By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
A little part of me has always had a soft spot for demolition derbies (see my review of Wreckfest), and monster truck rallies. Probably because I’m one-quarter redneck on my mother’s side. I never really fell into a liking of NASCAR or anything, so it’s probably not actually racing that I get into, but rather the satisfying crunch of automobiles being demolished. Although I always liked the Gran Turismo franchise, so who can say?
When I was about 10 years old, I used to mow the lawn for a guy up the street, Bob Small. One year, Bob entered, and won, a contest on my behalf to have the legendary monster truck Bigfoot come to our street and host a pizza party. I still remember the sight, as the big truck roared and rumbled its way down N Baldwin Street and pulled up onto Bob’s grass strip to park. The impressions of his 66 inch tires were there the rest of the season, until Bob had to till the strip of lawn and plant new grass the next year.
What I remember even more, despite this being 30 years ago, was the sheer volume of the Portland Memorial Coliseum quaking with the roar of monster trucks. Watching Bigfoot and Grave Digger side by side before exploding off the starting line. Their front tires were propelled skyward from the torque of engines measured not in horsepower, but in dragon power. Or so it seemed to my 10 year old self. The satisfying crunch of derelict cars as the behemoth vehicles plowed across them to the song of cheers from the crowd.
Perhaps it is unfair to hold Monster Jam Steel Titans (MJST hence) to this sort of nostalgic benchmark. Suffice to say, it fell short. The game wasn’t entirely a disappointment, but there are many ways in which I feel the developers could have done better.
First off, the game is single player. There is absolutely no way to compete against other players, even in split-screen/couch mode. With the internet and technology being what it is today, why any racing game is made exclusively single player is beyond me. If you are going to do this, however, then you owe it to the market to at least have interestingly programmed AI opponents. MJST fell short on this mark as well.
It’s almost creepy how in line they are.
In the races I competed in, it seemed as though the opponent vehicles were essentially on a very set track, making little to no effort to pass each other. This felt more like old classic slot-car races than monster trucks, and reduced the racing’s competitiveness to how your vehicle performed, rather than any skill you might have.
The upgrades themselves were purchased by an in-game currency that I don’t remember the name of, if it was ever divulged. They were simply little yellow triangle thingies that you could earn by doing races. These could then be used to unlock vehicles, as well as to upgrade said vehicles by increasing acceleration, traction, maximum speed, bounce, and stability. The amount these articles can be upgraded is limited by your career rank (Novice, Rookie, Amateur etc), as is your access to tracks. To raise your career rank, you simply “compete” in the career mode.
Each career mode set has 10 events of various types. You must rank 3rd place overall to pass a given set. Also, they feel tediously long.
Completing missions in career mode will also open additional areas of the open world portion of the game. Within this open world portion are a number of collectibles for you to acquire, typically through some sort of aerial maneuver that would make the Blue Angels jealous. It was fun for about 10 minutes, and then just felt trite.
Which is basically what I would say about the career mode itself. There are a variety of different races within career mode, but as I mentioned before, the AI tends to move on rails through any given event, which detracts a great deal from the game. Either there’s no challenge, or an impossible challenge, with no realistic “in between”.
The list of vehicles you can drive is relatively expansive. There’s definitely a giant, glaring, and obvious hole in the lineup, however. While the game does have such iconic vehicles as Grave Digger, Earth Shaker, and the (sarcasm) “Great Clips Mohawk” truck (/sarcasm), it doesn’t have Bigfoot. While I understand how intellectual property works and all, it still feels like a gaping hole in my heart that might have given me more impetus and desire to play the game. Even if I had to do some extensive things to unlock Bigfoot, that would have been something to aspire to.
The on-the-rails driving of the AI vehicles wasn’t the end of MJST’s gameplay woes, either. The physics never quite felt right. Vehicles rolled at the drop of a hat, and things just got… real strange, during some races. To be honest, the physics felt more like a Tony Hawk game than a monster truck rally.
Physics? What physics?
The game does have some decent features. The combo system for scoring points can make things fun and interesting. Essentially you do one trick, such as a wheelie or big air maneuver, and then you have a certain amount of time to do another. So long as you continue to complete scoring maneuvers before the timer runs out on the last one, your multiplier increases. The higher the multiplier, however, the faster the timer elapses.
The monster truck lover in me gives Monster Jam Steel Titans 4 out of 5 crushed automobiles, but the gamer in me gives it a solid 2. It really lacks any significant content. If I could either race against real opponents, or at least AI that wasn’t just poorly created, it could have been a lot more fun. Unfortunately I think this sort of game is such a niche market that it will never quite draw the funding it needs to be designed well, and this title seems to be proof of that.