Kids and grown ups love it so, the happy world of monster truck racing, freestyle tricking and car crushing. There’s millions of fans of monster trucks around the world, of the glorious excess and borderline stupidity of these gigantic vehicles, and it’s for those fans that Monster Truck Championship is being created.
Pitched as the first monster truck simulation out there, you hop into these, well… monstrous trucks and take them racing and freestyling across a handful of different events.
One thing it absolutely captures is the wild bounciness of a monster truck’s suspension and the four gigantic tyres. The motion of the cab under heavy braking and when bobbling over the terrain maybe isn’t quite as dramatic as you might expect from watching monster truck events on YouTube, but there’s a definite floatiness to the truck handling that would be despised in any other racing game, but feels spot on in Monster Truck Championship.
It does mean that, while the game aims to be the biggest, brashest sim racer out there, it feels light and arcade. You can really throw these trucks around. Literally. That’s actually half the game, with Freestyle and Destruction events being a space where you’ll leap off trick ramps and crash down onto cars, campers and portaloos.
But first let’s talk about the racing. This comes in two forms, with straight up head to head races around twisting, jump-filled dirt tracks, bumping wheels with up to seven other racers. You’ll have your work cut out to get to the front and stay there, partly because the races seem to fall back on the old racing game trope of having one really good AI driver and a bunch of less good ones behind, but also because of having to deal with the undulations of the track. It’s slower paced than rallying, but has some of the same characteristics; getting your angle and speed wrong over a leap will see you careening off to the side and losing a bunch of time as you try to keep it out of the barriers. One of the two tracks in our preview demo also had a joker lap route, a la Rallycross.
It’s easy to get things a little bit wrong, as I said, and taking a jump badly, only getting two wheels onto a jump ramp, or simply smashing into a wall can lead to damage for your truck. I had a race where I came crunching down on my two right-side tyres and spent the rest of the race listing heavily to that side, dealing with some wonky steering throughout.
The style of racing you’ll more commonly see with monster trucks in the real world comes from the Drag Race events, with two trucks going head to head through mirrored courses in a stadium, the winner going to the next round in the bracket, leading up to the final. Here, every element has to be perfect. You need to get your revs just right and react within a flash to the countdown to launch yourself into the short and sweet course, and then try not to lose time through the hairpins and corners on the way to the finish line. It’s much more technical, the margins for error feeling so much smaller.
Of course, what those two race types miss out on is smashing stuff, and that’s where Freestyle and Destruction come in. Essentially riffing off the same concept, the idea in both is to string enough tricks together to earn points and multipliers, a bit like a very large and bouncy Tony Hawk’s Pro Monster Truck Freestyler. Of course, you don’t get to crush things in THPS, while you do in Monster Truck Championship. The difference in the two modes is the emphasis that they put on each side, with jumps and tricks a bigger part of Freestyling, and smashing stuff more prevalent in Destruction.
It might look like dumb fun, but if anything, these are both more challenging and technical than the Drag Race events. They’re certainly showy, but you need real control if you’re going to use your time effectively to get tricks to string together and build up a multiplier. There’s big jump ramps leading over to rows of cars, there’s scooped ramps that can let you do a quick little flip, and even mechanical ramps that will flick up and send you spinning through the air in truly spectacular fashion. Each big trick in Freestyle is accompanied by a slow motion cut away to the side for effect.
However, keeping with its sim aspirations, you don’t have any air control to help you massage the truck’s arc through the air and positioning. It all has to be done through managing your speed and angle as you head to a jump, and with the time constraints, it’s quite easy to hit one at just the wrong angle and head off target, land awkwardly and off balance, or simply end up on your back like an unfortunate tortoise. Unlike that sorry tortoise though, you can just hit a button and reset.
It will take more playing time to really judge Monster Truck Championship on its simulation credentials – it’s not like it really has any other sims you can compare it to – but what it has going for it is that it’s still easy to pick up and play, and that the very nature of monster truck racing is so forgiving. You’ll need to learn finesse and control to master the handful of disciplines here, but until you do, it’s still fun just bumping your way through races and crushing more defenceless caravans than an average season of Top Gear.