Game Description: Monday Night Combat is a class-based, third-person shooter … and the most popular lethal sport of the future! It blends intense combat, finishing moves, and gameshow-like challenges and rewards to produce an action experience unlike any other. Why fight for "honor" or "duty" when you can fight for the real American dream—cash, fame and endorsements?
HIGH: Hacking an enemy turret and watching it wreak havoc.
LOW: Hearing the same announcer line for the third time in two hours.
WTF: The Support's healing gun heals people and machines?
Multiplayer is a difficult thing to do right. Creating a worthwhile experience for the player is tricky when faced with the most unpredictable, adaptive "AI" in existence: other human players. Nobody quite knows what's going to happen until real live humans start hitting the maps, which is why multiplayer can fall flat so easily. A good multiplayer romp often requires a sense of controlled chaos; a feeling of everything around you being out of control while being in total control of yourself.
While it might not have all the trimmings of a bigger game, Monday Night Combat, a class based third-person download-only shooter from fledgling developer Uber Entertainment, manages to capture this concept and all the oxymoronic goodness that comes with it.
The game is simple: teams must escort a group of robots to the opposing team's moneyball and destroy it. This constitutes the game's Crossfire mode. There are other single-team and single-player modes available, but they aren't all that relevant when compared to actually going up against other players.
The dynamics of the different classes and strategies in Crossfire can be pretty deep, resulting in a rewarding experience. The game is quite well balanced, as none of the classes seem seriously overpowered in any way. While I'm not sure that they all need grapple moves, the weapons are well-suited towards the intended strengths and weaknesses of each class. However, this has already been done by many other games, so how is Monday Night Combat anything more than a Team Fortress 2 clone?
Comparing the two, there are indeed quite a few similarities—most noticeably with the class breakdown. Each class has a distinct parallel to a class or combination of classes in Team Fortress 2. Gunner = Heavy, Tank = Pyro, Support = Engineer + Medic, Assault = Soldier + Demo, Assassin = Scout + Spy, and Sniper =....well, Sniper. However, these similarities are positive ones.
The role distribution works well, and playing one class in the same method as another is a recipe for getting an Assassin's blade stuck in your back. Borrowing mechanics from other games is perfectly fine as long as the game in question is able to present itself as something fresh, and Monday Night Combat is able to do that by incorporating elements from another, more unexpected title: Ratchet & Clank.
During actual gameplay, I got a very distinct Ratchet & Clank vibe, specifically in regard to the multiplayer component from the third game in the series, Up Your Arsenal. The multiplayer for that game was surprisingly well done, especially considering how many titles simply tack on multiplayer for the sake of having it. (See: Metroid Prime 2.) I was always hoping for a multiplayer-centric title to grace the Ratchet & Clank franchise, and Monday Night Combat, intentionally or not, seems to have captured that spirit. The cartoony weapon sets, abilities, and third-person perspective make things feel very similar to Insomiac's series, and the game is better off for it.
Looking specifically at Monday Night Combat's themes and designs, the cheesy sports motif feels fresh at first, but started to grate on me after a while. The announcer doesn't have very many lines, and I think I heard them all by my second or third game.
The personas of the different classes are kind of flat too. There are a few gems like the Support (who looks like Mario after aging 30 years) and the acrobatically silent Assassin, but the others feel a bit dull. The Tank and the Gunner are essentially the same personality-wise, and the Sniper's one-liners are mostly misses. This is obviously a very superficial complaint since it doesn't detract from the gameplay at all, but a little more character from the characters and more variety in the setting would have helped make the game world a bit more endearing.
Similarly, Monday Night Combat's larger problems don't lie in its core gameplay, but in its relatively shallow amount of content. For example, the maps suffer from a severe lack of variety, as they're all pretty much the same with maybe a few structural or minor cosmetic differences. A few different environments other than the default stadium would have been nice. Furthermore, as good as Crossfire mode is, it does get old after a while. Some different types of modes would have been very welcome. In particular, one idea I'd like to see would be a mode where each team had to protect one giant robot—but that's just coming from me.
Monday Night Combat may not come with as many of the bells and whistles of a bigger game, but the sweet, bacon-filled core is tasty enough on its own—even if it is a bit lean. Uber has turned in something good for its first offering, and hopefully it has something great tucked away up its sleeve.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 5 hours of play was spent in multiplayer modes and almost no time was spent in single-player modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains violence and crude humor. I wouldn't consider anything in the game proper to be unsuitable for an teenager, but like any other online game things can get nasty over the internet. Parents will want to keep an eye on their children while they play this just to make sure they don't start acting like one of those kids.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be fine. Spoken lines aren't important and there are enough visual cues to make up for the lack of sound.
Microsoft's August 11th Summer of Arcade game is going to be Monday Night Combat from fledgling studio Uber Entertainment. A team-based shooter with some snazzy graphics and interesting ideas, I have a feeling it's going to do pretty well. While we're all still waiting to get our hands on full versions, the good people of Uber were gracious enough to invite me over to their studio for a sneak peek.
Oh, I also asked them a few questions while I was there…
What can you tell us about Uber Entertainment? Who are you? What's your mission?
Uber Entertainment is an independent game developer. We are a small group of very experienced game developers who aim to build games that are polished, fun to play and move the medium forward. We are also big believers in supporting our games and our community.
How big is your team, and how long have you been working on your current project?
Uber is currently 17 full time employees but we have used some outside contractors for our current project. Monday Night Combat has been in progress for about two years and is now shipping on August 11, 2010 as part of the 2010 Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade. We spent the first 8-12 months just prototyping our game play because we truly believe in the adage of "Find the Fun First". If the game is fun while running around a bunch of white boxes, the game will be fun when it's pretty! After the prototype phase it was getting all the assets in and functional and polishing it as much as we could.
