Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Super MNC

Post-Launch Review
Super Monday Night Combat
Developer: Uber Entertainment
Released: April 18 2012

Super MNC is a successor to the original Monday Night Combat, but it's MOBA-style instead of a more pure third-person shooter, and it's free to play. Two teams of five professional "sports" combat players, the Icemen and the Hotshots, battle it out in the arena for cash, prizes, and endorsements. Each team tries to push their bots forward, destroy enemy turrets, and eventually take down the enemy team's moneyball to win the match, spurred on by two hilarious commentators.

I apologize for the relative lack of screenshots. I couldn't remember to take any during fights because too many things kept happening.

At Launch
Critical reviews were positive, averaging to about 80%, but keep in mind that that score was only generated by 6 reviews - not really enough for a reasonable average.

Post Launch
Super MNC receives a Rule Changes update every week or two, including patches and balance fixes, new costumes, and a new rotation of free pros. A couple of new maps and game modes have been added so far, along with a new pro. More are planned for the future.

The Good

Premise and Visuals
The premise of Super MNC (and its predecessor) is simple: professional combat sports. Since the combat depicted is just a friendly game with respawning fighters, the game has a much lighter tone than many multiplayer games, and it really takes advantage of it with plenty of humour.
The art style is kind of similar to TF2's: fairly realistic with a generous splash of cartoon humour. Since the game is sports-themed, it's full of bright colours, a light atmosphere, and fictional companies pushing products. The silly look fits right in with the silly world.

Free Rotation
There are 15 pros, and every week about 7 or 8 or them are free. You can permanently unlock characters through the cash store or by spending Combat Credits, which you earn by playing matches. This is an interesting approach for a free-to-play game. For those who aren't paying, it forces them to try a new character every so often, and while it can be frustrating if you've only learned one character, it does expose you to greater variety, which is cool.

Slick, Streamlined, Understandable MOBA
The MOBA genre can be really hard to get into. The basic rules are simple enough to grasp - push your bots, take down enemy turrets and protect your own, destroy enemy base - but you'll generally do badly until you have a good grasp of every ability of every character, and all the buyable items. As a third-person shooter / MOBA hybrid, Super MNC is much easier to get into, for a couple of reasons. 
The first is translatable skills: if you've played a lot of shooters, you'll already be good at aiming and some of the basic tactics, like knowing when to retreat. 
Second, it's generally very easy and quick to understand the abilities of enemy pros, because of the camera angle and visuals associated with the powers. When you see a glowing hand reach across the map and pull you out of your defensive line, you know that the Veteran can grapple from a distance, and to keep an eye out for that in the future. When your screen goes white and you're suddenly being killed by an Assassin, you know she has a flashbang and you should watch your back. Status effects are easily identifiable, and clear and immediate visual feedback help you learn faster.
Of course, this isn't to say that you can hop right in and do great from the start. You will very likely do badly until you learn your character's strengths and weaknesses, but then, most games do require you to invest some time to learn the quirks of the system.
Just remember: pushing lanes is the primary goal, more so than killing enemy players. Only bots can take down shields and drop the moneyball, so if you aren't pushing the lanes, you won't win.

With each pro having three unique abilities and their own distinct weapons, plus the loadouts, team composition choices, and the major tactical elements on the map, there's a lot of stuff to consider, so each match feels distinct. I haven't talked about the stuff on the map yet, so let's do that.
There are multiple bot spawn points, where you can pay cash (earned in the match) to spawn more bots. You have a few choices, so you can tailor your bot spawns to fit the situation.
In the middle of each lane there's a bumper that works a lot like the POW blocks from Super Mario - hit the bumper and everything in the radius takes massive damage and knockback. Used at the right time, you can potentially knock multiple enemy pros out of the arena to their deaths. Or you might want to use it early to deny the opportunity to your enemy.
The jungle is a second level available on every map. It gives you a height advantage, but you have to watch out for hostile player-hunting jungle bots. Bullseye, Chickey Cantor, and Juicebot (MNC mascots) will occasionally make an appearance in the jungle, where you can shoot them for bonuses.
Also located in the jungle is the Annihilator, a major centrepiece and game-changer. The Annihilator is available every five minutes, and the first team to activate it deals huge damage to each enemy player and destroys every enemy bot on the field. The Annihilator can give a losing team room to push back or seal the deal for the winning team, so battles for the Annihilator tend to be frantic.

