Monday Night Combat (XBLA) Review
I’ve been struggling for the past few days on just how to define Monday Night Combat. It’s clearly based on the Unreal engine (heck the game even tells you that), it obviously draws inspiration from Team Fortress 2, and there’s an obvious shooter element to it. It has a heavy leaning towards multiplayer, almost to the point where the game is not fun on single-player modes. That’s just on the surface though. Once you start playing MNC, you get a strong feeling of tower defence, a helping of arcade-style sports games like NFL Street, a dash of Modern Warfare 2 and even some RPG elements thrown in. Then I realised that the best way to describe Monday Night Combat is with a three-letter word: FUN.
Sweet merciful mother this game is a blast. The basis of the game is that you are a professional fighter, battling for sponsorships and endorsements and of course, cash. The more cash you make, the more custom classes and tags you can unlock. To earn this cash you take part in deathmatches in arenas that remind me of a cross between American Gladiators and paintball…with real weapons. There are jump pads, environmental weapons like the Ejector and the Annihilator (bet you can’t guess what they do…) and turret nubs that let you, umm…build turrets. You start off with 6 playable classes: assassin, assault, gunner, sniper, support and tank. As you earn money you can create your own custom classes which can have up to 3 perks and your choice of weapons and attacks. Sound familiar? The objective is to defend your “moneyball” (a gigantic disco ball that explodes into money when you lose) from the enemy. Simple enough, right?
Avengers Assemble! Oh wait…
The game has three modes: Blitz, Online Blitz and Crossfire. Blitz and Online Blitz have submodes that vary the amount of bots you need to kill in order to win. In these versions you (and your team-mates, if applicable) set up to defend your moneyball from waves of increasingly powerful bots. The bots themselves have classes, ranging from the easier Slims and Blackjacks to the mammoth Jackbots and the VERY annoying stealthy Gremlins. Every 10th wave of bots is a Jackbot wave, and although the reward for killing them is high the task is not easy in the later rounds. The local Blitz matches support 2 players, whereas the online ones support up to four. I would have liked to see support for more, possibly making this a full retail release, but it can be great fun on the higher difficulty levels playing with 3 other people. The submodes have 10, 20, 30, 40 and infinite rounds, with each successive one getting harder. I’ve never managed to get past the 50s, but that’s due to time constraints. The game does suffer a little from what I call “Tetris Syndrome” – after a long survival battle in which you get into the 40th round, it’s a real drag to start again at round 1. The long wait between rounds and fairly long load times aren’t helping that cause either/
Fortunately that’s where Crossfire comes in. A purely online mode, it pits your team of up to 6 against another human team in arenas specifically designed for Crossfire mode. The objective is still to breach the other team’s money ball, and you have bot generators to help you do so. For $50 in game cash you can generate some bots to accompany you to the opposing team’s base where, providing you make it through them and their defences, you can lay into the moneyball. Of course the other team is trying to stop you AND take out your ball, but if it were easy it wouldn’t be fun!
At the beginning of each game, you choose your class. Each class has 3 perks and 3 skills, all of which start at level 1. That puts everyone on the same page from the start, experienced players or not. One of my major issues with Modern Warfare 2 was that players who didn’t buy the game in the first couple of weeks were likely to get owned in multiplayer due to the disparity in perks and weapons. You earn cash by killing bots and opposing players, as well as by picking up coins. In addition to building turrets and spawning bots this cash can be used to upgrade your skills. The classes all feel different, which is a huge bonus in a game like this that offers little variety in game modes. The Assassin for example is all about close-quarters combat and has a variety of skills that facilitate that: the ability to cloak and to dash, as examples. The sniper of course is more about long-range combat and staying away from the enemy, so he has traps and a flak grenade that damages anything that comes into its area of effect. The gunner has a big ol’ chain gun and can “deploy” to give better damage and accuracy. Find the class(es) that suit your play style and go to town. Choose wisely though, because in the blitz modes you cannot change classes if you die. Or at least I don’t think you can.
If you’re looking for photo-realistic characters and beautifully rendered backdrops, get another game. MNC is cartoony and it knows it, and it doesn’t care. It is by no means an ugly game, but it does exactly what it needs to do and no more. Sometimes the camera can be a little wonky, especially when it comes to fighting Gremlins (which are very small) or when using the Gunner’s deploy skill. The Buzzer bot is tiny and can be near-impossible to spot, which in tandem with the cloaked Gremlins can make you a very dead pro before you even see what hit you. There’s a very generic soundtrack that only occasionally becomes irritating. The voice work is perfectly fine, and adds to the character of the game. You feel like you’re at a destruction derby or roller derby or Slamball. Remember Slamball? I miss basketball on trampolines, it was fun. The sound effects tend to get lost in a cacophony of guns, turrets, bots and announcing during the games, which is fine as they’re nothing to write home about.
This game was always going to live and die by how much fun it was to play, and the answer to that question is “Bucketloads.” It’s not the deepest of games but it really doesn’t need to be and, like tower defense games, you will find yourself addicted in a hurry.
+ An absolute blast
+ Combines aspects of several popular games
+ Plenty of variety in classes
+ Will keep you coming back for more
Camera is touchy, some enemies hard to track
Local games are not much fun
Long load times
Only 4 players to a team
The ability to tinker with your custom classes, unlock tags and badges and play as many as 11 different classes (6 regular, 5 custom) will keep you coming back time and again for the laughs, the bangs and the murders. This is just barrels of fun in a nice 1200-point package. If you’re looking for a game to throw in when you want to blow shit up with some friends without having to think too much, Monday Night Combat is your Huckleberry. The most fun I’ve had on XBLA in years.