For most vehicular-based video games, going fast is the prime objective. The Forza series tasks you with beating opponents across a line, as does DIRT, and GRID, and Gran Turismo. But when you throw monster trucks into the equation things start to take a different turn. Instead of all-out speed being the all-conquering desire, vehicle placement and skills start to come to the fore. That’s the case in Monster Jam Steel Titans 2, a game that looks to take everything that was found in the original Monster Jam Steel Titans, and then up the ante to new levels.
It kinda works, at least to a certain degree, and whilst this isn’t anywhere near the most accomplished petrol-powered performance plaything you are ever likely to find, and there are certainly many issues that hold it back from anything even vaguely great, it’s strangely quite addictive. For a while.
Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 works its way through three different scenarios. There’s a huge open world to explore, allowing collectible hunters the chance to kick back and search forevermore. Then there’s some standard racing, either in defined circuits or powered by the need to tag waypoints. And then there are the stadium-based events; those which ask drivers to bring all their monster trucking skills to the party. It’s hard to sit here and say that Rainbow Studios and THQ Nordic have managed to really hammer home what is required of any of these segments, but you certainly can’t go whinging to them that they haven’t given it a good go. The amount of content included is one area where these monster trucks shine.
The entirety of Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 is playable either alone, with a friend sat alongside you on the sofa through split-screen, or across the power of online services. This means that the game is instantly accessible to all, and really, no matter which of those options you decide to take, it works well across the board, with little in terms of annoying lag or stutter. That’s not to say it’s totally clear though, and throughout my time with Steel Titans 2 I’ve had vehicles merge together as one and unable to separate, I’ve had loading screens refuse to move from a spinning wheel of death requiring a dashboard reboot, and there have been physics which have gone totally out of control, with humongous vehicles tossed and turned through the air like they were mere toys.
When it does work though, Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 can be fun. The single player World Career is the meat and drink of the experience and by partaking in the 21 chapters found here, and then with a World Career+ providing a harder challenge, you’ll cover pretty much all the events which any monster trucking fan could consider vital. With easy, medium and hard difficulties in place, it’s up to you to select an appropriate truck from seven different teams in hope of finding success, with every event you take part in providing experience points which in turn allow you to level up your vehicle stats – engine, transmission, suspension, tires and chassis. Honestly, it matters little which of the trucks you use as all handle and respond as you would expect of a honking bit of metal that sits around some stupidly powerful engines – with spring, with delicacy and with a host of frustration.
From there the events come thick and fast. There are head-to-head events situated in tight arena circuits, there are two-wheeled skill-based affairs and freestyle movements that have you hitting jumps and pulling off all the stunts, whilst destruction-based events are about taking it slowly, building combos in the process. These are all well and good, but do require a huge amount of luck in order for you to top the progress charts, with wild flings of thumbsticks and the crossing of fingers in the hope that you can spin out of a tricky situation right at the heart of these matters. And unfortunately, much like the majority of Steel Titans 2, what goes on continues for a little too long, with you eventually sitting through repetition and tedium, hoping the events will eventually end.
There are moments that mix these up though, namely in the form of proper open-world circuit racing, skirmish events and waypoint challenges. These are much more aligned with what you would expect from any normal racer, and even though the trucks are tricky to handle in Steel Titans 2, it does allow for players to release any pent up frustration. Again, oddities arise, and whilst track limit breaking is picky and a huge form of annoyance with everything that happens in-game, it is the waypoint races in particular which fail to work as intended. You see, racing headlong towards a glowing crystal dome should sound great, but the way this dome is visually constructed means that it is too easy to get lost in the madness, leaving the player unaware of the best way to navigate to the next. Just a simple arrow would help matters massively. Whilst we’re on about arrows, those that are in place in circuit events fail to help much too, with some causing confusion as to the route to take. It seems that Rainbow have failed in bringing real entertainment to the masses here.
Outside of that World Career is a similar showing in The Big Show (and The Big Show+ which continues on the harder lines). This places you behind the wheel yet again, before throwing event after event your way, letting you progress through an Arena Championship, a World Finals XIX, a Stadium Championship, and the World Finals XX. If you’re a fan of the arena-based games that Steel Titans 2 brings, then these will keep you busy for a good few hours, building points towards championship places. Again though, it doesn’t take too long for tedium to set in.
The thing is, you’ll need and want to play through these career and championship types in order to really get the most from what Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 is aiming for. It is with these where you unlock new tracks, arenas, trucks and special rewards; trucks and rewards that can be used in the best mode on offer – the open world exploration.
The massive outdoor world that Rainbow Studios has created is a joyful place to be, with hidden collectibles to pick up, various landscapes to explore, and fun opportunities to be had, particularly when you need to be in a specific vehicle in order to unlock some certain world moments. It’s here where you can really have fun with Monster Jam Steel Titans 2, particularly when hitting the worlds with up to five other friends in tow, all helping work together to discover the hidden secrets within. Whilst the racing competitions are essential to keep things tasty, and the skill-based arena games are fine for two players to dip in and out of, it’s this open world that allows the game to show its worth. At least, that is, until you unlock the Haunted Forest, as the precision required to navigate through the tight lines here is something that the game doesn’t really allow.
Or at least it would be where the game could shine if it wasn’t for the god awful camera system. You see, in Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 your truck is controlled through a combination of both left and right thumbsticks, the left dictating the angle of your front wheels, and the right moving the rears. This means it’s quite unique in terms of vehicle control and, once you get a hang of what is required, works really well; spinning on a six-pence is more than doable, and pulling off tricks and stunts is a cinch. But it does mean that the usual right thumbstick for camera movement is lost, and when you’re trying to navigate through huge open worlds, trying to pinpoint jumps to allow for reaching secret places and collectibles, and well, it’s an utter ballache. Granted, the developers have attempted to rectify things by moving the camera to the d-pad, and have given a good few fields of view that can be cycled through, but it can’t in any way bring the immersion and flexibility that a right thumbstick can allow. That’s a huge shame too as it’s a big enough part of proceedings to really knock these Steel Titans off their perch.
If you’re happy to put up with that, or find yourself approaching Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 as a monster truck fan, more concerned with the finer elements of the scene – like what is found in the arena – then it’s good to see a huge roster of teams and trucks present. There are some seriously weird vehicles to get behind the wheel of here, but many of them are super fun to explore, especially when you are left trying to tie up a combination of which truck is required to allow for the pick up of certain hidden secrets. For instance, Northern Nightmare from the Wildcards team is resplendent in a Canadian livery, so driving near a huge maple tree provides some additional rewards, with both visual and audio clues keeping you guessing as to when you get close. There are nice elements like this which show that the team behind the game knows what is needed to keep players intrigued, but a lack of polish brings it all down.
In all, even though Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 on Xbox looks to seriously build on what its predecessor delivered, there are a few elements which hold it back from really providing the goods. The camera is god awful, the picky track limits system is a pain, and there are only so many times you can go flying through the air pulling off stunts before the whole thing gets boring. The open world has some serious promise, especially with the multitude of secrets that are hidden within, but a bit more shiny wax needs to be applied for this monster truck to start to gleam.