One-part tower defence, two-part MOBA.
There are two kinds of free-to-play games out there right now; ones that have been built for the new revenue model from the ground-up and others which have micro-transactions slapped onto an already successful gameplay concept. Super Monday Night Combat is undoubtedly the former and for an arena shooter it has a great deal of personality with colourful characters, a family-friendly gladiatorial setting and novel chicken-enthused third-person shooter action.
The premise is simple, two teams of five fight it out on symmetrical maps to take down their opponent’s Money Ball, by spawning AI controlled bots and using their own zany class-orientated abilities to take down turrets, disable shields and crack open the other team’s coin-spilling globe. Every robot or human kill earns you XP, which allows players to improve their pro character’s abilities for that specific match, and cash which you spend via bot spawning points, missile turrets and other offensive weaponry.
This dual-layered approach to the core objective means you don’t only have to worry about the slowly marching bots heading to your Money Ball, but also the human competition who are trying to win the game. It’s a great concept and due to the small five-versus-five player count, you really feel as though every move you make has a real consequence in the wider battle. The flip-side of that is when players drop out or don’t know how to properly wield the pro they’re playing as, it’s very easy for battles to become lopsided. That ties into a wider problem with SMNC which is for a free-to-play game it doesn’t introduce its core concepts very well at all. There’s no interactive tutorial to follow – instead players are just pointed towards an in-game help encyclopedia and online videos to find out what the hell to do with the game’s surprisingly diverse roster of pros.
Every few days the selection of free pros rotates, with the option of unlocking one pro permanently by purchasing him, her or indeed it from the in-game store. As a result it’s easy to find yourself in a game and not know exactly what your chosen hero’s special abilities actually do, or in what scenarios their secondary weapon is perhaps better to use than the primary.
Obviously there’s no substitute for practicing against real players, but to master any of SMNC’s five different classes takes at least several matches, at which point you’ve probably made enough mistakes to cost any team you’re part of a victory. This barrier to entry is immensely frustrating as SMNC has the potential to be a genuine online phenomenon akin to Team Fortress 2 or Tribes: Ascend, Uber Entertainment just need to figure out how to introduce their eccentric collection of heroes in a better way.
In fact, eccentric is a good way to surmise this MOBA altogether actually, as matches are constantly punctuated by events like a giant angry chicken entering the arena or a charitable mascot making an appearance, who throws out gifts and gold whenever he’s peppered with bullets while frolicking around a special zone. It’s these kinds of touches which make matches really enjoyable from moment-to-moment and the announcer duo who offer commentary on the action really help to sell the game-show aesthetic. Granted after a few hours play you’ll have heard most of their enjoyable banter, but this small audio touch is still a very nice idea which few competitive online games have taken advantage of.
How much of SMNC’s content came over from this game’s predecessor is up for debate, but Uber win plenty of kudos for allowing players to purchase everything in the in-game store – be it ability enhancing endorsements, XP boosts, weapon skins or characters – with gold you can earn merely by playing the game, in addition to real-world cash.That’s something fewer and fewer free-to-play games are doing nowadays and the team deserve a great deal of credit for not placing paying players above their more commited yet cash shy bretheren. It’s a shame the in-game equipment and endorsement drops aren’t a bit more common, but that’s the nature of the free-to-play beast.
In terms of raw content there’s only five maps at the moment and two game modes, one of which makes the SMNC feel sufficiently faster with rebuildable turrets and more powerful weaponry, but there’s still a lot of scope for Uber Entertainment to expand the game and we have no doubt that they will.
In the fast growing arena shooter genre, Super Monday Night Combat certainly ranks as one of the best, even if it does have problems. It’s lacking a lot in terms of approachability, with the most confusing menu design we’ve dealt with for some time, but in playability terms it’s really fun and bursting with character and that’s something definitely worth celebrating in what is usually such a stale field.
Verdict: Not the most elegant MOBA out there, but certainly one of the most charismatic and enjoyable.
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