Chip and GG Stack are great. Seriously, their dialogue is brilliant. They're endearing, slightly dumb, and hilarious all at the same time, whether they're trying to remember the word for the long nose thing on an elephant's face, reminiscing about their pro careers in the old days of Monday Night Combat, or explaining the rules to the fans.

Unlocks and Credits
Most of the stuff in the cash store is cosmetic, like alternate costumes, weapon skins, or taunts. For new players, the main draw is character unlocks, allowing you to play as your chosen character regardless of who's on rotation. Costumes, skins, and taunts are real money only, but products and endorsements - the things that actually have game effects - can be earned for free. This is the right kind of free to play model.
Products and endorsements are combat bonuses with the name/theme of a fictional company, just like how companies endorse athletes in the real world. These can only be unlocked with combat credits. Products are large bonuses, of which you can equip only three at once; while the number of endorsements you can equip is tied to your level (you gain experience by playing matches). Products are cool, but endorsements are the really interesting part. The more powerful an endorsement, the bigger its downside, but the important point is that you can equip whatever combination of endorsements you want, including duplicates or different strengths of the same endorsement. For example, at maximum level, you could equip 25 copies of the lowest-rank accuracy bonus, resulting in +20% accuracy with no downsides, which is huge for pros like the Gunner with a rapid-fire but high-spread weapon. You could go for a balanced approach, giving yourself small boosts to all stats. Or you can sacrifice a few stats for massive bonuses to others. There's a surprising amount of potential customization.

Occasionally, after a game, you'll be awarded a free prize: a random product, endorsement, or costume part. Feels good man.

The Bad

Feels Cheap Bro
There are a couple of pros who can be incredibly frustrating to play against. Skilled Veterans, Assassins, or Captain Sparks will make you want to punch through your monitor. The reason? Grapples.
Grapples do a significant chunk of damage and can't be broken once initiated (short of a couple of extenuating circumstances or abilities).
The Assassin and Captain Spark are melee pros with high mobility and some stealth capability. That means that not only can they quickly destroy you if they catch you alone, they can also easily get behind the lines and catch you where you think you should be safe. 
Far worse is the Veteran, who can reach across the map and pull you to him. This means that even if you're playing cautiously, sticking with teammates, and avoiding unnecessary risks, you can suddenly find yourself behind enemy lines being shredded by a turret.  If you're caught alone by an Assassin or Spark, for the most part, that means you were outplayed and you should watch your back better next time. But since the grapple-avoidance powers are short-ranged, it often feels like there's nothing you can do about the Veteran short of hiding as soon as you see him.

Credit Costs
For free players, some unlocks take a lot of time to unlock, due to the high cost in credits. Of course, you can buy credit boosters, which is a good chunk of Uber's revenue stream, but everything is available for free by playing and earning credits. Perfect, right?
Well, mostly.
I was saving up credits to unlock my preferred character, Megabeth (whose rocket launcher functions almost identically to the Soldier's from TF2). She costs 6,750 credits. After playing well over 40 matches, I have roughly 5,000 credits. Well, no big deal - it takes a while but I could pay if I wanted to.
The problem, though, is that you're matched to players around the same level as you. Given that I haven't spent a single credit on products/endorsements and only use the ones I've received from prizes, I'm at a huge disadvantage compared to players who have invested in a particular strategy and loadout. I realize that this is my choice, since I could have spent credits if I wanted to, but I don't like the fact that I have to choose between reliably playing a character or having a competitive loadout.
Basically, you don't have to pay to compete, so it's not technically pay to win, but you're at a disadvantage until you can consistently play one or two characters to improve your skills. This is perhaps made worse because it's so subtle. I only realized the difference when I noticed I was dying a lot more than I used to, but I hadn't gotten worse at the game. 

Match Outcomes Decided Early
A game can last anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour (sometimes more) depending on how evenly the teams are matched up. The problem is that the winning team usually becomes apparent in the first few minutes. And if you're on the losing team, the game can feel like a long, futile slog, where you're only trying to delay your loss as long as possible.
That said, I have played some spectacular matches with very even teams that took over half an hour with the Annihilator going back and forth, and multiple Jackbots on each team in each lane by the end.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Super MNC is great fun (despite some elements that can feel cheap or frustrating). The blend of shooter and MOBA feels fresh and unique, and combined with the over-the-top combat-sports world created by Uber, Super MNC is a blast to play. You may even be tempted to spend some money on it, given how awesome some of the costumes and taunts are (do yourself a favour and look up the Gunslinger's Judge Dredd uniform and Captain Spark's Action Hero taunt).

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