A robot has dropped a churro. The tasty Spanish treat tops off my Tank class character's life bar, and I push deeper into the blue team's territory, rending more automatons with my railgun as I go. En route, I pass a teammate dumping minigun shells into Monday Night Combat's adorable mascot, Bullseye—a guy in a plush, smiling suit that dances through the arena and bleeds coins instead of blood.
Monday Night Combat imagines a hyper-consumerist, hyper-violent future where cloning, corporate sponsorship and genetic enhancement combine to produce a future-sport—a hilarious vision that influences every aspect of its design. At first touch, the cartoony, six-on-six, class- and team-based shooter may appear to be a Team Fortress 2 knockoff. The game's six classes are all doppelgangers or amalgams of TF2 classes--like the cloaking, backstabbing Assassin or the the healing gun-toting, turret-dropping Support class. But when the action begins--and a sleazy announcer calls out a line like "It's Father/Daughter Day here at the Dome! Good to see so many dads in the stands sharing a day of mortal combat with their little girls," you know you're in for something different.
A big slice of MNC's originality comes from a cross-pollination with the mechanics of Demigod, a DoTA-style strategy game that many of its developers helped create. Every minute or so, both teams' bases churn out a wave of AI-controlled robots that march in a pre-defined path toward the enemy base. The carnage and attrition these minion-bots create is my favorite thing about MNC, and it almost creates two simultaneous, parallel modes of combat that players can participate in. I can wade into the crowds of marching droids anytime I want a break from hunting players, and I still feel like every bot I blast is moving my team an inch closer to victory. Reinvesting the cash I earn from killing bots to build turrets around my base, unlock jump pads scattered around the level or upgrade skills produces—like in DoTA games—creates an economy that I want to participate in. I've never played a shooter like it.
It also feels like a fairly careful port from Xbox Live Arcade to PC. MNC's beta period tweezed out the frustrating insta-deaths I experienced during the pre-release (many of the grapple moves--fighting game-style grabs that lock you and your enemy into a set animation--now only take a 1/3 or 1/2 chomp out of your life bar). There's a command console, too. More importantly, characters handle perfectly with a mouse and keyboard--the sense of friction you have against the environment when spin-turning or executing a jetpack dash as an Assault class feels just right. These gameplay elements have definitely received some PC-specific attention, though a few ghosts from the XBLA version still lurk: HUD logos and menu items take up valuable screen real estate, the server browser doesn't currently exclude servers that have a mismatched version, and the Call of Duty-style gamertag banners that you earn for completing achievements are still at the low resolution from the console version.
My other complaints are modest: the character classes aren't as lovable or expressive as I wish they were, the single-player content boils down to set of (admittedly challenging) player-versus-bot survival events, and some weapons feel hollow (the Tank's jet gun barely animates when it spits out its player-immolating laser beam), but this barely erodes at the sum of dynamism and humor MNC puts forth. With five mostly-similar maps, it may not stand in with the longevity of your primary FPS, but at $15, it's the best-available diversion to the 300-plus hours you've put into the shooter you're growing tired of. MNC also has the distinction of being a game where you can fire a grenade that coats an enemy's screen with ads for genetic enhancements. Go buy it.