There is nothing more exciting to a 5 year old boy than Monster Trucks, and even more than 30+ years later, I still love them. Weirdly though, there aren't a whole lot of Monster Truck games, even if the genre used to be fairly well represented. Maybe it was a sign of the times, but Monster Trucks seemed more prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s. Luckily, Monster Jam: Steel Titans is a rejuvenation of that forgotten genre and blends both racing and Monster Truck freestyle stunts into a budget licensed game.
I’d be lying if I said Steel Titans was a great game, it has its flaws, and they are fairly glaring. But I had way more fun with this game when I just took it for what it was and didn’t try to focus on thinking it was a polished AAA game. One thing I had to remind myself often was that Monster Trucks aren’t racing trucks. They are more stunt vehicles or sprinters. They have huge amounts of power that can only go for a short amount of time. They aren’t Formula 1 or Rally cars. They aren’t designed to have long six minute races. Once I had the right mindset of what type of vehicle I was controlling, which didn’t take too long, I had a blast.
The game starts off with making you pick a truck and following a very basic and boring tutorial. Letting you know how these trucks move and take you through basic maneuvering. It doesn’t take too long, but at this point there should be an industry standard that allows you to hit a prompt that says “I know what I’m doing, I don’t need a tutorial”. Once the tutorial is done, it drops you into an open world that is gated off through progression of the Career. The Career path is what I followed as the open world doesn’t seem too interesting as it's more just a playground, and there really isn’t much to do for an adult to do once you drive around it for about 30 seconds. I could see myself as a kid loving it though, and think about it as the Rush 2 stunt track course.
The reason the open world might be interesting for children is because the physics engine in the game lies somewhere between simulation and arcade. Most cars don’t react exactly how you think they would, but at the same time you can apply real world physics knowledge to get your truck to flip in ways it might in the real world… just exaggerated a bit. The open world has tons of jumps and obstacles to tackle, and even an out of bounds invisible wall that will launch your car into the atmosphere if you hit it right.
The Career path is fairly basic and sadly imbalanced. The first circuit was located in the open world section, and mostly consisted of long racing that reminded me of the FlatOut series. Open environments that didn’t have proper track layouts, more racing though open fields and random areas. The second and rest of the circuit in the games takes you into a stadium event series, and you are tasked with two types of events. One being a normal race around the stadium, racing head to head against another single Monster Truck. 180 degree turns in usually an oval shaped pattern, staggered with the opponent, and a jump or two to give you plenty of air time.
The other event is a stunt challenge, which can be either super easy or incredibly difficult depending on your strategy. If you just want to get through it with a 10.0 score and come in first place every time, you can “Cheese” the system and do a simple donut+cyclone+power out combo a couple times by simply holding right or left and pushing the accelerator down the entire time. Or you can actually try some variety and use the course’s full set up or ramps, jumps and shipping containers to make a visually diverse set of tricks. I tried to make my runs interesting and varied, but I usually ended up just doing a simple crazy combo at the end of my run to get first place.
Sadly once I realized the rest of the circuits in the game were the same two in a very visually similar style stadium, I lost a lot of interest in the actual game. I threw on a podcast and powered my way through the ever increasingly long circuits and only felt challenged at the very end. The game’s AI isn’t too bad, but the upgrades you get to apply to your Monster Truck basically allows you to just brute force your way through races. Each race gives you points that you accumulate, and you can use those points to apply upgrades to your truck. Upgrades include Acceleration, Top Speed, Bounce, Traction and Structural Integrity. You can only apply a certain amount of upgrades to your truck and will be capped in progression until you complete circuits and unlock new ranks. Rookie, Amature, Pro, Legend. Once you finish each circuit you advance into a new rank and the opponents become more difficult. Then you can apply more upgrades. You can max out your truck very quickly then just get more and more points. So as soon as you unlock the new rank, you can max out your upgrades again and then just do the same thing over and over again. Point can also be used to unlock new Monster Trucks. I didn’t really know any of the other Monster Trucks other than everyone’s favorite Grave Digger. So I unlocked Grave Digger and poured all my points into that Truck and nothing else.
Monster Jam is a licensed game and really feels like it’s a game you just don’t see all that often anymore. They are still being made, but pushed into the “shovelware” category more often than not, and it’s a shame. Some of these games are really fun, and for $5 I had a blast for around 5 hours and completed the game. It got a little monotonous, but still enjoyable as a game that isn’t around much anymore. I’m looking forward to the just released Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 game to see if there has been any improvement over the physics, or even just level design.