Title: Monster Jam: Steel Titans
Version Played: Xbox One
Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Developer: Rainbow Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Genre: Monster Truck Racing / Destruction Simulator
Official Site: Monster Jam: Steel Titans
Release Date: 6/25/2019
Where to Buy: Digital / Physical
In about 14 hours of Monster Jam: Steel Titans gameplay, not a single car was crushed. I crushed boxes. I crushed crates. I collected doodads. I flipped. I flopped. I flew. I spun around. I won. I had a lot of fun. Still, no cars crunched under my giant wheels in the making of this review, and to be frank I’m a little offended.
The reason for this is Monster Jam: Steel Titans take itself pretty seriously and despite the lack of car crushing action, the game takes its world and premise and delivers something that doesn’t really feel like anything else. Developer Rainbow has abstracted the Monster Truck races you see in arenas and stadiums and turned them into a unique experience that *feels* like driving them.
What this means is while the physics may be a bit loose (your truck spins far too easily in the air), you’re driving a vehicle with a hell of a lot of horsepower under the hood, and not a heck of a lot of control on slippery asphalt or dirt surfaces – monster trucks are basically 1500 horsepower engines and wheels stapled to sheet metal and a roll cage. Thus every race, challenge, and freestyle event is a battle against physics – where your truck wants to go versus where you need it to go.
Normally this is a deal breaker. In Gran Turismo, Forza, and F1 2018, slamming into wall after wall, relying on pesky assists, is no fun for anyone. In Monster Jam: Steel Titans, the nature of those Steel Titans is their cumbersome, insane, nature. They are monsters, after all, and a little slipping and sliding are to be expected – the test is how you react.
Once you get the hang of things: letting off the gas when hitting jumps, hitting the gas at the right moment when landing, knowing when to break into a turn, or even how to move your wheels mid-air to straighten yourself during touchdown, are all minute-to-minute choices you’ll be making dozens times over, and the sweet satisfaction of actively feeling in control is rewarding, and something that’s eluded me in most ‘sim’ racing games.
The rally events with no set path to get to the next way-point are some of the most chaotic and enjoyable racing experiences I’ve ever had. If your favorite ‘flavor’ of racing games are San Francisco Rush and Rush 2049, you’ll feel at home here.
In more ways than one, because not all you’ll do is race. The other, non-racing events are solid too. Both freestyle, where you need to flip, flop, and fly your truck in order to generate points (think Tony Hawk on literal steroids) and the ‘two-wheel’ event, where you have to go off jumps and hit angles in such a way as to balance your truck on two wheels, are a puzzle-box of a challenge in and of themselves.
(Though that pesky two-wheel event can be a pain if you’re not ‘in the zone’ – tip: It doesn’t matter *which* two wheels you’re on).
Alas, less of a puzzle and less in the zone is the career mode. A series of straight forward events across the training grounds, an arena, a bigger arena, and finally a stadium, these events are a little confusing and a little disappointing. Each event has a series of races, but it doesn’t tell you how many, and you need to come in at a certain place – overall – in order to progress.
But, by not knowing how many races there are, it’s difficult to gauge how beyond the pale you are, resulting in a sinking feeling that you might just have to do it all again because you couldn’t land your truck upright on that freestyle event a few minutes ago. It’s not bad, just disappointing. Very much akin to the career modes of N64 titles or even Mario Kart, where you play a circuit, beat the circuit, and move on without much context regarding your character or career. It’s all fine, but it’s very much bare bones.
Which is sort of a shame because one thing licensed sports games typically do well is sell you on the real deal. Madden is not Madden without commentary and pro players and licensed stadiums. In the same way, is Monster Jam still Monster Jam without the sort of energy and presentation that makes a thing like Truckasaurus a perfectly acceptable intermission show?
Honestly, I don’t know. I spent a lot of time reading about monster trucks and Monster Jam while playing, and learned a lot, coming away with a new found respect for this motorsport that owes more than a little to the pomp and circumstance of pro wrestling. I wanted to get to know the drivers (many of them female, Monster Jam is co-ed). I wanted to customize my truck and I wanted the open-world elements to give me something resembling an ozone polluting RPG. There are some neat truck facts on loading screens, but alas this isn’t quite what folks are looking for, I’d suspect.
Instead, I got the best N64 racing I’ve played in quite some time. Direct. To the point. Quality. The gameplay is solid and rewarding and fun and worth the discounted price of admission (39.99) if this game appeals to you. I look forward to seeing what Rainbow studios bring to this franchise next. There’s a solid foundation here, and if you ask me, in two or three years when they revisit this world, I think they might just crush it.
Verdict: Monster Jam Steel Titans is a solid Monster Truck game with unique events, thrilling gameplay, and chaotic nature. While the title lacks the presentation and robustness of many Triple-A titles, if you’re looking for a racer that’s easy to pick up, hard to master, and fun to mess with, you can do a lot worse than Monster Jam Steel Titans.
- Great gameplay.
- Very good graphics
- Lots to do, big open world to unlock.
- Lack of pizazz
- Open world underwhelms (not much to do there)
- Two-wheel challenge frustrating in not-so-fun way