Monday Night Combat is a unique downloadable title on Xbox Live Arcade. In this current global economic climate a standout game is necessary to generate any sort of success both critically, but now even more so in terms of revenue. Uber Entertainment have seemingly taken tested ideas from the marketplace and combined them together in an effort to develop something that would appeal to a wide variety of players. However, does their tactic of joining tower defence with a class based third person shooter work out as a smart move to create something interesting and fun to play?
The game’s showpiece, Crossfire, is a 6 v 6 team based, online game of attrition set up as an arena filled futuristic sport. Each team has a Money-ball, full of money, protected at a height from the enemy team. The aim of each timed game is to destroy the opposing team’s Money-ball and reap the rewards as the victors. To do this, the player must orchestrate a steady stream of robots, which are necessary to bring down the shields protecting the Money-ball, while balancing this with an adequate defence against an enemy onslaught. This is where tower defence comes into play, as no player on the field can control their own robots directly. Each moves and fires at its own pace to eventually attack the precious opposing Money-ball and bring it down to a level where it is vulnerable from human player attack. That said, combatants can boost numbers, buy bigger robots, and set up turrets in defensive positions. Turrets are immobile, and must be placed at one of the pre-determined locations. However, there is a selection to choose from and where you place them can be quite strategic, or annoying if a team-mate places a long range turret where robots are coming in thick, fast and at close range. There are up to four different turrets available at one time, depending on how much cash a player has, with a cheap short range gun turret, a long range artillery turret, a fog emitting dispenser that slows down robots within a short distance, and an expensive, heavily shielded turret, which is best at tackling enemies at close range. Turrets affect anything that moves, which makes them essential to success; encouraging team play and conversation over Xbox LIVE.
Each match starts at a lobby, and kicks off with the minimum eight players. The matchmaking system appears to have a lack of processing skill or rank, but the teams formed rarely provide one-sided action. In-fact most matches last the entire time allowance, moving into Overtime, so that both Money-balls drop to the floor and are open to attack. There are two teams, both red and blue, to which each player is placed in. To begin the player chooses a class from a choice of six. They are generic in name, but each comes with a set of upgradable abilities, unique weapons and characteristics. Assault, Sniper, Support, Gunner, Assassin, and Tank have three abilities to use at the press of a button, colour coordinated to the controller, and one passive trait to upgrade, all up to a third tier. Common skills are grenades or bombs, with upgrades increasing damage and area of effect. A charge or dash also make an appearance, but all four of the skills for each class are unique. The passive upgrades add extra skills among other enhancements, such as an alternative grapple on reload, but the most effective are the weapon upgrades, including the impressive double-barrelled mini-gun with the Gunner class.
Money is easy to come by and is pocketed whatever the player chooses to do. There is persistence across the game, so between the Blitz and Crossfire game modes cash flow is not a problem. Money accumulates outside the arena in Lifetime Earnings to gain an online rank, and can be spent on a custom class or ‘ProTags’, to be flashed at an enemy player upon their death. The custom classes work similarly to modern First-Person Shooters. In this case, the player can choose sponsors to shorten reload times, increase the weapon clips size or improve skill recovery. This allows the player to mould the on-screen character to their style of play with customisation as well as being something to aim for with the hordes of gold. Apart from money being sent directly to the player, it can also be dropped as large coins on the ground, although looking at the ground for too long could be beneficial for the enemy.
Among the coins there are other items that can boost characteristics temporarily. These include speed boosts, juice and bacon. Increasing in value, speed boosts do exactly what you would expect, where juice, when accumulated, gives a significant increase in strength over a short period of time. On the other hand, bacon increases strength over an entire life and can be obtained through ‘bots or the game’s mascot, Bullseye. Bullseye is a large, yellow mascot that dances across the map, and he just happens to be filled with money, and sometimes the prized bacon. Players are comically encouraged to shoot Bullseye as the surrounding fans in the arena chant, and the commentator shouts out to let players know he is there to fight over. Bullseye adds that welcome touch to keep things fresh in a match as a focal point to draw teams in, as well as keeping up comedy appearances.
Each map has an upper storey to scout an advantageous position, but all-in-all they are all too similar in structure, leaving just a change in which corner to sneak around. In its favour, each offers a maze of walls and jump-platforms to launch the players quickly from one side of the map to the other, and are a colourful change to the usual drab shooters of the modern age. Money-balls are typically placed at either end of an arena and the paths for ‘bots are placed symmetrically, running past a central position. Housed in the centre of the maps is a button for the ‘Annihilator’, a tactical switch that drops explosives at specific locations on the map, again ensuring that players are not moving down the same linear paths throughout a game if they really want to rack up kills and therefore money.
Monday Night Combat has a more cooperative game mode latched on to Crossfire, in the name of Blitz. Blitz is a single player, and split-screen or Xbox Live co-op, variant that pits a single team against waves of oncoming ‘bots. This game type was made famous by Gears of War’s Horde and Halo ODST’s Firefight game-types, but instead of just a fight to survive Monday Night Combat adds its tactical element. The number of waves is defined by the player, and the set-up is that there are a number of fixed spawn locations from which the waves appear. There is the same upgrade system for characters as there is in Crossfire, as well as turrets, all in aid of fending off ‘bots from a single Money-ball, which when depleted before the remaining enemies are vanquished means game over. Blitz mode is somewhat tame in comparison to Crossfire, and apart from being included in the persistent money-making scheme offers little diversity or challenge to draw the player in.
Monday Night Combat is not devoid of problems – It suffers from technical faults, such as a slow frame rate when there is a lot of action on-screen, the maps are far from diverse, and the customisation options match the bare minimum of expectations. However, it is light-hearted blast that offers a platform for hilarious fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is bright and colourful to match. The mix between action shooter and tactical puzzle genres works out well, leaving no better feeling when on a hot streak, playing with friends. You will struggle to be tied down to just one evening a week should you play Monday Night Combat.