Developer: Uber Entertainment / Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios / ESRB: Teen (Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $15.00
Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade program has delivered really quality downloadable games in the form of Limbo and Lara Croft. Monday Night Combat doesn’t quite achieve those lofty levels of appreciation as its derivative shooter format and thin options clearly peg it as an action game for the budget-conscious. Still, it’s fun enough for the price, and if you bring buddies along for the multiplayer options, you’ll find a Team Fortress 2-like (or that could also be -lite) experience for a bargain price.
Set in a future when Monday Night Football has been replaced by the latest television sensation, Monday Night Combat (like, 2011, when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and over-paid players and over-profited owners butt heads and likely kill a season–or more–dead in its tracks) this arena combat game tells its own crazy tale. The Helios Corporations has, among other Google-like enterprises, “acquired” Spain and France, rebranded them as “Spance” and set an arena there for the ultimate TV show.
The single-player portion is pretty straightforward. You protect the Moneyball in the center of the arena from 10 rounds of AI attacks. Each round features an enemy with a fresh defense or skill that forces you to use the four upgradeable skills your chosen class can perform. Six class types comprising gunner, tank, support, assassin, sniper, and assault provide a variety of roles though the single-player requirements of fighting off wave after wave of attacking robots seem to favor the aggressive assault and tank roles. At the end of the round, MNC mascot Bullseye bounces around the arena, prompting you to shoot him so that he kicks out more money tokens for you to collect. Then you try it again, but this time against 20 rounds of robotic enemies… then 30.
That’s essentially it for the single-player experience. To help your fight you use the cash scooped up from shredded robots to build and upgrade turrets, forming a defensive perimeter around the Moneyball. Balancing which of the four turret types to build in each spot, which you upgrade, and how you upgrade your own skills forms the core of the strategic thinking required.
Adding some depth to the experience if you stick with Monday Night Combat‘s premise is a significant array of customization options for your character of choice. Aside from choosing certain skills for your six basic classes, you can mix and match features, save out your personalized warrior, and take them into combat in the multiplayer match-ups. Even the turrets you place to protect your prize and yourself have upgrade options if you have the cash to splash. Each of these balancing points adds a layer of thought to the process of what’s still essentially a pretty simple shooter.
Online you can play the Blitz mode cooperatively with up to three friends, which can be fairly mindless fun for a short while. But it is only short-lived as the repetition of the waves of robots drags, even when you have to face off against the bigger boss-like Jackbots, with their ground-pounding attacks, turret-splintering rockets.
Crossfire mode is the six-on-six arena shootout that has the most traction in this package. With the various roles you can fulfill there’s something for everyone, be it sneak as the assassin, or tank, or defend your Moneyball at home base. The gameplay mechanics of building turrets on set points remains the same, and you can also pay to spawn bots that march on set routes across the four maps to run interference for your team as you try to take down the opponent’s Moneyball. It turns a six-on-six slugfest into a much bigger brouhaha. Your regenerating energy can suddenly be sapped when you ignore (at your peril) the bots in order to focus on another player. Since destroying the bots only earns money it’s always more appealing to focus on real humans, and already many players have invested enough time to reach over 50th level (an indication of play time more specifically than skills, since you don’t accrue benefits with the level up process).
The four maps are simple, generic spaces with symmetrical patterns and are small enough to guarantee you’ll have something to shoot at within moments of stepping out of your safe home base (a handy method of preventing spawn camping).
Monday Night Combat is colorful, cartoony, and very simple. Each Crossfire battle is a straight red versus blue slugfest. The robot model designs are cool, even cute, and the game tries to play up its TV show theme with a blusterous host setting the stage for each event. Some neat effects, like the assassin’s cloaking and even slo-mo kills when you execute a particular special attack all add drama and vibrancy to the enclosed environments.
It’s not going to take the place of the Halos and Modern Warfares that dominate online multiplayer combat on Xbox Live, but this downloadable game has plenty going for it to warrant the 1200 Microsoft point investment. Monday Night Combat is straightforward enough to be broadly appealing to anyone interested in third-person arena combat but deep enough to satisfy–at least for a while– hardened online veterans. Yet another impressive entry in Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade.