Have you ever seen the Monster Jam trucks in action? Whether it’s racing, smashing the crap out of stuff in an enormous arena or showing off genuinely impressive stunts, seeing these gargantuan, colourfully styled beasts taking part in crazy shenanigans is truly awe-inspiring and very entertaining indeed. Each truck is essentially a character; you almost forget that there’s even a driver involved at times – you’re basically watching a big, angry cartoon car going nuts in front of a massive crowd. It’s ace!
Which makes Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 all the more disappointing. Though it gets off to a good start and the open world, whimsically-themed, nicely designed hub areas outside of events – in which you collect tokens and try to trigger new ones using specific trucks at designated points on the map, with the truck’s design itself being the clue as to which one to use – are really compelling, the actual campaign is pretty dire.
Most of that is due to the handling of the trucks themselves. They don’t feel like massive, hefty beasts under your control at all; racing events or anything time-limited soon become exercises in frustration, because the slightest knock flings your seemingly paper-thin truck flying off course, often with little chance of recovery against the AI drivers – who, for the most part, seem supernaturally gifted at keeping their own trucks under control.
Though the selection of trucks is truly excellent, with plenty of the real world Monster Jam trucks lovingly recreated in-game – driving them around even in the hub areas earns points which levels them up; you’ll end up using the same few levelled up trucks over and over again, rather than experimenting with new ones that start at much lower levels – because it’ll put you at a disadvantage to do so during the events. Sure, you’ll use them to unlock their world secrets – but that’s about it.
Technically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag too; it performs well on Series X, but even with the game not exactly pushing the limits of the Xbox One X, it still struggles with its frame rate. The trucks also seem to tear themselves apart like tissue paper, far too easily, often making the design you’ve chosen feel mostly moot.
It’s a real shame, because what works here – the free roaming areas and the gradual collection of a who’s-who of the Monster Jam menagerie for example – can be really addictive, but opening up new areas and some of the trucks requires progress through events that seem arranged in ways that mean you can’t avoid events that annoy – they’re all bundled in together, one after the other. The control scheme makes a real attempt to make things feel different from other racing games, with the left stick controlling your front wheels and the right your rear wheels – which does give you a bit of a learning curve, but it’s really satisfying to nail this unusual method. The problem is the other drivers and the ridiculously bumpy courses that are far too punishing, on even the smallest incorrect nudge at times.
There’s definitely fun to be had with Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 – working out how to unlock secrets and how to get hard to reach tokens in the hub areas being the undeniably entertaining highlights – but in tying further progression to the stacked, mixed events which quickly get annoying is a bit of a faux pas. For Monster Jam: Steel Titans 3, can we just have open world hubs to chuck our chunky beasts around in, please THQ Nordic?
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