Platforms: XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Uber Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Monday Night Combat makes an awful first impression. Upon starting a new game, you'll instantly be whisked away into a simplistic arena tutorial where a hooting idiotic commentator warbles inane sports cliches at a deformed virtual solider. The game may hint at multiple classes, but you only get the opportunity to try out a single build while fighting a depressingly simple stream of idiotic enemies. Seriously, it's enough to put you off the game for good.
Give it some time, however, and you'll discover that it delivers an impressive and nuanced blend of two very familiar genres.
Monday Night Combat first appears to be a straight-up team based shooter. Gleefully plundering Team Fortress 2 for style, art design and concept; it throws a red and a blue team into direct competition over territory. Each team has to simultaneously defend their 'moneyball' (read: base) while attempting to destroy their opponent's stronghold, with six classes providing a range of unique combat options and techniques. Killing other players nets you money that can be spent on skill upgrades and unlockables. So far, so familiar... right?
Not quite. Monday Night Combat also takes its cues from the tower defence genre. Each base constantly spawns a variety of bots that plod along preset routes, continually fighting for every inch of ground. Killing enemy bots also releases money that can be used (amongst other things) to build and upgrade defence towers as well as releasing unique robot attackers into the mix. This cash flow is also used to upgrade your class abilities- meaning that fickle finances and solid defensive play is as important as showing off your trigger finger. The addition of robots and turrets also makes for a gameplay experience that evolves dynamically; requiring players to constantly switch between attacking, harrying, defending, building towers or shepherding their robots towards the foe. It's a reassuringly familiar formula... yet it feels refreshingly inventive at the same time.
The aforementioned class system provides a range of combat options- and a new take on some classic FPS staples. A well-rounded soldier mixes run&gun combat with a jetpack, a sneaky assassin silently picks off stragglers and the heavy tank wields a jet engine cannon and throws grenades that splatters the screen with adverts! And naturally there's a sniper. There's always a sniper. Each of the six classes has four abilities that can be upgraded mid-battle by investing your hard-earned cash, and each feels relevant and potent without becoming overpowered.
Oddly, though, there are no unlockable weapons and skills... and the 'custom classes' only let you select three depressingly inconsequential upgrades rather than choosing loadouts. Some might argue that this provides balance and immediacy... but personally I feel that they've omitted the hook that's vital for holding the interest of 21st century gamers. Monday Night Combat also does a terrible job at explaining how everything works- only provides a tutorial for one class and forcing the player to rely on woeful text descriptions for guidance (usually letting their teams down in the process).
Mechanically, everything works. The controls feel responsive without being twitchy, the weapons are beefy without becoming unbalanced and the the levels offer multiple opportunities for flanking, sniping and hectic arena battles. It's difficult to fault in raw mechanical terms. Monday Night Combat's presentation is a mixed bag, however, with capable yet uninspiring graphics, stuttering frame rate and a truly obnoxious omnipresent commentator. At least the art style is excellent- since it chooses to rip most of its cues directly out of Team Fortress 2. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it brings genuine personality to what could have been a fairly clinical experience.
The Blitz gametype removes the enemy team, base and friendly bots- essentially turning the experience into a mix of Gears of War 2's horde mode and every tower defence title you've ever played. The turrets and towers instantly become far more important and tight cooperation replaces the competitive drive to excel as an endless stream of enemy robots hammer on your defences. It's fun in extremely small doses, but honestly feels completely limp next to the standard Crossfire mode even when played with a likeminded team. Oh, and Blitz is also playable both solo or in two-player splitscreen... but I honestly wouldn't bother. Four local players or bust, guys.
This unfortunately leads me onto the only real flaw in the package: put simply, Monday Night Combat provides poor value for money. The small clutch of levels feel almost identical, and there aren't any satisfying rewards for climbing the rankings. The choice of two gametypes is also a little cheeky- and frankly, a little standard deathmatch action here and there would have helped keep the main experience fresh. The disparity between quality and quantity is staggeringly vast- and I'd urge you to rein in your sessions to occasional rather than gorging yourself. You'll have seen almost everything Monday Night Combat has to offer within a couple of hours... and it's just the quality of the core gameplay that'll keep fans coming back rather than any genuine variety.
- Solid, refreshing mix of tower defence and twitch shooting
- Multiple classes and abilities cater for every play style
- Capable graphics and art style
- Two gametypes, handful of levels and lack of robust unlocking system
- Weak singleplayer and local co-op
- Poor tutorials hide many of the features
The Short Version: Monday Night Combat is a surprisingly nifty hybrid of classic team gametypes and tower defence that doesn't quite offer enough variety to be worth 1200 Points. Much like Castlevania HD (last week's Summer of Arcade title), it's fantastic in short bursts of multiplayer mayhem but simply doesn't hold up to extended play sessions. My advice? Just crack it out every Monday night.