, even though that means I’m going to have to push a little harder. I manage the first mile only one second off my pace, and I actually run the second mile a little faster than normal. I assume it’s because the breeze has slacked off but I haven’t really slowed down. The other big reason is because my wife, who typically drops behind after a couple legs of the run, managed to keep pace with me for the duration, so having her there right alongside pushed me to keep up the pace.

 

Next week things get a bit tougher, as the amount of time per run doubles even though the total overall running time stays the same. I’m going to have to set a more deliberate pace, which has always been one of my weakest points when jogging. Up to this point I’ve been able to have a short-term runner’s mentality, running fairly fast because I know the distance is short. Now I have to change my thinking and begin to plan for longer, sustained runs. It’s going to be tricky, but I won’t know if I can do it until I try.

Anyone else out there getting involved with the program? I’d love to hear how things are going for you.

It’s review excerpt time! This time around enjoy a blurb about my thoughts on Rhythm Heaven Fever, and as always be sure to check out the rest of the review over at WorthPlaying.

“Fever couldn’t be a simpler game to play, as all the challenges require some combination of tapping the A button, tapping A and B together or holding the two buttons briefly. There are no complex, shoehorned motion controls or odd contortions — just simple button presses meant to be synced with the on-screen action. Furthermore, every game employs a short tutorial beforehand, so you’re given ample opportunity to learn the intricacies of each rhythm game before you’re thrown into the real thing. Simple controls don’t make for a simple game, though, as constantly changing rhythms, timing and tempo all add extra layers of difficulty. Furthermore, sometimes the camera will zoom out, become obscured, change focus or employ some other trick to take away visual cues and force you to work that much harder to succeed. Rhythm Heaven Fever may look simple on paper, but it provides ample challenge at nearly every turn.

“The games are delightfully offbeat, and anyone who’s played a previous Rhythm Heaven title will almost assuredly enjoy the craziness. In one game, you’re a luchador providing monosyllabic answers and striking powerful poses for the assembled throng of reporters. In another instance, players take control of a game of badminton played by a cat and dog as they skim the treetops in airplanes. Believe it or not, these are actually the more plausible and grounded scenarios, as some of the situations are so far out as to be borderline inexplicable. If I were to try and lay a few of the more esoteric games out here, you would assume I had experienced a stroke midway through writing the sentence and was merely stringing together random words. The crazy thing is that it works, and the game’s absurdity only adds to the fun.”

Like most everyone, I struggle to get myself and shape and stick with a program once I get started. Every summer I train myself up for football season with jogging and some light weight training, but nearly every year once the offseason starts I slack off and do mostly nothing save a few fits and spurts when I feel particularly schlubby. I fully realized that I needed a program that I could stick to that would force me to exercise long-term, but could never find a program I liked and had no interest in paying a trainer to tell me that I need to workout more. In short, I was doomed to eternally chase my proverbial tail, but even that was more exercise than I was regularly getting.

Things have taken a nice turn though as last week I seized on a blog post from my good chum Pete Davison about how he was using a game he recently played to spur himself to attempt the Couch to 5K Challenge. The quick and dirty is that you basically build up from jogging a minute at a time to a full 30 minutes over a 9 week span. It won’t get me into a marathon, but if  you can keep a decent pace for 30 solid minutes you’ll burn quite a few calories indeed. I decided to join Pete in his endeavor, and recruited my wife to experience the fun as well. I realize that accountability is a big part of the program, so I’m going to provide a weekly post detailing my progress and hopefully serve as at least a small point of inspiration for anyone else who wants to try the challenge for themselves. And if you’re thinking about jumping in I strongly encourage it! Pete and I post all our runs on Twitter and are constantly shouting encouragement back and forth, so we’d love for anyone else who’s interested to be a part of our little runners’ camp.

Starting Weight: 202lbs

Week 1, Day 1 (Feb 14) – Eight 1 minute runs, with 1.5 minutes of walking between each.

I came into the program pretty confident, as I’m used to running a fair amount of distance for football and can usually still run around 2 miles without stopping during the offseason. Still, I was a bit nervous since it had been a few weeks since my last run, and I didn’t know how much cardio I had lost. The runs went well, I jogged around our apartment complex and for the most part felt pretty good. I started to wane on the last 2-3 runs, but I think that was more an issue of pacing than not having the ability. I’ll slow down a bit next time.

Week 1, Day 2  (Feb 16)- Same workout routine as before

The pace adjustment worked wonders, and even though I ended my run winded, I didn’t feel as exhausted as I did after the first day. I’m going to need a change of scenery soon, as running around the apartment is going to get old in a hurry.

