Super Monday Night Combat review
The original Monday Night Combat existed in limbo between the third-person shooter and MOBA genres, with the lane-pushing of Defense of the Ancients saddled onto shootouts between a scant six classes. Super takes everything that was good about the first game (constant activity, dynamic quips from a clichéd play-by-play commentator, and irreverent character design) but puts more of its chips into MOBA design.
This futuristic deathsport pits the five-man Hot Shots and Icemen teams in orange-versus-blue combat, each vying to reap the rewards of sieging the opponent’s Moneyball, an orb of coin deep inside each team’s base. Waves of bots endlessly spawn on either side of the three maps—it’s up to the players’ champions (Pros, as they’re known in this league) to turn the tides in their favor.
The shooter portion of MNC has been scaled back in this free-to-play edition—guns feel weaker, and like MOBAs, needlessly dying is the quickest way to give the enemy team a level advantage. To compensate for their diminished firepower, every Pro has three abilities that define their strengths and weaknesses—and believe me when I say that all the Pros are awesome. My personal favorite is Wascot: a costumed stalker who’s a doppelganger to SMNC’s real mascot, Bullseye, and whose main source of damage is putting Pros over his knee and spanking them into submission. Killing someone with this grapple never, ever gets old.
Except when it’s happening to you, of course. Grappling is a mechanic that may frustrate new players—getting tackled and losing control of your character as an animation plays out can get on your nerves, especially because opponents can chain grapples together. Skilled players are masters of this maneuver, and other feats like the Veteran’s ranged grab (like Blitzcrank in League of Legends, he can pull opposing Pros toward him) can toss you outside the arena boundary if executed from certain spots, instantly killing you without warning.
SMNC’s long beta period means you’ll occasionally run into players with months of experience that know the ins and outs of the game’s three arenas; the game’s matchmaking system doesn’t seem to do anything to hide experienced players from you. It does match you with similarly-sized groups, but doesn’t seem to take skill or games-played into account at the moment. Killing other players is the most valuable thing you can do, but SMNC does provide plenty of secondary ways to contribute: healing, buffing, bot farming, bot purchasing, and doing area-denial with turrets or knockback attacks all helps your team.
What's best about Uber’s second iteration, though, is that it hits all the notes that define a good MOBA—unpredictable back-and-forth battles of attrition and ambushing, constantly-changing objectives, and the ability to come back from a losing game with some teamwork and a little luck. The swingiest hotspot is the Annihilator, a $1000-per-activation button in the center of each map that fries every enemy bot on the field. Whenever the Annihilator’s open for business, a carnival of chaos breaks out between the two teams. And new announcers GG Stack and Chip Valvano are here to call out these highlights. I like the way lines like “I’ve discovered I enjoy wearing women’s hats” soften the seriousness of intense matches.
While most everything in-game is peachy, things get disheartening when you’re screwed over by the shaky matchmaking or lost in the labyrinthine menus. The store and “Locker Room” interfaces are a mish-mash of placeholder-looking buttons and oversized icons, and very little is explained to new players on how to customize their Pros with perks and stat boosts (in-game currency only, so money doesn’t buy power). Each Pro also has some slick item skins; individual pieces (like a horned helmet, or a golden weapon skin) seem overpriced, but the radical taunts and complete outfits (like Wascot’s horrifying man-baby getup) are worth every penny. Pricing each Pro based on difficulty-of-use is a good move on Uber’s part, ensuring that certain roles will await new players once they familiarize themselves with the game’s nuances.
SMNC will only get better with time, as more and more Pros join the roster and the menus get a much-needed makeover. But don’t wait—this game deserves to be played this instant by any fan of MOBAs, shooters, or merry-and-manic mayhem.
The best-yet marriage of third-person gunning and MOBA spellcasting.