Monster Truck Championship was only released in October of 2020, but it’s already been optimised for Xbox Series X|S, steamrolling it’s way on to next-gen consoles. Anyway, we were pretty impressed with it the first time around, with it delivering some old-school trucking to Xbox One. However, in order to see what this shiny new version has to offer, it’s time to head stateside once again.
You’re welcomed into the game in a similar way to the Forza Horizon series – asked for a few details by a faceless, featureless and rather creepy guide. She is perfectly friendly however, and manages to give a strong career and development-centred feeling to things from the off.
If you wish (and there is an achievement for it), you can complete the tutorial to learn the many moves you’ll be able to pull off in your monster truck before you tackle the career. It’s an in-depth one too, taking you through each maneuver in turn and giving you a good opportunity to get a feel for your truck’s handling. As you might expect, it’s a rather different experience from your standard race car.
There are four types of events in Monster Truck Championship which make up the Career Mode: Race, Drag Race, Freestyle and Destruction. The first is your standard lap racing, but it will take a little while to get used to your truck’s handling before you go winning these. Damage to vehicles can be toggled on or off, however it’s much more fun seeing pieces of your truck litter the track as you collide with rival racers. However, you can go one step further than this, meaning your truck will take real damage during races which will affect its performance, and cost you money to repair. That’s where the diagram in the bottom left corner of the screen comes into play, showing the condition of each of your truck’s key components. It is something you’ll want to keep an eye on.
At the start of each race, you’ll also get the chance to execute a “perfect start” by revving just the right amount as the race starts, giving you an advantage off the line. However, it only takes one badly judged collision with another truck to put you out of the running in a race, so evasion is sometimes the best tactic. You do have six resets to use if you get stuck (as in other modes), however these put you behind the pack even more. It’s really best only to use them in an emergency.
The drag races are short dashes to the finish line which are slightly more complicated than your classic drag race. There are bumps and bends to navigate, and each takes place in a mini knockout tournament format. You’ll need to clear three rounds to win overall, as well as starting properly by holding down on your brakes until the race starts, then letting go and hitting the accelerator at precisely the right time. Two false starts will see you forfeit the event, so timing is key here.
“Freestyle” sees you tasked with scoring as many points as possible by pulling off stunts in front of a packed stadium crowd, and Destruction is very similar but with a focus on smashing things. These two modes will require you to string combos together in order to earn enough points to finish on the podium, however they reset pretty quickly, which makes it more challenging that it seems at first.
Ultimately, your main career aim is to be crowned the Monster Truck Champion, and to do this you’ll need to beat several series of events to qualify for the finals in each of the three leagues. However, before long you’ll start to encounter the same events within the same league. This is most noticeable in races, and the amount of different courses found in Monster Truck Championship is in single figures, so it starts to get repetitive fairly quickly. Career mode broadly consists of the same set of events for you to play through multiple times, just with the order mixed up. Each event does come with a “World Best” benchmark for you to aim for however, as well as global leaderboards to hold yourself up against, which may provide a shred of replayability for some.
In a similar way to events, Monster Truck Championship suffers from a lack of variety when it comes to how it looks. This is because the vast majority of events take place either in a stadium, or on a dusty desert circuit. Combine this with playing the exact same courses regularly, and its limitations start to become clear. I know the game is a sim racer, but it doesn’t do itself any favours to be so uncompromisingly realistic in this department.
Rather oddly, there’s no music which accompanies you in events; you’re left with nothing but the mechanic growls and groans as a soundtrack. When you’re navigating the menus pretty generic guitar heavy stuff plays, but even this would be better than the events being devoid of any music at all. I’m sure modern technology allows for monster truck sound systems nowadays.
The main difference with Monster Truck Championship compared to other racing games (apart from one very similar Monster Truck-based rival in Monster Jam Steel Titans 2), is that you control each set of wheels with a different thumbstick. The left controls your front wheels, and the right controls your back wheels. When racing, you’ll need to carefully use a combination of both to navigate bends and corners that come in all shapes and sizes. It takes some getting used to, but the heavy handling is designed to simulate the challenge of driving such a beast of a vehicle.
However, occasionally and without warning you’ll turn into a corner, lose all grip and end up facing backwards after completely losing control of your truck. Or, after said corner you’ll quickly try to compensate for the oversteer and end up slaloming until you crash into something or are forced to slow down to regain control. Unfortunately, in both cases this will cost you precious time whilst in a race.
Away from the races, however, the controls are well-tuned enough to see you pull off the variety of tricks taught to you in the tutorial without too much hassle. However, you will end up on your roof fairly often with no way of self righting. You’ll be forced to reset your truck’s position, and again this will cost you valuable time (five seconds for each reset to be precise). Pretty harsh.
One of the most interesting parts of Monster Truck Championship is the Marketplace, which ticks the simulation box. Here you can hire a team of specialists to support you, with each bringing different benefits in the form of stat alterations to your monster truck as well as cash. Personally, my favourite feature in the game allows you to sign up sponsors which come with their own challenges, offering rewards when completed. These include all sorts of objectives to achieve, such as winning races and scoring a set amount of points using specific tricks. The challenges get trickier with the pricier sponsors, but offer greater rewards such as cash and truck parts, as well as adding a bit of much-needed variation to the events.
If you head to your Garage, you’ll be able to tinker with body paint, stickers, wheel trims and more in an impressive array of customisation options. You can also, if you’re into it, tune your truck to alter how it drives according to preference. All of your unlocked parts can be viewed and equipped here too. It’s worth visiting regularly to give yourself the best chance of success at events by upgrading your truck.
Regarding multiplayer, you can set up quick games with the AI to test your skills and matchmake online with up to 7 other players. As before, the options are still lacking in this department though, with you being left to only choose between Race and Drag Race. However, there is an even bigger issue at the time of writing as with this version of Monster Truck Championship running exclusively on Xbox Series X|S, separate from the Xbox One edition, there is a serious lack of active games online. Hopefully this will improve as the days post-launch roll out and as players start to populate the online servers, but be warned the online side of things may be a struggle.
So, what has changed in the optimised Xbox Series X|S version of Monster Truck Championship, I hear you cry? Well, not an awful lot really and in fact it’s all about the aesthetics. It looks better than the original release, but honestly it’s not going to blow you away. There are a few jagged looking effects in there still, such as when a truck in front of you kicks up dust; that still doesn’t look great. The game can also be fairly sluggish at times, with a slight frame rate drop. However, the good news is that load screens barely last a couple of seconds which keeps the action flowing nicely.
Monster Truck Championship on Xbox Series X|S remains a solid sim racer, with plenty of events to tackle. However, the lack of variety, despite a good level of customisation options, will be a real issue for some. The optimised release has a visual edge over the original, but all things considered there isn’t much of a difference here at all.