Wait, this doesn't seem like the right kind of runner...

Week 1, Day 3 (Feb 18)- Same workout routine as before

Wife suggested we jog around the big lake downtown today, which is just the ticket to breaking out of looking at the same buildings and sidewalks every single day. Also, the lake has a paved running trail circling all the way around, so it’s an incredibly smooth run. The new surroundings worked wonders, as it felt like time just flew by and the workout was over before I even realized it. The only downside to the lake run is that there are a lot of other folks down there, most of them in much better shape and doing much more strenuous exercises. I feel a little self-conscious around them, but it passes quickly as I remind myself that they’re more concerned about their run than little ol’ me, and if I keep up the program I’ll eventually be running right alongside them anyway, and that gives me confidence.

All in all Week 1 wasn’t too bad, but later today I start Week 2 where the runs get a little longer and the distance grows a bit. Still, I’m looking forward to it and find myself actually enjoying running for the first time ever. If you’re thinking of joining in the Challenge and have a smartphone then I recommend this app, as it’s the one I’m using to track my progress. If you don’t like it then there are plenty of other options out there, just search “Couch to 5K” in iTunes and you’ll get plenty of results. Look forward to next week’s wrap-up, assuming of course I don’t keel over and die out there.

For the most part game-making is anonymous work, with large teams of unknown designers, developers and engineers toiling for years in relative obscurity to create something which will hopefully resonate with the gaming public. In spite of this, a few folks have begun to make a name for themselves, with the likes of Ken Levine,   Miyamoto and others managing to stand out above the crowd. Until now though we’ve never seen gaming’s equivalent of a “supergroup,” with some of these big names coming together to create something truly magnificent. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, tries exactly that, bringing together the storytelling ability of R.A. Salvatore, the quest-crafting knowledge of Ken Rolston and the artistic talents of Todd McFarlane to create a brand new action-RPG. The resultant game is impressive, but Reckoning borrows so much from other games in the genre that it has a bit of trouble carving out an identity of its own.

The plot of Reckoning is easily its crowning achievement, weaving a tale of fate, free will and what happens to a world when all the old rules suddenly come undone. In Amalur every single person is tied to a fate which was written for them long before they were born. The kingdom’s Fateweavers see all that has ever been and all that ever shall be, knowing full well that they are powerless to change any of it. However, your character has arrived to change all that, and in a most peculiar way. It’s not a spoiler to say that the main character dies (it happens before you even start the game), but what comes next is unprecedented. Tossed into a pile of corpses you somehow reanimate, though stripped of the memories of who you were before. Also, your character somehow exists outside the rules that bind others, and your appearance has begun to unwind the tapestry of fate. Suddenly free will has been thrust upon a fatalistic world, with all the trials and tribulations that follow.

The other star of Reckoning is the world the characters inhabit, as the ever-shifting landscape is an absolute treat. The forests and villages which make up the game’s opening areas are lush and verdant, and later travels to desert and wastelands reveal a beauty all their own. That’s to say nothing of some of the ruins and the more magical places of the realm, which are so breathtaking that you’ll no doubt want to spend some time panning the camera and taking it all in before even walking a single step. If this is Todd McFarlane’s contribution to the project then give the man a fat check and a pat on the back, because he knocked it out of the park.

 

The gameplay elements of Reckoning are also highly enjoyable, but the major drawback is that they lean far too heavily on the games that have come before. The real-time combat system is very reminiscent of a game like Fable, where varied timing and charged attacks dominate most encounters. The ability trees seem to have been stripped out of just about any fantasy MMO on the market, and the quest structures and exploration elements bear all the hallmark’s of Rolston’s time with The Elder Scrolls, both for good and ill. Nearly all of the quests fall into the rote pattern of talk to Person A who orders you to retrieve Important Item B from Dangerous Location C, and the system for managing loot could use a lot more streamlining considering the extreme number of drops. Sure, it’s nice to be able to group all my unwanted stuff into a junk pile and sell it all with a single button press at the nearest merchant, but having to dive into the menu every time I want to compare a couple swords or helmets can eventually grow annoying. One major point in Reckoning‘s favor though, at any time players can visit a Fateweaver, pay a few coins and completely reassign their skills and ability points. It’s a wonderful bit of flexibility in a genre which normally forces you to choose a path and then deal with the consequences of your actions from that point on.

