Review: Monday Night Combat
August 18, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan
It’s not often a game that I’ve never heard of hits its release date with little promotion and surprises me. With the position I have on the site, I like to pride myself on keeping my finger on the pulse of all things gaming and have a decent idea of how most titles will turn out, yet Monday Night Combat, the new game from Uber Entertainment, seemingly came from nowhere and has done exactly that. Hearing nothing about a title can often put people at odds; I mean, if there’s not a lot of advertising clout behind something, how good could it really be? Thankfully for Monday Night Combat, it’s very good, and then some.
Performing under the influence (of many other games)
Welcome to the sports event of the future… apparently. Set in the future, Monday Night Combat takes gun combat and turns it into a popular but light-hearted spectator sport; however that façade simply covers over what is essentially an amazingly fun tower defence game. The difference here from other tower defence outings is that instead of controlling from above, you’re bang in the middle of the action, shooting the enemies along with your chosen defences.
Okay, so there is no story, but it is worth mentioning that Monday Night Combat has so many influences starting from its colourful design, with so many more under the hood that it would be nigh on impossible to be able to list them all here and maintain any sort of coherent article. The first one that most will connect with is visually, and I’m finding it really easy likening it to Valve’s multiplayer masterpiece ‘Team Fortress 2’, but in gameplay it probably has more of a feel of the Mad Moxxi DLC from Borderlands, as I’m about to explain.
Ever wanted to be caught in the middle of a tower defence situation?
The aim of the game in Monday Night Combat is always the same no matter which of the three modes you are on; defend your money ball from being attacked from the waves upon waves of enemies. Should it lose its entire shield while under your guard, you lose. Thankfully, as in all tower defence games, you have a number of tricks up your sleeve. As you defeat enemies, you’ll earn cash that you can spend on your defence. In between each round, you’ll have a short time-span in which to set up and upgrade a number of different turrets and other instruments, such as jump panels, to aid you along the way. These can only really be set in one of the many predefined slots littered around the area, but it does require some thought on how to manage the layout and knowing when you’ll need them keeps the action quick paced and hectic.
Of course, the most powerful weapon you’ll have in the game is yourself. I alluded to a visual likeness to Team Fortress 2 earlier, but in fact this game is also like it in its class based set-up. Before a match, you can choose between one of six classes; Assault, Tank, Support, Assassin, Gunner and Sniper, all of which are incredibly fun to play with, and will probably see you spending a lot of time experimenting with. You control your chosen class from a third person perspective, and the handling is pretty smooth, as seems to be the case with most games made with the Unreal Engine. Aside from the usual element of running, gunning and the various defence management duties you’ll be partaking in, you’ll also be able to upgrade your character, levelling four statistics up to a maximum of three levels in each category. What that category does depends entirely on your chosen class, and will have an eventual effect one of the unique skills he might have.
For example, as you learn in the tutorial, the Assault Class can throw detonating charges by hitting X, use a jetpack (to limited effect) with Y, or charge at an enemy with B, and you might choose to spend your money making his grenades more powerful over some of the other skills, at least in the short term. These special attacks can be used once before being subjected to a short cool down period, preventing you from spamming the hell out of some of them, and offers a thoughtful element as to when is the right time to use them, especially as you get to the final waves. As I said, it’s worth experimenting with these, as later into the game you’ll find yourself able to purchase custom classes, enabling you to build a character that truly suits your style of play.
The main mode, and only offline mode, is ‘Blitz’. In this you’ll be against hordes of enemies fixated with the idea of attacking your cash prize with all the tenacity of a certain one-legged ex-wife of a certain former Beatle… It’s here where my first thought of Moxxi’s Underdome in Borderlands came to mind, as you have to endure a pre-set number of waves of enemies until the end, but instead of survival, your goal is to protect. Thankfully, in this game, death isn’t the end, as you will re-spawn but with the fair penalty of being unable to get back into the action immediately, leaving the money ball exposed and you hoping that your defences will hold. The enemies themselves are colourful robots, and these come in many shapes and sizes with differing abilities, so while the likes of a line of Black Jacks heading your way early on might not seem very challenging, wait until the later levels where the game really starts to mix things up.
