Packed arenas full of fans whooping and hollering, eye-opening pyrotechnics, and roaring methanol-fuelled cubic inches. Welcome to the world of the monster truck, a world which Monster Truck Championship aims to replicate in never-before-seen detail.
To turn your finger inputs into forward motion within Monster Truck Championship, you need to squeeze the right trigger to accelerate, the left trigger to brake, and the left stick steers by default. “Yes Tom, it’s a racing game…” I can hear you say, and normally this wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but then the game introduces independent steering for the rear axle too. You turn the front wheels with the left stick and for tight corners or some stunts, you turn the rear wheels – at the same time – with the right stick.
If that sounds confusing, it is. But, thankfully, it becomes second nature after an hour or so. Just don’t fire up WRC 9 or F1 2020 immediately after playing this, or you will end up fumbling on the right stick to no avail during hairpins.
The main challenge here isn’t the dual-axle steering anyway. Rather, the accuracy required with the throttle not to tumble backwards and end up on your roof like a stranded tortoise. You would think that with such savage machines you would need the brutality of a Viking axe warrior to heave the behemoths over an obstacle, but in reality they reward poise and delicacy when massaging the hair-trigger throttle response that each machine possesses.
The vehicles shed body panels when you inevitably crash, the interior view is sadistically difficult, and the driving in general is suitably hefty and befitting of a simulator – being the first monster truck simulation is the elevator pitch, as detailed in our preview. The next step is to wrap this up in a game that fulfils the promise.
In terms of events, you have rather straight forward races against seven AI opponents. These are sat alongside drag race events, which see you racing head to head in short ~30-second sprints in a knock-out format. Then we have freestyle and destruction, which is what most people will expect of monster trucks. Held in an arena, the aim here is to rack up a points multiplier by performing tricks or destroying objects. Think Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater but with a giant car.
Driving up a ramp at high speed and jumping earns you points. Smashing through a caravan also earns points. Do them both in quick succession and you get bonus points. Do twenty stunts in a row and you earn a big payout. This can include successfully backflipping off a wall, wheelies and even barrel rolling (i.e. crashing).
There is a training area which will show you, via the use of a ghost truck and subtitles, how to pull off tricks. I found this to be a relative breeze, but in the career freestyle and destruction events, it can be tricky to understand what sort of obstacle is best for each stunt type. I understand the focus on realism, but it would be preferable to have some form of additional training session set in the full event with a ghost to ease you in a little bit better. I found myself winning events, but not really understanding why as my vehicle tried to emulate a bucking bronco.
The career structure is very plain. There is a selection of tournaments, typically with a selection of three events in each. These are then split into three leagues; national, professional and major, with a longer finale in each. In comparison to the freestyle events, I found the races to be straight forward, so in a tournament consisting of one freestyle, one race and one drag race you can fail at the tricks but master the on-track action to still win and progress.
The structure is as plain as that, unfortunately. You keep the same truck you are given right at the start, and while you sign sponsor contracts, earn cash and unlock upgrades, the path of development is small and doesn’t have a significant effect on performance. Most of the sponsor objectives are trivial and the extra cash you get from these doesn’t feel necessary either. Once you’ve won your first few events, you’ll be swimming in dollars.
This combined with the straightforward approach to the career competitions means that the novelty of a monster truck game that takes itself seriously wears off quite quickly. The online element is restricted to simple lobbies with no progression incentive.
There isn’t much in terms of competition available, but 2019’s Monster Jam Steel Titans had slicker presentation and officially licensed vehicles, which are sorely lacking here. Then again, that game’s handling was also blunter than a plastic picnic knife, so you can’t have everything.