Like last year's superb Summer of Arcade, as well as 2008's stellar line-up, the XBLA comes back strong in 2010 with a slue of fantastic titles to keep the normal summer lull of games to a minimum. While Castlevania: Harmony of Despair has been hit or miss with the general public and critics alike, Hydro Thunder Hurricane and especially the widely loved LIMBO have been superb successes to keep us from foaming at the mouth until the very end of the month when fall rush kicks off.
Last week's release, Monday Night Combat, continues along with its Summer of Arcade brethren's greatness with a nice little third-person-shooter akin to Team Fortress 2. Yet, with so much competition, will it hold the same longevity that has graced the PC legend?
Monday Night Combat hurls you face first into the action as the Assault class, one of six playable characters available, familiarizing you with the unique, highly stylized character design that is sure to impress. It gives you a basic feel of the eccentric gameplay and controls to get started, detailing the classes' skills and balancing, but doesn't do the best of jobs explaining how one may be successful in the game mode you'll be playing most. While there is really no story beyond the fact that you're competing for a monetary prize by destroying fellow combatants and their mercenary bots leading the charge, it doesn't really matter; MNC is a pure multiplayer shooter that is comprised of two game types, one far less appealing than the other.
The two modes, Blitz and Crossfire, are similar in concept, but the latter is where most of your time, and fun, will be had. Blitz is essentially a horde mode of multiple difficulties that sends wave after wave of varying robots that are similar to the 6 playable classes, which are Assault, Support, Gunner, Tank, Assassin, and Sniper. You'll have to defend a Moneyball as each wave comes down upon you, which can be accomplished by yourself, with a friend over local multiplayer, or with three other people over Xbox Live. Though it won't hold your attention for very long, Blitz serves as a great way to become familiar with each class and choose the one that best suits you, for it's essential to learn each character's strength and weakness, and when you mosey on over to Crossfire mode, you'll be glad you did.
Crossfire has the same general idea as Blitz, but you'll be facing six other players with your own team of six, both vying to destroy the other team's Moneyball. It sounds like your typical rush mode, but MNC creates a unique spin as each team will have the benefit of bots and upgradable turrets to attack and defend the Moneyball, respectively. The object, which most people on XBL seem to forget 95% of the time, is to help push your bots to the opposing team's ball in order to destroy it, tally a win on the leaderboards, and earn some cash for your pocket to customize classes. However, most matches usually become stalemates of a player-vs-player massacre, with no regard to the objective. Even with the "forgetfulness" of the other players, Crossfire is still an erratic blast of multiplayer fun, though you'll be quick to realize that this fun can't be had with every class in the game.
While some classes, like Assault, Gunner, and Sniper, are a thrill to run around as and kill everything in sight with, others aren't quite up to par. Each class holds three special skills that can be upgraded with the money earned in each round; some abilities are useless and others are considerably overpowered. Given that the Assassin relies on melee attacks and backstabbing grapples, it's a shame that almost half of the time her attacks don't actually connect with anything, even though you're clearly hitting something. The Support class, also great in theory, doesn't really pan out as it should, especially since no one really picks him, and you'll find sticking with the more traditional run-and-gun attackers to be more effective and, essentially, more fun.
Along with the class balancing issue, Monday Night Combat also sports some other minor problems that may be annoying for some, but aren't a major hindrance to gameplay. Controls are a little finicky, particularly when trying to find a balance in sensitivity between horizontal and vertical movements. I found most of the higher settings would whip my horizontal aiming around way too quickly, but didn't significantly affect vertical aiming, while the lower settings would better fit my desired horizontal movements, yet vertically it would move entirely too slow. Though not affecting gameplay, the music is a very bland mix of guitar riffs that don't quite cut it in the long run, and the announcer and his bacon references, though rather hysterical at first, get old and annoying pretty quickly. At least MNC sports an interesting and likable art style, and you can always turn down the sound for your own soundtrack, but if the visuals were just as poor, it'd definitely take away from the graphically enticing experience.
Though it's definitely no Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Monday Night Combat packs a whole lot of fun in a confined Xbox Live Arcade space, and at a great price of fifteen bucks. Although it has some slight problems with controls and class balancing, the sheer fun factor combined with the slick, quirky art style will keep you playing far longer than you expect. And how can you really say no to a game that's sponsored by the greatest meat known to man?