Thanks to some bastards at the UN and Strasbourg, putting two teams of half a dozen people in armour and giving them lethal armaments with which to commit comical murder upon each other for the purposes of broadcast entertainment is generally frowned upon. Luckily, for those of us who desire to live in a world where bacon and churros are all that there is to eat and some apocalyptically big robots are roaming the land, there is Monday Night Combat.
You will most likely look at Monday Night Combat and dismiss it at first glance for a couple of reasons. Reason one: it started life as a console game, therefore “it has to be a shitty console port, right?” Reason two; “it just looks like a diluted TF2″. Why should you spend £10 on something that you’ve effectively owned for ages? Well, you can’t be blamed for linking a class based, cartoon styled online multiplayer shooter to Valve’s almighty hat simulator. In fact, before buying the game myself I was in exactly the same mindset, but I’ve now come to the conclusion that it’s a very unfair comparison to make. Certainly, there are similarities between the two games. There are bound to be. But MNC deserves to stand alone and independent from a much older and more established competitor.
So why shouldn’t we eat this minnow alive? Well, for starters, MNC is clearly a game that has benefited enormously from its time in beta. Full credit has to go to Uber for releasing a game that works, and that’s a breath of fresh air when reflecting on painful releases by the likes of Magicka and Test Drive Unlimited 2. Excepting minor graphical glitches, when I’ve wanted to play, I’ve been able to pick a server from a fully functional and streamlined server browser and play without lag or disconnects, which is the important thing.
But before you can pick a server, MNC throws you into a tutorial upon the first boot of the game, which is a good thing because the game has something of a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, the tutorial is a bit rubbish. It reminded me all too vividly of SpaceChem’s barebones approach; here’s this mechanic, this is what it does, move on. No time to learn what you’ve been told. I came out of it, joined a game and could remember hardly any of the controls (there are plenty of them). How do I upgrade my skills again? Which is the grapple button? How do I charge? What’s that robot called? I found myself looking at the controls screen all too often for answers.
This is perhaps the reason, during my first sessions, that our team lost every single one of them. It was a fairly miserable introduction to the game, not helped by a default perk setup given to me as a Tank (one out of the six classes overall), that appeared to be utterly useless. When I tried to change the setup, I was told I needed $15,000 to do so. This was roughly $12,000 more than I could afford, requiring me to play for about an hour to unlock ONE customisable class slot – with $25,000 required for slot two. That’s a long time to have to play with below-par tools.
I know I’ve strayed towards the negatives with MNC, but that’s probably the worst bit, that first hour or so. If you can get through it without uninstalling in a fit of nerdrage, you’re able to start enjoying things. The game starts to make sense, you start to learn other class abilities and counters to them, you appreciate that in order to win, you can’t do it all by yourself. You also start to learn what your most important skills are and you settle yourself into comfortable upgrade order, just like any good RTS player with successful build orders – it’s the same principle.
Skills in Monday Night Combat are great fun. I’m predominantly a Tank, and during my time so far, I’ve familiarised myself with all the different abilities and when to use them. I typically upgrade my health and charge to max level first. Once I’ve upgraded my charge to level 3, I can knock enemies flying out of the arena, then I can taunt and earn extra money for doing so. If you find a good point on the map, kill some bots and plenty of players, you can ‘juice up’ (become practically invincible and extremely deadly for about 10 seconds) and wreak havoc in the enemy spawn.
While you feel good at these points, you’re far from unstoppable. I’ve not played enough classes or enough of MNC in general to start preaching about balance, yet it feels stable to me. My only complaint would be that the Gunner seems a bit more powerful than the other classes at the moment at most ranges, but not unassailably so. Again, the benefits of the established console version and beta are beginning to shine through.
For its price, Monday Night Combat is a superb game. What I haven’t touched upon is how good it is even when you’re playing by yourself. Even without friends, I’ve been having a great time. This makes a welcome change from TF2 which I feel is only at its best when you play with some mates. If you buy it, you may feel like you’ve made a mistake during your first hour, but once you’re through that, you’re in for a light-hearted, fun and rewarding shooter experience.