Monday Night Combat Preview: The Other Instant Winner

I've already written about one of my two favourite new games at PAX East. This is the other one.

Monday Night Combat is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive coming fro Uber Entertainment, the development studio with the artist who can do better backflips than the rest of us.

It is a game of team-based, class-based first-person combat presented as a sport of the future. It is not exactly, despite cartoonish visual similarities, a clone of Team Fortress 2.

Allow me to describe a couple of matches.

The constantly-crowded Uber Entertainment booth at PAX East enabled me to join a six-on-six match of crossfire. I selected a Support class, which mixed medic abilities with engineer tasks. The goal of Crossfire is to destroy the opposing team's moneyball, which is located at the opposite end of the arena from where players spawn. (You spawn next to your own.) As you play, you earn money. You spend the money on upgrades, improving your skills during a match, from level one to much more potent level three abilities. I raised my Support guy's armour right away and then jumped into action. Later, I would improve the three active abilities mapped to three of the 360 controller's face buttons: His ability to hack large turrets to upgrade them, his ability to deploy small support turrets anywhere in the battlefield, and his ability to toss a sticky target on an enemy that causes an airstrike to rain down on their head.

A Monday Night Combat arena is divided into two lanes that both pave the way from your own moneyball to the other team's. Robots from each side automatically ferry across those lanes. The robots, not the players, can destroy the shields protecting the enemy's moneyball. So the players must first work to protect the robots. I tried to do this by using my Support guy's gun to, with a right-trigger, heal my allies and, with a left-trigger, hurt my foes. Sometimes I tapped a button and used a shotgun instead. But mostly I tried to hang back and activate areas on the map were I could erect and improve big turrets.

The game is bright and colourful, as bold in its visuals as a marquee NFL game. An announcer yells excitedly. A "pitgirl" chirps tips. Items from sponsors are dropped into the combat field, including Spunk cola, which fills the juice meter — as one of the game's developers told me "juicing is allowed in Monday Night Combat." When your juice meter fills, you briefly become more powerful.

I thought I did a pretty good job as a Support guy but my team lost the first match. The action plays quickly and the train of robots from the other end, surrounded by heavy gunners and ninja assassins filed down our left lane (I was on the right!) and destroyed our moneyball.

In our second match I played as the game's one female character, the assassin. Her three active abilities are a sprint, an EMP/smoke-bomb and the ability to cloak. She also does one-hit kills from behind and has a weapon that can be upgraded from dagger to sword. I fought pretty well as her but, as I was attacking the other team's moneyball, we lost our own.

Monday Night Combat is intentionally a bit silly. It's full of goofy sponsors like the makers of Ammomule, special technology that can keep your ammo cool and your bacon hot (of course!). Each class has sponsors who provide upgrades, or you can customise your own class.

In addition to its competitive multiplayer modes, the game will include a campaign that support two-player splitscreen and up to four players online. These campaign matches will pit the player team against asymmetrical challenges, essentially presenting one half of a crossfire challenge with all players working against the AI opponent.

Almost everything about Monday Night Combat makes me laugh or smile... or both. I'm not sure how much I can enjoy this game once it hits Xbox Live and separates the novice players from the time-intensive obsessives who make all XBL games tough. But I expect to enjoy this one with friends.

Look for Monday Night Combat coming soon on Xbox Live Arcade.


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