Review: Super Monday Night Combat

Ah, how good it feels to be in the arena again.  I finally got a new PC after morally abandoning Xbox Live.  I immediately loaded up Monday Night Combat, leveled up enough in Blitz to make a custom class, then set out to look for online games to get my feet wet again.  How depressing it was to find out it was completely abandoned...  Well, that meant my next option was to check out Super Monday Night Combat.  I already had watched a bunch of videos from Sunny Dove on YouTube, but it only helped me understand some basic principles.  I've been at it for over a week, so here's a little overview from an old MNC great.
First, some background is necessary for readers who are unfamiliar with the previous Monday Night Combat.  Fans of Smash TV are very likely to appreciate the design of this game.  It's a third-person shooter with a Monday Night Football kind of atmosphere.  Tons of pros, announcers, endorsements and commercials for the 23rd century's most popular bloodsport.  Escort your bots to the opposing team's ball of money and destroy it before they do the same to yours.  Games take about 20 minutes to play with the intensity of combat increasing as the game goes on.
I absolutely applaud what Uber has done for new players!  It appears I got in just as they introduced Training Camp, an entire map set up specifically to allow players to learn all the different elements of the game and try out how things interact.  They've got speakers made by every little area, letting Mickey Cantor tell people about the things they're seeing nearby.  All the bots are available, all the pros march dumbly forward, the mascots are freely available, the hazards are (now mostly) there to try, and they even let you customize just how advanced your character is!  It is probably the best sandbox training feature I've ever seen.  Then they also let you do a practice game against a team of 0 players, letting you explore the maps and see how things generally work within a real game without having to worry about getting pubstomped.  You die there, it's because you did something stupid, which is actually ok.  The point is to learn, and I've seen plenty of new players learn just how deadly this game is by itself, not even counting what other players would do to you!

On to the game proper.  The original MNC gave you 6 classes to use.  They worked out pretty well, each very diverse and filling specific holes really well.  Good luck figuring out which of the 15 freaking classes you want to use now!  Now they've got 5 general positions they fill (appropriate for the strict new 5 players per team), and they're not evenly spread among those positions.  Enforcers like the Gunner are the most numerous, and there are only 2 sharpshooters: Sniper & Gunslinger.  I haven't actually tried all of them yet, but I've played enough games to know they all have good reasons to use them.  It'll be interesting to learn just how they work out in the metagame.  Just make sure that you have at least one defender (healer), or things can easily fall behind for you.
This is clearly not the MNC we already knew, though.  Everything has a crapton more health, making them all that much harder to kill.  In MNC, it was quite annoying to have continuous waves of bouncers on Spunky near the end of the match; imagine if they were like 5x harder to kill!  Juice is no longer the superhero boost it once was.  No buying & upgrading turrets; what you see is what you get (as of this writing, you can upgrade certain turrets, it doesn't seem intentional and will probably be patched).  This game is much more campaign-oriented.  The most you'll usually get for team deathmatch is when EVERYBODY piles onto the Annihilator, because when bots are a lot harder to kill the normal way, this easy way becomes much more important.  It also takes about 5 seconds to activate, so it's not just like the highest ping gets it and your activation can be broken by just about anything (barring simply getting shot).
Super Monday Night Combat was actually released by accident.  I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I guess one update in the beta just opened up way too much for people, and Uber just went "&(#% it, go nuts!"  One consequence of this is that there are only 4 maps, and one of them was just released this past week.  As you can see, they've gone with the FTP model.  I can generally get behind it, actually.  Most of what uses actual money is cosmetic, and they even give you $15 to start.  There are 6 pros freely available, exactly which ones they are being somewhat randomly determined every week.  You earn credits as you play, which can be boosted by real cash, and you can use either currency to permanently unlock pros.  Harder ones are more costly, easier ones cheaper.
3 characters not shown in this early screenshot.
I have a big problem with one (maybe) consequence of this, though.  Despite having the best training system I've ever seen (didn't play all the way through Skullgirls' training, could be even better), the bar for entry is ridiculously high!  In MNC, you just had to reach level 6 before you had a custom class slot ready and you could theoretically hang with anyone provided you actually had skill.  Not so here.  You get up to 25 endorsement slots unlocked as you level up.  I'm level 40+ and still not even halfway through!  From what I'm told, the endorsements don't actually do much unless you stack them, but I've seen the effects of said stacking firsthand.  It's kind of stupid.  You also get up to 3 "products," basically extra abilities added to your character you choose before starting.  Both of these require you to obtain a substantial amount of combat credits, meaning you have to play for a long time to get them.  Imagine what it's going to eventually be like, where you have a bunch of players with all sorts of bacon endorsements and you're the new guy who still needs to level up.  You probably won't play it very long, so this system does some serious damage to the long-term appeal of this game.  Randomly awarding endorsements/products at the end of some matches, win or lose, doesn't help all that much, either.
The harsh beginning for new players is a big problem, but it's really the only one I have with this game.  I can't fault Uber for players needing to group up to have a chance; you'll find that with any team game.  I absolutely love the presentation, as I knew I would.  The basic idea of the game is quite balanced, and Uber works very hard to keep it that way as new issues come up.  I still like normal Monday Night Combat a lot better, but in the absence of that, this is a very acceptable substitute.  I give Super Monday Night Combat a B.  Since it's free to play, you really should at least try it.

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