Monday Night Combat satisfies as downloadable game

When I first saw the trailer for Uber Entertainment’s Monday Night Combat (MNC), I was ready to write it off as a Team Fortress 2 (TF2) clone dressed up to poke fun at pro-football. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to discover that MNC owes as much of its heritage to Defense of the Ancients (DotA) as it does to TF2, resulting in a refreshing blend of tower defense and team-based shooting.

The Xbox Live Arcade title comes with two modes: Blitz and Crossfire. In Blitz, up to four players face off against waves of computer-controlled robots who try to destroy the team’s “Moneyball,” a cross between a disco-ball and a piñata full of coins. Blitz bears some resemblance to Gears of War’s Horde mode, or Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight, except for the fact that there is a finite limit to the waves of enemies that will attack you. You can also use money earned from killing enemies to upgrade your character’s skills or to build and upgrade four different kinds of automated defense turrets. Regrettably, there is only one map for Blitz mode at the moment, though it does have five levels of difficulty. Blitz can also be played online or locally in four player split-screen. This is a nice, party-friendly feature that is sadly going out of style.

Crossfire mode is the real meat of the game, although it is essentially a competitive version of Blitz. Both teams must protect their Moneyball while escorting platoons of computer controlled robots to the enemy team’s ball.

Unlike DotA’s computer controlled monsters, which are just useless cannon fodder, MNC’s robots are essential for defeating the other team.

The players, or Pros as they are referred to in-game, cannot directly attack the Moneyball until the robots have destroyed its shield. If the players don’t destroy the ball quickly, its shield will regenerate. What results is a familiar sort of back and forth struggle, though you can expect players to drop out if the other team establishes a strong lead early on.

Crossfire mode has four maps filled with jump pads, turret hard points and explosive traps, though nothing in the arena really stand out from another as they all share a similar aesthetic. On the bright side, however, all of the maps are entertaining to play.

There are six total classes to choose from in MNC, and most of them fall into familiar roles. The Assault is your standard jack of all trades: packing an assault rifle, a grenade launcher and a remote mine.

The Assassin is a ninja-lady who can cloak, slice and dice with a sword, fire flurries of shurikens and toss down smoke bombs.

The Gunner plays like TF2’s Heavy, packing a mini gun, cannon and a stunning shockwave move. The Sniper sets traps and does what he does best. The Support is a mix of TF2’s medic and engineer classes, capable of building mobile turrets and healing other players with a health ray.

The only unusual class is the Tank, a heavily armored defensive brute who packs a slow-firing laser rifle and a beam weapon that does more damage when he is closer to the enemy.

While there are three fewer classes than TF2, players do have the option of creating custom characters with unique stats (such as rate of fire, armor and health regeneration) determined by equipping different endorsements.

One of MNC’s more inventive technical features is its “Live Update System,” which allows Uber Entertainment to adjust the parameters of the game over Xbox Live without patching it.

Apparently, the system has paid off, as I never ran into any serious power-balance issues, even though I heard grumblings about the Support class being over-powered at launch.

All in all, Monday Night Combat has an awful lot of polish for a downloadable title. The faux-football humor is kind of hit or miss, but it helps the game stand apart from the titles that influenced its gameplay.

While more variety in the form of new maps and modes would be welcome, Monday Night Combat is already fairly deep for a downloadable title, and it’s not a bad way to spend fifteen bucks.