There’s clearly something magical with this game when, considering all its unoriginality and other issues, it still manages to be a ton of fun and a title I look forward to playing for the foreseeable future. I find myself coming back to it over and over again, sinking hours into simply wandering the map and looking for new quests and spoils.  This is one of those games where I look at the vast expanses of empty map and get excited by the prospect of adventuring and filling in the gaps. It’s that sense of wonder, that constant drive to see what’s over the next hill or inside that crumbling castle  that makes Kingdoms of Amalur so hard to put down. Curt Schilling and the rest of the crew at 38 Studios have said they want Reckoning to stand as the start of a new series, and I’m very excited to see where they plan to go from here.

Score: 83 out of 100

In my career I’ve had the privilege of working with the fine folks at WorthPlaying.com for a number of years. I’ve reviewed numerous games for the site and continue to do as much as possible to help them out. In return, they’ve graciously allowed me to post excerpts of my reviews on the blog. So, enjoy this snippet from my review of UFC Undisputed 3, and click here to see the full review.

“Even though THQ has been through a bit of turmoil recently, perhaps one of the smartest things the company did was snap up an exclusive UFC license just as the mixed martial arts (MMA) league was beginning to explode in popularity. Over the last few years, THQ has been hard at work trying to bring the excitement and unpredictability of the Octagon to consoles, and with Undisputed 3, it’s provided the closest recreation yet. While the game isn’t a huge leap forward in any particular area, it does represent baby steps of improvement for the series.

“The most significant addition to Undisputed 3 is the inclusion of the PRIDE Fighting Championships. Japan’s dominant kickboxing league was bought out by the UFC fairly recently, but until now, it has never appeared in a game. That’s all changed, as Undisputed 3 showcases PRIDE in all its glory, complete with the full fighter roster, outrageous entrances, original announcers and, of course, special rule sets. Fighting purists will cheer the inclusion of PRIDE’s more brutal rules, including series first such as face stomps, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a downed opponent. Also, whereas UFC fights often focus on grappling, wrestling and submissions, PRIDE has always primarily been a stand-up fighting organization, so punches and kicks come as the order of the day. Kudos to the development team for so thoroughly and seamlessly implementing an entire second league into this year’s game.”

 

Right this way to the full review!

I’m nowhere near done playing Kingdoms of Amalur yet, but a review will be coming soon. With that in mind I should have time for one more review this month, so I’m letting the last of the nominees duke it out to see who will be the winner. The plan is to leave the poll open until Friday, February 24 at noon ET, and then whatever game is leading at that point will be declared the victor.

As of right now SSX leads by a single vote (that’s why it gets to have its picture at the top of the post), but anything can happen in the coming days. Remember, the voting restrictions have been lifted so you can vote as often as you want for any of the finalists. Or, if you love them all you can vote for each of them an equal number of times, but honestly that’s kind of dumb. Take a stand already!

Also, if you’re able to donate to the Broke Gamer fund then please do. I’m willing to chip in some of my own money for the next game if need be, but the livelihood of this blog really rests on the generosity of its readers. If you’ve already donated once then I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you are moved to donate again then I’m sure you’ll be richly rewarded in both this life and the next with high scores, infinite lives and eternal gaming fame.

Also, please know that I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 some time ago, so that review is coming for sure next month without you even having to vote for it. Consider it my way of showing you how much I love you guys, and not the truth of the matter, which is if I didn’t buy that game my wife would probably divorce me and kick me out immediately.

My wife and I hate Valentine’s Day, mostly due to the fact that because of Christmas, birthdays, the Super Bowl and the like we’re really tired of going out and would rather just have a quiet evening at home. What made staying in truly worthwhile this year was the promise of the Mass Effect 3 demo, which we have both been eagerly awaiting. While she opted for a more traditional approach to the game I decided to take full advantage of the the Kinect offerings, because Microsoft promises the game is better that way and why on Earth would they be inclined to lie? So here are my unfiltered and unapproved views of voice commands for everything from dramatic dialogue reads, to combat, to opening doors.

The first several minutes of the Mass Effect 3 demo feature a lot of chatterboxes blabbering about how they’re probably all going to die instead of, you know, actual doing something useful about it. Thus, the very first time players are presented with the opportunity to use Kinect it’s to respond to a dialogue choice. Fully immersing myself in the experience, I read the line with as much dramatic flair as I could muster… and nothing happened. I tried again with the very weight of the universe in my three word response, but again there was no response. Finally, I gave in and read the line with no inflection whatsoever, as if I were back in 4th grade reading from the textbook when it was my turn, and the sensor finally registered. I proceeded through the rest of the conversations alternating between dramatic readings and straight reads with mixed results, but the whole time I could never shake the feeling that it just felt awkward. Randomly yelling a single non-curse word at my television seems strange, and the fact that my own voice is so different from that of Commander Shepard completely broke the sense of immersion. I think for dialogue I’ll go back to pressing buttons.

