Put your hands up if you have ever wanted to drive around in a huge monster truck and smash things up. I thought so. Thankfully, Monster Trucks Steel Titans is here to make that dream come true. Well, sort of. I went in with no expectations apart from “give me monster trucks”, yet the more time I spent with the game, the more I started to discover its many flaws.
Monster Jam Steel Titans is developed by Rainbow Studios, one of the teams that come under THQ Nordic’s umbrella. They develop racing themed games, off-road too, so they have a fair amount of experience coming into this project. I’m confident THQ Nordic are familiar to you, having published the likes of Darksiders III in recent times.
With plenty of pedigree backing this game, and with first impressions being vital, you may start to be wondering about the flaws I alluded to. Sadly, straight away the first becomes apparent. Loading times. For the current generation of consoles, the waiting seems excruciating all the while being accompanied by generic, naff guitar riffs in the background.
Anyway, once you make it through the loading screen, you’ll be thrust straight into a tutorial. This takes place at “Monster Jam University” and is lead by the aptly named “Whiplash”. She will guide you through a pretty short and simple overview of the game controls. Basically, RT accelerates, LT brakes (and reverses if you hold it) and B will reset if you end up flipping over.
From there, “Freeride” mode open up, which is basically the hub world which expands as you complete series events in your career. Sadly, the area you will have already played multiple times is identical to what you unlock here, so there’s little incentive to rush over to check it out. You can use this area as a sandbox, with plenty of ramps and breakable objects, as well as 50 collectables to hunt down. Accessing the game’s main menu will then allow you to play some quick races or start your career. You can also get some action shots in photo mode, view the hub world map, and head back to Monster Jam Uni to hone your skills. Nicely, Steel Titans also supports head to head local and online play.
Career mode is where you’ll spend most of your time. There are several event series’ to complete, each designed to be more challenging than the last. However, you’ll notice pretty early on that you race on the same track every time, just with it being slightly extended on each run. After a while the event type will change, and you will assume you’ve seen the back of that first course. It will return however, as a circuit race, meaning you have to complete several laps of the same track you have recently played around five times over. It’s a bit insulting really. Racing the same track over and over might well be fun in a real monster truck, but trust me, it isn’t here. This seems very lazy, especially when you’re having to pay £35 for the privilege.
Depending on how well you do, you’ll earn rewards as well as points to spend before your next event. You can use these to purchase new vehicles, which only differ cosmetically, but you can upgrade each with points as you see fit. The amount for each event you earn depends on your final race time, the quicker you finish, the more you’ll get. Your rank will be affected by where you finish, and you can unlock better upgrades if you’re a higher rank. It’s not just all about where you place in the race, which is refreshing for this type of game.
Repetitiveness aside, we come to the next major issue for Monster Jam; handling. Your truck is a handful and difficult to keep control of, as the development team have attempted to make it feel realistic given the vehicle you’re trying to drive. Getting the hang of the physics is key to pulling off backflips and other crazy stunts. Your first race will teach you that flat out speed simply won’t do; you’ll veer off the track and keep being reset, which in turn means winning becomes virtually impossible. Also, depending how you hit obstacles, your truck might flip in an unpredictable fashion. Clip a tree for example, and you’ll often go spinning into the air, like some sort of demented boomerang. Smashing into objects is fun, but some trees cannot be driven through, despite you being in a huge truck. It’s issues like this that show the laziness that is evident throughout.
In Monster Jam Steel Titans it’s the View button which changes camera modes. Despite having five to choose from, I couldn’t find one that did the job brilliantly. The default camera ends up being the best, but because of the size of the vehicles we’re dealing with here, it needs to be positioned higher. As a result it can be hard to see what’s coming up ahead, taking you “off track” before you can do anything about it. You can look around in fixed positions with the D-Pad (left or right 90 degrees or down to look behind you) and also manipulate the camera very slightly with the right thumbstick. For some reason the stick doesn’t give you the ability to pan 360 degrees whilst racing, which is a basic expectation of games such as this in my book. It makes judging where your opponents are more difficult than it ought to be. Also, if you’re flipping through the air – and you often will be – the camera turns into a right mess if you don’t land facing forwards.
For all the negatives, there’s one fundamental problem I have above all others with Monster Jam Steel Titans on Xbox One. This being that I’m in a huge truck, and yet if I even slightly veer off course in races, you’ll be judged to be “off track” and left to return quickly or reset backwards a few metres. As the trucks are hard to handle, this takes a lot of the fun out of the race and feels way too restrictive and frustrating. Thankfully waypoint races, where you have to hit each marker whilst driving round a more open world style track, works so much better. However because you play each type of race in blocks, rather than mixing it up a bit, these waypoint races also become pretty repetitive before long. Later on you’ll also compete in Two-Wheel Skills and Freestyle events, but by then it’s a case of too little, too late, for Steel Titans.
The game also has a tendency to glitch from time to time. My worst experience of this was when I was comfortably leading a race, then without warning, I was dumped back into sixth place, resetting me even though I didn’t go off track. Needless to say, that is hugely frustrating.
Although the game’s soundtrack is pretty uninspiring, visually it looks decent for the most part, but once you get moving it loses sharpness, and ends up looking like a bit of a blurry mess. Your truck will take damage when you crash, and occasionally you will need to stop to have a broken wheel mended, which is some welcome attention to detail.
For all that is said, one good thing about Monster Jam Steel Titans is that the Gamerscore points flow nice and easy, all for what feels like just playing the game as opposed to an actual achievement.
Monster Jam Steel Titans is fun for a time, but you’ll feel short changed for what you get considering the premium price tag. Once you’re in, there’s very little new that allows development of the game and to keep you interested; in fact at times it feels pretty lazy in a lot of ways.
It does have monster trucks though, which can only be a good thing.