Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Night Combat Review

Monday Night Combat, developed and published by Uber Entertainment.
The Good: Six classes with varied abilities and upgrades available to everyone earned through combat, action-packed gameplay against diverse creeps, $15
The Not So Good: Limited class upgrades fully level up too quickly, lack of constant escalation of creeps in competitive mode needlessly lengthens match times, trivial single player options
What say you? This third-person shooter adaptation of DotA mechanics works fairly well but lacks depth: 5/8

The most popular sport in the United States, the National Football League, has become more and more violent, thanks to an emphasis on the passing game through the enforcement of illegal contact, resulting in brutal open-field hits that produce a disturbingly large amount of concussions and other serious injuries. When will the carnage stop? There are two end-results: when people stop watching (not likely), or when somebody dies. Well, why not just cut to the chase and kill the competitors as part of the game? Enter Monday Night Combat, where two teams fight until death (and beyond, thanks to the magic of respawning). This class-based third-person multiplayer shooter debuted on something called an “XBOX” (I know, I never heard of it either) last summer and has finally entered the wonderful realm of PC gaming. How does it stack up against other class-based entries in the shooter genre?

Monday Night Combat uses a Team Fortress 2-inspired presentation, displaying each of the game’s combatants as silly caricatures blasting around the battlefield. The game has a cartoon feel overall, from the design of the professionals to the exaggerated aliens and turrets. This is a good decision for an indie title, as more realistic graphics would probably come up short and subsequently be ridiculed by mean individuals such as myself. The weapon effects are also pleasing, with lots of brightly colored explosions, and the futuristic level design fits the sports stadium presentation. The sound design is decent, with appropriate weapon effects, though I think the annoying play-by-play announcer tries too hard to be funny. Overall, though, Monday Night Combat certainly delivers $15 worth of nice graphics and sound design.

Monday Night Combat takes the basis for Defense of the Ancients and applies it to third person shooters. The first thing you’ll do in Monday Night Combat is unplug your non-XBOX gamepad, as leaving it connected results in the dreaded “constantly spinning view” phenomena that occasionally plagues console ports. The second thing you’ll do is go through the tutorial, which does a good job teaching the controls of the game. The in-game help files also relay some strategy on how to use each of the game’s classes. Monday Night Combat is intended as a multiplayer title; joining a game is accomplished through the game’s server browser (which includes dedicated servers, always a plus on the PC), which is responsive but can’t be sorted by column (like ping or number of open slots). The game comes with six maps, five for competitive “crossfire” play and one for the cooperative “blitz” mode. Both modes are essentially the same thing: you must defend you base against AI bots, although the crossfire mode adds an enemy base you can also attack. Monday Night Combat supports up to twelve players, a low number likely due to the smaller map design required for console game player counts. Blitz can also be enjoyed on your own in a single player match, though this is not recommended for maximum enjoyment. Rounding out the features are endorsements from sponsors you can earn and a numerical experience ranking that actually does nothing.

Monday Night Combat features six classes to choose from, and each class gets two weapons, each with an alternate fire, and three skills that can be quickly upgraded during combat. The assortment gives every type of player something they’ll like. The assault class gets a rifle and a grenade launcher, with the ability to drop bombs, fly, and charge into the opposition. The tank gets laser guns for pinpoint kills, grenades, and can deploy for additional firepower. The support class can heal others, sports a shotgun, and can hack turrets to upgrade them slightly, deploy his own turrets, and call in air strikes. The assassin class can cloak and delivers kills using a dagger or a shuriken launcher. The gunner is a powerful offensive weapon sporting a minigun, mortar launcher, and a fist of slamming fury. Finally, the sniper, well, snipes (and sets traps). Advanced players can also design custom classes for an even more tailored experience. Luckily, all of the weapons and abilities are unlocked for all players from the outset and upgrades only persist for a single round, so new players won’t be at an immediate disadvantage just because the veterans have logged more hours. There is certainly enough variety here to satisfy all gamers.

Monday Night Combat, like collegiate athletics, is driven by money, but unlike collegiate athletics, the competitors actually get to keep some of the cash. Coins collected by destroying AI bots are used to build turrets and upgrade powers. There are four emplacements (laser, rocket, long-range, and speed reduction) that can be positioned at fixed locations scattered around the map. They become more powerful with monetary upgrades, and in the late game they become more significant threat than the AI creeps. The upgrades are quite limited: there are only three steps for each of the three class abilities (plus a general upgrade path), so most players will reach maximum performance less than halfway through a match. This means most everyone will be on equal footing for the entire round, producing some annoyingly stalemate-rich games. Other gameplay features include “juice” collected from fallen enemies that can be used for temporary increased damage, jetpacks, and jump pads unlocked with money. Incorporating a recent “innovation,” rehealing is automatic when you are out of combat; this only servers to downplay the significant respawn time (and the long walk back to the front lines) and contribute to the frequency of stalemates in the game.

There are eight types of AI bots that move along fixed paths towards each base. They have some nicely varied capabilities, from large units to artillery launchers to small cloaked machines. You can spend a little money to occasionally spawn a more powerful member, but your influence in the automated process is limited at best. More distressing is how trivial the addition of bots is: they are a minor nuisance, never concentrated or powerful enough to really influence the game in a significant way. Using any semblance of teamwork will result in their quick extermination. Monday Night Combat features needlessly drawn-out matches since the bots don’t steadily increase in power in the competitive crossfire matches, and you’ll almost always reach sudden death overtime. The blitz mode features the same assortment of enemy bots at each difficulty setting, providing a minor, limited diversion from the more preferred competitive mode. Compared against Demigod, which features a comparable number of classes and similar gameplay, Monday Night Combat does not offer the same depth of upgrade variety and keeps AI creeps an insignificant threat in competitive play.

Monday Night Combat is not a bad game, but the novelty wears off quickly when you see how limited your class choices are for each map. These type of shooters with light role-playing features can thrive and stand apart based on how many tactical decisions the player is given, and unfortunately in Monday Night Combat they are a bit restricted. Each of the game’s six classes are distinctly different, but have three skills (plus general improvements) that can be upgraded only three levels. I would like to see more open-ended options here, as everyone quickly reaches the top of the technology tree and stalemates ensue during competitive matches. In addition, the AI creeps fail to keep pace with the human professionals, so they become an increasingly negligible part of the game as each match wears on, with stationary turrets becoming more of an obstacle. That’s too bad, since the creeps are varied and can be challenging in large numbers. Unfortunately, the competitive crossfire mode doesn’t take advantage of this fact and never concentrates the bots enough to make them a real threat, just a diversion from the opposing human players. The cooperative mode suffers from too much scripting of the incoming enemy bots, quickly becoming tiresome. Monday Night Combat features only one game mode inspired by DotA and Demigod, and since the upgrades are few and quickly completed, repetition quickly sets in. Monday Night Combat is best played cooperatively and competitively online, and the game supports up to twelve players fighting it out. The game’s price ($15) is adjusted nicely for how much longevity Monday Night Combat has to offer, which is restricted by the shallow class upgrades, inconsequential creeps, and repetitive single game mode.