Monday Night Combat hasn't generated nearly as much buzz as its Summer of Arcade sisters Castlevania, Limbo or Lara Croft, but its surprisingly engaging brand of class-based, competitive multiplayer could earn it a much-deserved spot as the season's XBLA sleeper hit.
- Deep class differentiation
- Addictive ability upgrading
- Turrets, bots and other tweaks to the traditional formula
- Uninspired visual presentation
- Few maps and modes
- Framerate suffers occasionally
With a co-op Castlevania on this season‘s Summer of Arcade docket, I’d planned on spending the sun-soaked months dodging medusa heads with a pack of castle-crawling buddies. So, I was as surprised as the next vamp-slayer when I found myself spending less time wielding whips in Harmony of Despair and more squeezing triggers in Monday Night Combat, an addictive, class-based competitive shooter offering much more than its seemingly formulaic surface first reveals.
Don’t Judge A Shell By Its Casing
A cursory glance at the $15 download reveals little more than a simple, straightforward shooter sporting a Team Fortress 2-wannabe style. Dig a little deeper, though, and MNC reveals unexpected depth, well-balanced classes, and addictive-as-hell gameplay that should sooth those itchy trigger fingers until the fall’s heavy hitters arrive.
The admittedly generic set-up sees you competing for cash on a futuristic game show that rewards you for filling your friends full of lead. In Crossfire, the sole competitive mode, you and up to five gun-toting pals are tasked with protecting your Money Ball--which is exactly what it sounds like--while trying to destroy the opposing team’s own valuable sphere of riches. While the concept’s little more than a Running Man rip-off, a refreshing execution of objective-based competition manages to outshine the stale premise.
It’s Got Class
The first thing making MNC’s action more fresh than formulaic is its balanced class differentiation. Six specializations--Tank, Assassin, Gunner, Support, Sniper, Assault--share almost none of the same skills and all feel like they have an important role on the battlefield. Each class can carry two weapons and upgrade four skills (one passive, three active) yielding a variety of ways to kill creatively, as well as some satisfying defensive strategies. From unleashing the Gunner’s arena-rattling ground pound attack to slicing a throat from behind the Assassin’s blade, there’s no shortage of ways to silence the Money Ball-hungering hordes. Even cooler, though, classes under-used in other such games because they’re just not that interesting to play are given a fresh purpose in MNC. The Support class, for example, can, of course, heal teammates, but can also spawn turrets and shower enemies’ faces in buckshot, making him so much more than the dude that keeps his buddies from bleeding out. Even the Sniper, often just the pain in the ass cowardly scoring one-shot-kills from a rooftop in other games, packs an effective up-close kill. Whether turning yourself into a human turret as a Tank, or planting throwing stars in skulls as an Assassin, there’s plenty of incentive to master all six of these well-rounded classes.
Upgrading your skills and abilities is almost as much fun as executing them; kills earn cash, and saving up for that next move or piece of hardware supports an RPG-like just-one-more-level addiction. But you don’t have to selfishly spend everything on yourself, as you can also invest your dough in turret upgrades and repairs. In fact, with several turret locations--with multiple upgrade tiers--surrounding your Money Ball, MNC adds a welcome Tower Defense-esque style to the proceedings. Hard-earned coin can also be spent on traps that eject baddies from the battlefield and power panels that give you a boost to upper arena levels. In addition to complementing your armed-to-the-teeth ass-kicker with some neat tricks, earning and spending cash in the midst of heated melees can ratchet the tension to adrenaline-amping levels; on more than one occasion, I teetered on the edge of my couch cushion while trying to decide how to invest my money as bullets whizzed passed by avatar’s head.
Bring On The Bots
Cranking the intensity even further is MNC’s use of computer controlled robots. Less human-imitating bots than A.I. directed drones, these metallic menaces spawn in a variety of death-delivering shapes and sizes, all with the single, robo-brained goal of helping the opposition destroy your Money Ball. These tin can armies play an even larger role in MNC’s Blitz mode, a Gears of War Horde-like live-as-long-as-you-can challenge. Played with up to three friends, Blitz is fun for maybe a few hours, but definitely feels more like a primer to the much better competitive play.
MNC’s only major flaw is its visual presentation. There are a few inspired touches, such as a creepy coin-spewing mascot and a load screen displaying a shotgun shell and a bacon slice exchanging a high-five--seriously, this image needs to be printed on a t-shirt! However, like I said before, the avatars look like Team Fortress 2 rejects, only they don’t possess nearly as much personality as Valve’s colorful characters. Additionally, the equally uninspired maps come in just a handful of varieties, and Crossfire and Blitz are the only two modes on offer. All that said, these gripes are generally overshadowed by immersive combat, expertly supported by well-defined classes and a slate of smaller, but equally cool tweaks. While its at-first generic feel will turn some off, those who give it a chance could find themselves trading bigger budget battlefields for MNC’s arenas.