An excellent game hampered by a lack of content
- Developer: Teyon
- Publisher: Nacon
- Release date: 15th October 2020
- Genre: Racing, Simulation
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
There have been very few Monster Truck games in comparison to most other disciplines of motorsport, and even fewer genuinely good ones. Will Monster Truck Championship crush the competition or be crumpled beneath oversized tyres?
While promoting Monster Truck Championship, the developer has been keen to point out that this is a simulation. I’ll acquiesce, it does have sim elements, such as the cockpit camera and manual gearing, but at its heart, this is a very arcade experience. Races are short, lasting under six minutes for the longest and around three or four minutes on average, and the handling is far more forgiving than I imagine a real monster truck would be.
Without getting bogged down with answering whether this is or isn’t a simulation, though, Monster Truck Championship is a really entertaining and addictive game. During the review period, I completed the entire career mode not once, but twice.
Admittedly, the career is very short. There are three tiers of competition, with each tier containing nine events and a grand final. With an average of three races or freestyle/destruction showdowns in each event, there are over one hundred individual stages to work through. However, you can finish some of these in just a couple of minutes, and each full playthrough (medium, then extreme difficulty) took me around eight hours to complete.
I found myself running event after event, helped along by the very short loading times. Some games I find running through career modes tedious, but I loved smashing through Monster Truck Championship. I just wish there was much, much more of it.
N.b. The reason I played through twice, is that there is no way to change the difficulty once you have started your career without wiping all of the progress and credits you have earned. My advice: Start on hard, especially if you want to earn all the achievements/trophies.
Races on Monster Truck Championship take place on well-designed circuits. They’ve been created to take advantage of the very loose, drifty handling of the trucks, and feature bumps, jumps, off-camber corners and frequent elevation changes. Throw in a few split routes to choose from on some tracks, and it’s a load of fun blasting around the circuits. It’s just a shame there’s only seven of them.
Drag races are a head-to-head sprint on mirrored routes. Set up as an eight-man eliminator, they feature very short but technical tracks and can be finished in anywhere from ten to thirty seconds generally. In what is turning into a trend for Monster Truck Championship, they are so much fun to play, but again, there aren’t enough different tracks.
My favourite events are Destruction and Freestyle events. They are very similar to the Freestyle events in Monster Jam, and you earn points for doing wheelies, somersaults, backflips, donuts, spins and more. Chaining all these moves together into huge combos is challenging, but massively entertaining and rewarding when you get it right. Unlike Monster Jam: Steel Titans, pulling off tricks is consistent, and there are no issues with it tracking your stunts, which was a major bugbear on Monster Jam.
The main reason all of these events are so much fun is the satisfying handling model. Your truck feels heavy and has tangible momentum to throw around, but it feels natural and behaves as you would expect. It does have a tendency to feel a bit like you are piloting a hovercraft at times with the very floaty feel caused by the low traction, but not in a negative way. Throttle and steering response is immediate but measured, making it easy to catch your truck from toppling if you get over-enthusiastic and misjudge a ramp or bringing the rear in check if you come into a corner too hot.
That’s not to say it’s not possible to make mistakes, as without a deft touch you can still cock-up the entry to a ramp or misjudge a corner throwing yourself into misfortune. There are no rewinds, so you’ll need to be on the ball to recover swiftly. Screwing up badly isn’t the end, though, as the AI is woefully bad.
The AI has no spatial awareness whatsoever, driving into you constantly, and frequently losing control and driving into walls, sending itself careening across the track. Even on the hardest difficulty, I found the career to be a cakewalk, finishing upwards of twenty seconds ahead on the majority of the races. The freestyle events were more challenging, and I had to restart a few time to beat the target score, but if you chain together a good run you can obliterate the top scores.
They have padded out the career with sponsors that require you to meet objectives like earning combos in events, pulling off specific stunts or getting perfect starts. It adds an extra layer of challenge going for these objectives, and winning will unlock a nice cash bonus as well as unlocking extra customisation options, which segues nicely into the next feature.
Customisation is Monster Truck Championship’s strong suit. There’s a large number of options for upgrading and changing the look of your truck. New body styles include recognisable (but legally distinct) vehicle bodies, as well as classic over-the-top options such as a giant toaster, and my favourite, the A10 Warthog themed shell. These can be paired with hood and roof accessories, new rims, a large selection of mix and match vinyl and fully customisable paint. If only the rest of the game had this much content!
Graphically, Monster Truck Championship is perfectly decent. It’s a low budget title, but they’ve packed loads of detail into the environments. Destructible panels on the trucks deform and break away, and mud cakes the bodywork of your vehicle. There’s a nice touch where when you land from a jump, the screen shakes, accompanied by a noisy thump. It works really well at giving you a perceptible feeling that you are driving a huge and heavy monster truck.
There are several viewpoints available, with chase cams and bumper cams as you’d expect, but my favourite is the cockpit cam, which adds a new dimension to gameplay, especially for freestyle events. Peering over the bonnet of a huge truck gives you a unique viewpoint, and it ramps the difficulty of freestyle events up immeasurably. This view is often overlooked on Monster Truck games, and it’s sure to please many people that they have added it.
Sound quality is also more than good enough. The engines have that raspy growling roar you expect from a 1500bhp+ engine, and the road surface audio captures the effect of driving over scrabbly dirt well. The music is unobtrusive, featuring a mix of ambient menu music and driving hard-rock, and it is well-suited to the game even if it isn’t memorable. I quite enjoyed the commentator, as he calls the action relevant to the stunts you are performing, which is laudable, even it occasionally suffers from sounding like an unenthusiastically dialled-in performance.
Multiplayer is present but suffers from the glaring omission of drag races, destruction and freestyle events. You can play eight-player races, with AI filling in the extra players if you haven’t got a full lobby (you can turn them off, thankfully), but there are only seven tracks to choose from. It’s fun for a few races, but without the ability to create a varied event featuring freestyle and other events, the longevity just isn’t there. There are online leaderboards for each of the events, but you can only get to them by going through the events, which limits the appeal of going back to better your scores or times.
Monster Truck Championship may not look particularly special, but it never detracted from the fun I was having chundering around in my 1900 horsepower behemoth, and just goes to prove great gameplay is far more important than flashy visuals.
It is so close to being an excellent game, but it is let down by a lack of content. and the difficulty and poor AI don’t offer enough challenge to keep you coming back in the long term. Despite this, I really like Monster Truck Championship, and if there was more content I’d still be playing it now.