This is made more frantic when enemies can be released into the arena by any number of gates, ramping up both the fun and the difficulty proportionately. It’s a game that manages to balance the feel of an arcade shooter and the need for strategy, while also sitting perfectly between the goals of challenge and satisfaction. My only real complaint here is that the game isn’t as much fun on your own as it is with friends… but still very much fun nonetheless.
Imagine if Pixar had made the movie ‘Gamer’…
The influence of Team Fortress 2 is felt once again in the game’s visuals, with a hefty focus on fun and here it works to great effect. Without looking jaw-dropping, the game looks sharp and colourful, revelling in the cartoony look that Uber Entertainment have bestowed upon it. Pretty much everything in Monday Night Combat is aesthetically pleasing, and works extremely well from a functional standpoint too. Even something as simple as menu navigation is pleasing to the eye, with a smart look that sets the tone perfectly for what you’re about to play. The class designs, although possibly a little derivative, are full of character and cleanly designed, but have been made with a fantastic eye for detail.
Sounds like a sporting event.
Much of the presentation in Monday Night Combat is trying to sell the game to you as a futuristic sport, and it’s hard to deny Uber Entertainment’s success in this field, and no more so is this the case than aurally. From the Sky Sports styled, guitar driven title soundtrack, to the sounds during the battles, the game does carry an authentic sporting feel, even if other areas betray that. In gameplay, the game is rife with crowd noise and gunfire, but there is some limited voice acting. The voice of what would otherwise probably be an annoying announcer rings around the arena, commenting occasionally on the events and adding some genuinely funny quips, but it’s managed in a way where you barely notice he’s there. It’s probably fair to say that the guns do lack a bit of wallop, although the lack of rumble aids that feeling.
More people = More fun.
Monday Night Combat is at its absolute best when played online with people you know and trust. The game takes a bit of a cue from Left 4 Dead in this respect, where at times the game can be a punishing lesson in the need for teamwork, but equally makes success seem much more enjoyable when it happens. In this mode the game is exactly as you would find offline, except you can play it with up to eight others, and this is an absolute blast. Communication really is a must, as is a nice spread of classes across the team to enable you to keep defences at full health while others concentrate on dispatching the waves of enemies heading your way.
The undisputable jewel in MNC’s crown, though, is the online only mode of Crossfire. Instead of just being against bots, you’ll be battling another team in six on six combat. Obviously this time, you’ll have to factor in an offensive strategy as you look to take down their money ball, while still protecting your own. The mode is pretty similar to Warfare found in the Unreal Tournament games, but with the added element of tower defence to factor into it. Added into this mode, is the ability to buy bots. Once spawned, you can direct your flow of bots towards the enemy base in a bid to take down their money ball. This mode is an absolute blast and I recommend you check it out over the standard online Blitz mode.
Across both modes, MNC handles very well, although I did experience some very minor lag occasionally in the games I’ve played, but put simply; there is quite a lot going on at any one time. Still, that aside it’s the online mode that is the reason to own this game, and although there are only two modes, it’s close to perfect, and the fun factor alone will keep you going for some time.
You won’t just be playing this on Monday Nights.
Monday Night Combat is one of those games that doesn’t require a lot of advertising clout to make you take notice as the quality really does speak for itself. It certainly managed to take me by surprise, and it fully deserves its place amongst the other gems that Microsoft likes to put out over their annual Summer of Arcade. It’s fun, frantic and has just about the right amount of strategy while straddling two very different genres. It’s a good game on your own, but an outstanding game with others, and as such it’s the online mode that will keep you coming back for more. A game I can see surviving on Xbox Live for some time to come.