Monday Night Combat. What is it, and why should players give a hoot?
Monday Night Combat is a third person, class and team based shooter set in a world where you battle it out in futuristic arenas for money, fame and endorsements! Monday Night Combat is a very unique blend of a lot of different game mechanics that we at Uber Entertainment are very proud of. We support two game modes. Blitz is our cooperative mode that can be played solo, split screen or up to four people over Xbox LIVE. Crossfire is our six versus six competitive mode over Xbox LIVE. The game also has deep persistence, keeping track of how much lifetime earnings you've acquired, tons of career statistics, any single game highlights you've accomplished, and over 370 unique ProTags associated with those feats that you can show off to your friends or enemies.
Some people have dismissed Monday Night Combat as a TF2 one-off. Why are they wrong?
First, I'll say that's it's really a big compliment to get compared to such a great game. The art style is what's striking about the game and what the fans are usually reacting to. We chose this art style because we wanted the art to convey the humor and light hearted nature of the world. That and we were all a little tired of playing our shooters in brown, bombed out cities. When fans finally get their hands on the game they'll be very quick to see that the game has a ton interesting game mechanics that make it a very unique shooter. Monday Night Combat boasts single player and cooperative modes, a competitive six versus six mode and tons of persistence. All that said, we did borrow mechanics from all kinds of games. Mechanics like running, shooting, jumping, automated turrets, robots and even money!
It's clear that multiplier is a big focus of Monday Night Combat. What kind of experience can a solo player expect?
We built an entire game mode around solo or cooperative play. Blitz mode is a game type that is all about one team defending one money ball against rounds and rounds of robots trying to get to it. The game type supports solo play, two player split screen or up to four players over Xbox LIVE. There are five different challenges at all difficulty levels to test your abilities. The last challenge has infinite rounds and is based on getting to as high of a round as you can. The game really relies on the strategy of turret placement, personal upgrade timing and team make up. It also auto compensates for players coming and going during the game by increasing or decreasing the amount and types of robots spawned. There is great replayability in Blitz because the leaderboards show how much money you earned in the round and what class you did it with so you can challenge your friends, or enemies, to do better.
Why was Live chosen as the service to launch your game, and are there any plans to bring MNC to other competing services?
We chose Live for several reasons. One, Microsoft has been a great partner at bringing our game to the 360. Secondly, we really feel like downloadable games are where we are headed for game delivery and Xbox LIVE Arcade is simply an amazing platform for it. Getting into the Summer of Arcade promotion is just pure gravy. We haven't officially announced any other platforms for Monday Night Combat, we're just focused on our release next week and making sure it goes smoothly... and playing with our fans. We get maybe 24 hours to be better than everyone. Maybe... probably more like 12.
A lot of work has gone into the character design and conceptualization of MNC. Do you have plans to expand the franchise past this initial release?
We do plan on supporting the game and the franchise beyond Monday Night Combat. It's part of our commitment to keeping in touch with our fans and our community. Look for future announcements! There will also be some fun tournaments and purchasable merchandise at PAX Prime this year!
Out of the six available classes, is there any one that your team considers a favorite, for gameplay reasons or otherwise? Were there character types that did not make it into the final build?
Everyone around the office has different favorites. Our cinematics artist loves the Tank's spin move so much that he solely plays that class for that reason. Our animator, AZO, really enjoys playing the Assassin, probably because she pulls off the type of moves he does in his parkour videos. One of our programmers adores the feel of the deployed Gunner with dual miniguns so that's what he does. Uber's test director is so good with the versatility of the Assault that he greatly enjoys going on a tear with him. So, yes, everyone seems to have a favorite, except me. I'm balancing the game so I try really hard not to have a favorite that way I don't inadvertently overpower one class.
There are a great number of weapons and skills that didn't make the final build which are what basically define the classes. The six originally designed classes made the final cut but with many, many iterations.
Now that Monday Night Combat is about to go live, what will Uber be doing? Have you all booked trips to Disneyland for some R&R, or has work begun on your next project?
Everyone around the office is taking some time off, going on little vacations or just relaxing at home. I've even gotten in a couple of extra rounds of golf. Uberites that are back in the office from our R&R have already begun work on our next projects. What those projects are and what the scope of those projects are is all depending on how the fans react to Monday Night Combat. If people like it and play it, we'll make more! Nothing is more satisfying than knowing something you spent two years of your life working on is bringing enjoyment to so many people.
Three non-Uber games you're loving right now: titles and reasons why. Go!
Limbo: Wow. Awesome presentation, tone and game. A must play for anyone who loves games.
StarCraft II: I've worked on a lot of RTS games, StarCraft II makes me remember why I love the genre and makes me wish I worked on it. It's the RTS game I've been waiting for for a long, long, LONG time.
Assassin's Creed 2: Never played Assassin's Creed 1... now wish I would have. Amazing game! Free running rules, they nailed the feeling of being an assassin, and another super polished game.
Infinite thanks to Creative Director John Comes for the interview follow-up, and equal thanks to Art Director Chandana Ekanayake for making it all happen in the first place. I also want to thank the entire Uber team for taking it easy on me for the first 30 seconds of our matches… after which they showed me exactly why it's a bad idea to play against the people who have created the game.
For more information on Monday Night Combat, check out the official website. I also discuss the game on the Episode 38 of the GameCritics.com podcast. If you like what you see (and hear) then keep your eyes peeled for the release of the full game via Xbox Live Arcade Wednesday, August 11th.