Things heat up in the second half of the demo as you finally get control of a full team in a combat situation, and it’s here where the Kinect controls shine. In one room a surge of enemies came through the door, and before they had time to fan out a yell of “Liara, Singularity!” sent a couple of them helplessly floating through the air as we ripped them to shreds with assault rifle rounds. Later on we came up against some hard-charging, heavily armored foes, but calling out Garrus to use his Concussive Shot stopped their forward charge and gave us the moment we needed to coordinate fire and bring the baddie down. Also, being able to run up to an enemy and scream “shotgun!” and then watch my character pull out a short-range death dealer was particularly satisfying, and now I foresee myself playing the game as some sort of crazed death-dealer, calling out the names of the weapons I’m going to use to obliterate foes. I wish I could see the look on their face when some unknown voice far in the distance lets out a cry of “sniper rifle!” and they spend the next few moments cowering in fear before the bullet rips their skull apart.

Oh, and you can also use the voice commands to open doors or activate terminals but really, why bother?

Though Kinect integration still felt bolted on for parts of the Mass Effect 3 demo, as a core piece of combat I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. If implementation into the full game is as smooth and enjoyable as the demo then I expect many entertaining (and loud) evenings ahead.

Dear Mr. Manning and Mr. Irsay,

Throughout the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl and now basically every day in this young offseason a familiar refrain has been sounding from all corners of the media world…

The Colts are going to cut Peyton Manning.

I understand that no final decisions have been made and the two of you have much more to discuss before the March 8 roster bonus comes due, but let me cut straight to the heart of the issue and speak the words on the minds of every true blue Colts fan, do not do this.

We all understand that there are questions about Manning’s health, performance abilities and his salary, but it seems that rather than negotiating each side is starting to dig in their heels and prepare for a messy divorce. This is the worst possible outcome and one which will only serve to tarnish the image of the team, its owner and its star player. So let’s just slow down and think this through.

The most pressing issue seems to be the $26 million roster bonus due on March 8. The main issue here is that there’s really no way to know if Manning will be ready to play in time for the regular season by that date. Even though the recovery and rehab is going well, there are still a lot of unknowns on the road ahead. So, with that in mind why don’t the two of you work together to remove this artificial obstacle? What if the roster bonus is suspended with the provision that Manning receives every penny of it if he’s medically eligible to play come the regular season? And Peyton, before you get huffy about not getting the money owed to you, please remember the stack of cash you got last year to stand on the sidelines in a polo shirt while the team you built was falling all over themselves in failure out on the field. Please understand that you owe the fans and the team a little recompense for the debacle that was last year’s season.

Of course there’s also the issue of Andrew Luck and the Colts #1 overall draft pick. In this case the simplest solution really is best, as the Colts should go ahead and draft Luck as planned and sit him behind Manning for a few years as he learns the pro game. Regardless of how good Luck may be no one is ready to play in the NFL right out of college, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe Luck will be even an above average NFL quarterback. Remember how we were all supposed to be counting the rings guys like Matt Schaub, Vince Young and Matt Leinart had by now? Yeah, last I checked that number was the same for all of them and you didn’t even need any fingers to count that high. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and anoint Luck just yet, but if you let him learn from Manning, the greatest mind on the field of this generation, then imagine what he could be by the time Manning retires and Luck is truly ready to play.

Gentlemen, let’s be honest, you owe each other too much to let it end this way. Peyton, Irsay and the Colts drafted you with the #1 overall pick and there were boos because lesser minds thought they should have taken Ryan Leaf. Your rookie season didn’t prove anyone wrong, but the team stuck by you throughout and now look at the result. Jim, rather than being featured in magazines and becoming a minor Twitter celebrity without Manning you would probably be presiding over a perennial dud, and you might not even still be owner of a team the NFL would have moved to Los Angeles when Indy refused to build a new stadium for a bunch of bums.

Look, the truth of the matter is you two made each other, and now it’s time to show a little loyalty not just too yourselves, but to the fans who love this team more than words can express. Let’s go for one more ride and see if we can’t win another ring or two along the way, and when it’s all over Peyton can enter Canton with a horseshoe on his helmet and one team’s name on his bust. Then looking back we can all laugh about the offseason when we thought Peyton was leaving as we tune in to watch Andrew Luck lead the team in a whole new generation of success.

Sincerely,

The Colts Herd