Review: Monster Jam: Steel Titans is a lazy monster truck simulator with an identity crisis

Reviewed on PC.

Monster Jam: Steel Titans is probably not the racing game most were excited about this season. This monster truck simulator certainly doesn’t have to worry about sharing the market with any competitors. The first in the series since 2010’s Path of Destruction, Steel Titans aims to deliver a niche but high-quality gameplay experience. Unfortunately, in this cruel industry, a developer’s aims don’t always become reality.

Steel Titans finds itself stuck in an awkward realm where it can’t decide if it’s an arcade or simulation racing game. The monster trucks have significant weight behind them and require skilled throttle management to keep going in a straight line. Yet crazy backflips, wheelies, and the wildest of spins can be performed with ease. By trying to deliver both arcade and simulation style physics simultaneously, Steel Titans provides neither. This identity crisis submerges Monster Jam’s driving physics in an eternal pool of mediocrity.

The structure of its core campaign isn’t much better either. Events are split up into races, stunts, and head-to-heads. Steel Titans actually features several more modes, including waypoints and timed destruction, but these are poorly implemented into the campaign mode. In fact, they’re hardly implemented at all. Earlier championships use a variety of event types, but the later series that make up the bulk of Steel Titan’s campaign just rotate the primary three over and over.

Whilst the circular head-to-head face-offs are far from entertaining, it’s a damn sight better than Steel Titan’s circuit racing. Circuit racing in a monster truck might sound fun, but a simulation of it is held back by a couple of natural factors. First of all, monster trucks aren’t very quick. The world record is held by The Raminator at just 99.1 mph. Equally, trucks in Steel Titans top out at around 100 mph. A modern-day Toyota Prius hybrid can reach 112 mph. Secondly, the circuits themselves are reminiscent of 1984’s Excite Bike: they’re just long dirt straights filled with repetitive jumps. Then again, even Excite Bike required a degree of air control to be successful. That’s not a requirement to stomp the limited A.I in Monster Jam.

The skill ceiling present is practically non-existent. Hold accelerate for 30 seconds or so until you eventually reach a corner. Braking isn’t usually required and just letting off the throttle and coasting through will do fine. Some of the later circuit events can last several mind-numbing minutes. When a racing game doesn’t offer the challenge of Asseto Corsa or the crazy fun of Burnout, you begin to wonder what the purpose of Steel Titans even is.

In short bursts, the stunt events are fun, but the novelty wears off sooner rather than later. The two formats are freestyle stunts and two-wheel stunts. The latter requires you to perform a two-wheeled stunt for each combo or else it won’t count. I figured out quickly that performing simple flips over and over was more than enough to win every single one of these events. On most of these events, I’d spend the last minute tabbed out to YouTube or another site since I’d already won. For the two-wheeled variant, you simply had to land on your front wheels and balance the truck for roughly a second. That’s far easier to do than it might sound. So easy, in fact, that backflipping a monster truck managed to become boring by the fourth or fifth event, and even then that figure might be a little generous.

There’s a fairly impressive collection of just short of 30 licensed monster trucks to use. Each truck requires its own separate upgrades for self-explanatory categories like Top Speed, Acceleration and Traction. I didn’t notice any major differences between any two fully upgraded trucks. They all seem to reach the same top speed and feel much the same so feel free to pick whichever one looks best. It’s difficult to transition from one truck to another later in the game’s campaign. Since upgrades aren’t transferable, this means you have to upgrade a new truck from scratch enough for it to still be competitive. Have fun with that.

Steel Titans could have provided some hilarious fun as some kind of party game to play online with friends. I can definitely see the potential for smashing into each other in huge 5 tonne monster trucks. Sadly, you’re not going to be able to do that. No one is. Monster Jam: Steel Titans has zero online multiplayer support, although local co-op supporting up to two players is included. A modern-day racing game that allows for split screen, but not online racing is frankly peculiar. If the single-player experience was significantly better, I’d overlook this. However, this isn’t some epic RPG like Morrowind or Breath of the Wild. There’s hardly anything to do and you can finish the single player in 5 or 6 hours at most.

Unlike most critics, I found Steel Titans to be an okay looking game. Whilst not revolutionary by 2019’s standards, at Epic, 1080p the trucks themselves look great and environments are passable. Most of the lighting seems to be handled by the Unreal Engine and therefore performs just fine. There’s slightly too much lens flare for my taste but it does give off a cool, cinematic vibe when used the right way.

In conclusion, the sheer lack of creativity and effort put into Steel Titans is extraordinary. Perhaps it was time constraints or perhaps they just didn’t care. Either way, Rainbow Studios has managed to produce one of the most boring racing games I’ve ever played. Whilst technically functional and by no means buggy, there just weren’t enough moments where I didn’t regret playing Steel Titans. The repetitive events, lack of multiplayer options, and spiritless racing are the three biggest offenders as to why this isn’t a good game. Its few redeeming features are few and far between the swamp of mediocrity you have to swim through to find them. Unless significant work is done to improve Steel Titans in the future, I’d recommend you avoid this at all costs.

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