Monday Night Combat Review: The Happy WarriorsS

Turrets. I can't stop building and upgrading them in Monday Night Combat. Oh, they do a great job mowing down bots and other players. But it's really because I'm a Southern boy and a born sucker for Pitgirl's saucy accent.

Monday Night Combat, the class-based shooter from Uber Entertainment and the latest "Summer of Arcade" offering on Xbox Live, offers up the most cheerful set of gladiators I've ever seen. Well, except for the Assassin - who the hell knows what's on her mind. And Sniper is kind of neurotic. But really, there are worse fates than blasting bots and clones for money. Especially if you had a booty-shaking Pitgirl - I'm told Minka Kelly was one of her inspirations - dialing up the firepower for you, "lickety-split."

Multiplayer shooters offer some of the best bang-for-the-buck among downloadable games, but their value depends on being fun enough that everyone wants in and no one wants to leave. Uber Entertainment's Monday Night Combat, for sure, is a hot item right now. Can it still be two or three months down the road?

Loved

The Best Defense: Monday Night Combat's Blitz mode is a lot like roaming around in a tower-defense game, third-person style. It's not the sexiest concept to sell, but it's a straight-up winner, and it differentiates this game from the Team Fortress 2 label so many want to give it. In the singleplayer (or cooperative multiplayer) game, you're tasked with defending a "Moneyball" from destruction by several varieties of advancing robots. Turret pits are positioned at key points for you to build and upgrade, choosing from among four varieties. The floor lights up with the attack path of the oncoming waves, the countdown ends, and it's on - though you don't just sit back, watch and repair turrets. Blitz mode, except for "The Scramble," is beatable by most classes of players using just laser turrets (you will need better strategy going solo as the Assassin) and I got past wave 50 in the infinite "Sudden Death" using a modified Sniper. So it's a bit given to grind, once you figure out the wave progressions and every exploit on the single Blitz map. But how else are you going to pay for that next custom class or ooh-shiny badge?

Monday Night Combat Review: The Happy WarriorsS

Caught In Crossfire: Blitz's blend of shooting and tower-defense is the game's most innovative feature. By far its most fun is Crossfire, the competitive multiplayer romp that supports up to 12 participants. Strategy and turret maintenance is often abandoned for running, gunning, sniping and assassinating, which is how things usually break down in competitive multiplayer. But man, it is fun, and it's where the class differences are really apparent. Playing as assault, the general purpose fighter, I got tons of assisted kills. As the Assassin (whose powerful grapple attack - one hit''s usually good to kill, combined with cloaking, makes her a commonly seen participant), or Sniper, you'll get a lot more to yourself but will die a lot. The Gunner's a very popular choice for first-timers, and upgraded is a real bear. But he can be beaten by a Sniper working from cover. Tank doesn't seem like much use at first, but his alt-fire is awesome, and the spinning burn and charge attacks are great against Assassins. It's usually good to pick a class and stick with it because you lose your upgrades when you switch, although most everyone respawns as a gunner if their Moneyball's in trouble. If the competitive multiplayer is is why you're buying the game, and it will be for most, it's worth it, because ...

Great Variety: If you're just using your primary fire, you're doing it wrong. The six classes have two weapon fire modes, three upgradeable skills (and an upgradeable main weapon), a grapple attack, a melee, plus "Juice," plus taunting, and it doesn't stop there. Jump pads can be activated (for a fee) to get you to choice gunning locations; setting off the Ejector catches anyone unlucky enough in the vicinity of that big black spot, and flings them off the map. Then there's the Annihilator, which works as advertised. All that plus the four different turret varieties (plus Support's means of hacking them) give you a ton of creative space to explore. And if that's not good enough, you can buy up to six always re-specable custom class slots (getting more is progressively expensive) and give them three "sponsorships" that tweak their attributes.

Monday Night Combat Review: The Happy WarriorsS

Monday Night Combat's appeal doesn't stop with the gameplay. Visually, the screens speak for themselves - a charming, comic-book future world, populated by action figures, served up with breezy comedy. The game can be tough, and I died and got dominated a lot. But it never felt brutal or punishing, and conveys a value of being here to have a rowdy good time, which most everyone does.

There's a feeling that some classes are too powerful, but that's largely in singleplayer and multiplayer Blitz, and your weaknesses get shown to you rather quickly in Crossfire. The single Blitz map is a little troubling. But Uber's got post-release support plans that involve more maps for Blitz and Crossfire (which already has four.) That's good to hear, because if the game's going to last, it'll need to be refreshed periodically. For now, though, you have plenty of reasons to play Monday Night Combat, five ways to Sunday.

Monday Night Combat was developed by Uber Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360 on Aug. 11. Retails on Xbox Live Marketplace for 1,200 Microsoft Points ($15). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game types in both single and multiplayer modes.

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