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Monday Night Combat

(Microsoft Game Studios; US: 11 Aug 2010)

Most people think that sharing a common interest is beneficial to a relationship. But when that common interest is video games, it can cause more problems than it solves – especially if both partners are constantly vying for time with the same console. But thanks to Monday Night Combat, our Xbox is finally bringing us together instead of tearing us apart.


I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first. While shooters are my spouse’s genre of choice, I generally prefer RPG and strategy games. I’m conversant enough with the mechanics of combat from my experience with games like Fallout 3, but I don’t consider myself a good enough combatant to pick up a Halo 3 match with any degree of comfort. But MNC is equal parts twitch shooter and RTS, and the fast-paced, team-oriented style of gameplay is augmented by six diverse character classes that truly offer a little something for everyone. And don’t be fooled by the low price – this $15 Xbox-only download has the full featured gameplay of a big budget title (or try the demo version for free).


Monday Night Combat is essentially Capture the Flag with huge guns and boatloads of money. In Blitz mode, in which you can play alone, locally via split-screen, or online with friends, your team is pitted against an army of killer robots that march single mindedly towards your base. If they destroy your money ball, (a gigantic armored disco piñata full of cash), you lose: end of story. Crossfire mode is essentially the same, except that your team of six has its own army of bots and you’re trying to simultaneously defend your base while taking down the opposing team’s money ball. Players earn cash by dealing damage to opposing players or bots, and each of the six character classes – Assault, Gunner, Tank, Support, Sniper and Assassin – has a different set of skills and abilities, which can be upgraded for a hefty fee.


Monday Night Combat is great because it doesn’t actually matter whether you’re very good or not. Sure, it’s nice to end a match on the winning side with a high kill count. But even when my team loses and I haven’t made a single kill, it’s still fun. And while some players try to boost their scores by focusing on maximum player kills, there’s a valuable place in every match for support players of any character class to build turrets, set traps, spawn bots, and defend the base.


This variety is really the beauty of Monday Night Combat, too. My spouse comes from a fast paced shooter/fighter gaming background and loves the deadly speed of the Assassin. He racks up huge kill counts by invisibly running up to an opponent and stabbing him in the back with a sharp knife and a flourish. On the other hand, as a person with a deep and abiding love for real-time strategy, playing as a sniper (equipped with flak grenades, freeze traps, and a wicked grapple move) gives me the opportunity to assess the map as a whole and execute a plan (and my opponents) in a way that best helps my team.


I find, too, that the personalities assigned to the Monday Night Combat character classes are spot on. It’s like the world’s most accurate personality test – Assault players seek the limelight, Support players are team-oriented, Assassins are loners, Tanks like to mow down the opposition and Gunners…well, Gunners gotta gun. Playing as a sniper, I have found some unsettling similarities between myself and the tactically-minded, overly analytical caricature depicted in-game. Just the other day I yelled sarcastically, “Go ahead and collect money, guys, I’ll just stay here and DEFEND OUR BASE against FIVE MILLION KILLER ROBOTS, all by MYSELF,” to which my avatar responded, “At least SOMEBODY’S doing their JOB!” 


As a parent, I appreciate that this is a game that I can play in front of my kids because it completely lacks any blood, gore, and vulgar language. Honestly, the worst thing that my kids see and hear during this game come out of my own mouth when I get stabbed in the back by the same assassin for the fifth time in a single round. Assuming that you have better control of your mouth than I do, this would be a great game to share with young tweens who yearn to play team-based combat games over Xbox Live, but for whom M-rated titles like Left 4 Dead are inappropriate.


Still, MNC is not quite perfect. For one, there is dishearteningly little documentation. What little is available can be accessed through the “How to Play” option in nearly every menu screen, but while it gives some information about the characters, bots, and arenas, it doesn’t actually offer much information about gameplay, combat modes, or customization process.  The tutorial is brief—actually too brief. It only covers the Assault character class, and there is no option to replay it with other classes. There are a few developer walkthroughs available at the which I recommend watching, but again, they only cover the Tank and Support classes.


The only way that you can really learn about the game is to play it, so the best thing a rank newbie can do is spend plenty of time in Blitz mode learning your chosen class’s attacks and abilities, then prepare to have your ass handed to you repeatedly while you’re trying to figure out how to defend yourself from invisible assassins, distant but deadly snipers, and those damned firebase turrets that always seem to be in just the wrong place.


One other minor gripe: I can’t sign in under my own profile as player 2 in Crossfire mode, which means that my custom class is unavailable if my spouse has the P1 controller. This, however, is a universal problem with the way that Xbox Live works, so Uber Entertainment can hardly be blamed. I had a few more complaints, but most of them were addressed in the first patch (which came out just 2 weeks after the game’s initial release), so here’s hoping that more documentation will be released soon and remove the final obstacle to Monday Night Combat earning a perfect 10.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go memorize the rest of this playbook before the next round.

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