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The rules have changed: Suiting up for Super Monday Night Combat


As free-to-play games are constantly changing, traditional reviews can't really do them justice, so Joystiq relies on a series of unscored review diaries to record our experiences with them. Today brings part one of our Super Monday Night Combat diaries.

In the future, the American dream is a crowd cheering a brutal battle for cash, prizes, corporate endorsements and bacon. Can't have the American Dream without bacon, after all. At least, this is the world Uber Entertainment has created in Super Monday Night Combat, the follow-up to 2010's (regular) Monday Night Combat. The premise is still the same: Opposing teams of 'pros' must escort regularly spawning A.I. bots to the enemy Moneyball, first team to destroy the enemy Moneyball wins. Bots are the only thing that can take a Moneyball down, but they have to survive through a staunch line of turrets, vicious arena bots and of course, several classes of aggressive (and perhaps insane) opposing players.

These classes all have special skills and abilities specific to their role, from the whimsical, Italian support class who can heal and place defensive turrets, to a giant gorilla in a pinstripe suit that can hurl flaming barrels. There's a mascot that can be beaten, shot and otherwise maimed for power-ups, announcers trying to sell products to the audience, and a weather-controlling blimp that can turn the tide of an entire match for the right price. All typical sport stuff, really.

Gallery: Super Monday Night Combat (8/20/11) | 16 Photos

The premise and overarching mechanics may be the same, but Super Monday Night Combat functions very differently from its predecessor. The original Monday Night Combat was a fast-paced, twitchy affair, where a player's ability to react quickly to danger dictated the turnout of a match. Poor balance meant that solo players – regardless of chosen class – were able to blitz through a lane's turrets and bots and into the enemy moneyball quickly. Once players figured out how to game Monday Night Combat, it wasn't long until it became a hardcore-only wasteland, especially on PC.

The Super Monday Night Combat ethos is simple: The Rules Have Changed. The game has been reworked to encourage tactical, objective-based play, and the result is some of the best teamwork design I've seen. Pros have high health, so killing enemies without coordination or help from others is challenging. Bots, once pushovers, are now terrifying beasts – even the lowliest bot on the food chain can tear up a careless pro. Pros gain bonuses for chaining both bot kills and player kills, which encourages players to be careful and stay alive to maximize benefits.

Since bots are plentiful and easier to kill than pros, and turrets can only be damaged if a bot hurts it first, the game has become entirely bot-oriented. Good players will want to focus on eradicating bots for money, which allows them to upgrade skills and become more effective at whatever role their class is meant to fulfill. Not being cognizant of that role can be a detriment to a team, as classes have been built for particular types of play. Playing as if it's team deathmatch results in a lost match at best, as the only way to win is to focus on the bots. At worst, entirely kill-oriented play results in frustration. Some classes simply aren't meant to kill, and thanks to high health, even the best players don't get too many kills.

The classes have been revamped not just to fulfill roles, but to be unique as well. Uber has created characters that exude personality, so much so that returning classes seem drab and boring by comparison. We've got Wascot, a paranoid and sleazy conspiracy theorist, and Megabeth, a roller-derby girl who is the lead singer of a band called Hacksaw Circumcision, just to name a couple. Everyone's dialogue is amusing, sometimes bizarre, but always smart. For instance, "anyone for some casual physical contact?" is a great line from Karl, an overly verbose, English cyborg who wears a monocle and think he's human.

Initially, I bemoaned the loss of MNC's quick gameplay, but I've come to appreciate the slow, thoughtful nature of Super Monday Night Combat. Managing to break through an enemy's defense is infinitely more gratifying than it used to be thanks to the teamwork and tactics that successful play necessitates. I can't say enough about how well-balanced everything is, too. Even in dire moments, when the enemy team is on the cusp of destroying the final turret, all is not lost. Spawning the right kinds of bots to push enemies back, or activating the bot-destroying Annihilator are some of many options available to a team desperately trying to stay afloat.

So far, I've played over 90 hours of Super Monday Night Combat, which has allowed me to permanently purchase one character with in-game money, along with multiple expensive items such as costumes, special skill-influencing endorsements, and gameplay-affecting power-ups. All of these have helped tailor my class of choice to my style of play.

In these 90 hours, I've only spent 6 dollars to speed up my in-game money gain. I suspect I will be spending more in the future, not because I have to, but because I'd like to support game that Uber has crafted. Next week I'll delve into the different classes and the plenty of customization options available to them, and after that I'll explore how 'free' SMNC really is. Tune in!

Sound fun? You can install Super Monday Night Combat on your PC via Steam right here.

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