Without belaboring every gameplay detail, suffice it to say that Monday Night Combat shakes up the usual capture-the-flag formula by introducing AI-controlled robots and turrets. In order to win a Crossfire match -- one of two gameplay modes -- you must destroy the opposing team's "Moneyball" while simultaneously protecting your own. The twist is that in order to actually damage the Moneyball, you must first escort your horde of bots into the enemy base, where they can attack the ball and bring down its shields. Once the shields are down, the ball is susceptible to conventional weapons.
Thus, proceedings really boil down to a game of strategy, making victory dependent on more than simply scoring the most headshots. Summoning and escorting bots, and building and upgrading defensive turrets, are just as important as picking a class and upgrading its skills as a match progresses.
That's not to say that finding a favorite class and racking up kills isn't gratifying. There are six classes, and each has four skills, three active and one passive, that can be upgraded during a match. I prefer the Assassin, whose dash and cloaking abilities felt a bit more proactive than the defensive powers of the Tank. I also enjoyed the Support, a combination medic / engineer who can improve turrets, heal teammates, call in air strikes and deploy a mini-turret of his own. Each class has a unique style of play, from the offense-heavy Gunner to the jack-of-all-trades Assault to the ... well, the Sniper.
Matches can be over quickly or they can go into overtime, which gives everyone a skill boost and drops the shield on both Moneyballs -- but I found the urge to play "just one more" nearly irresistible either way. Even if you don't feel like another round of Crossfire, there's always Blitz, which tasks up to four players (two via splitscreen) with defending their Moneyball against ever-increasing waves of bots. It's also worth mentioning that Uber Entertainment plans to continue supporting Monday Night Combat after launch. Uber's John Comes told me that basic balance adjustments can be made "on the fly without needing to do a patch" and, while he wouldn't confirm any specific DLC, he did say that "some announcements" are scheduled for PAX Prime 2010 in September.
As I said, it can be too easy to write something off merely as a combination of popular ideas, but Monday Night Combat handily outstrips the sum of its parts, presenting a fresh, fun take on class-based shooters. There are so many variables -- twelve players, numerous bots, turrets, unique map features -- that it's hard to imagine a match playing out the same way twice. For anyone with a stable crew of online friends, Monday Night Combat deserves a spot in the usual rotation.
Might I suggest Mondays?