One look at the visual style for Monday Night Combat and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s little more than an attempt at a Team Fortress 2 clone for the download services. There’s no denying that its chunky, stylised character models look like the Team Fortress misfits have been given a lick of sci-fi inspired paint, but there’s much more to the title than first meets the eye. Part third-person-shooter, part tower defence, Monday Night Combat (MNC) clearly aims to do something a bit different by mixing up a genre which is rapidly becoming de rigueur for download platforms, no matter the format.
With a basic idea which resembles a less blood-thirsty version of The Running Man, MNC puts the player in the thick of a futuristic, money-centric combat sport. Split into two modes, Crossfire and Blitz, the basic aim is always to protect your Money Ball, essentially the core of your base. In Crossfire mode this means guarding it from the other players and their onslaught of robot drones, while at the same time trying to push forward and capture theirs. The drones themselves come in various shapes and sizes, from slow but powerful, to antagonising airborne wasps and even incredibly speedy, stealthy versions that will sneak past if you aren’t paying enough attention. The droids gradually filter from one side of the map to the other along a set number of paths and choke points, with the player required to lend a hand in helping them breach their opponents base and trash their Money Ball.
This is done by fulfilling your role within a team of six players and controlling one of the several different classes available – Assault, Tank, Sniper, Support, Gunner and Assassin. Each one has their own strength and weaknesses, for example, the Assault offers the best middle ground of weapons and speed, while the Assassin allows players to slip into areas undetected. The Sniper provides some serious long range covering fire, while the Support can hack defences to use them as their own and reinforces the health of players and robots.
There’s a great mixture of offensive and defence skills and each class has different nuances and abilities. For example, playing as the Assassin means that you’re a lot more nimble than any other class and able to turn invisible to avoid detection, but your strongest attacks lie in hand to hand combat which means you have to get in close; a bit of a problem since you’re unable to take much damage. The full list of these subtle trade-off’s for each class are too numerous to mention here, but suffice to say that there’s a play style for everyone contained within, with each class being pretty tightly balanced in the overall scheme of things. Although there are no restrictions on what classes can make up a team, players will certainly need to make full use of each different type in order to stand the best chance of winning.
Cash is king in MNC and dispensed for everything from killing other players to shooting at Bullseye, the strutting and antagonistic mascot of MNC who enters the arena at random times. Collected money is used for everything from upgrading your skills, spending it on more droids to try and swamp the opposing team, or building defences to help protect your base. No single aspect can be neglected if you’re to stand a chance of winning.
All this turns the game into a frantic explosion of one-upmanship; in fact the word frantic is probably the ultimate description you can give to MNC’s action. Between dodging other players, laying waste to incoming droids, setting up turret defences, purchasing upgrades, scrambling for dropped cash and trying to raid the Money Ball, matches are packed with action and swing back and forth faster than a metronome in 4/4 time. This means there’s a real sense of both exhilaration and frustration all contained within just one single match, and the game plays so well that you won’t really want to stop after just one go, meaning there’s plenty of entertainment on offer.
In Blitz mode things are simplified a little as it’s essentially a team co-op mode. Here the players must defend their Money Ball from the waves of incoming droids, offering a nice change of pace in so far that there are no other players to compete against. However it doesn’t mean the mode resembles anything like a pushover and once again players need to make good use of the various classes. No less frantic, it offers enough of a difference to Crossfire to warrant its inclusion and if you can find a regular group of players to keep dipping into the mode with, then you’re guaranteed to get a lot of mileage out of playing Blitz.
With the commentary of the announcer and the pithy remarks from the player characters, combined with the overall styling, Monday Night Combat has a light-hearted air about it which is still pretty unique for a download title. It’s this fast and loose approach which raises it above other recent attempts at competitive online titles on XBLA (some of which haven’t been up to much at all) and the fact that it has enough of a novelty factor about its approach, makes this one title that should have a broad enough appeal to warrant a look.
The only possible downside we can foresee is whether anyone will still be playing the game in a few months time. This is not through any fault of the game itself, but rather how horribly fickle the Xbox user base is about their online games, especially ones that don’t have the words `Call` and `Duty` in the title. If that does happen it’ll be a shame since, despite some reticence on their part, Uber Entertainment have developed a nice little title that deserves to do well.