STAFF REVIEW of Monster Truck Championship (Xbox One)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Monster Truck Championship Box art I remember my first Monster Truck event I went to as a kid. I remember distinctly standing beside the tires that towered over me, the smell of the gasoline, the deafening of the engines as they floored the gas to do their tricks and the excitement I got watching a Monster Truck crush some cars. The tricks Monster Trucks can do now these days is absolutely insane, and I can’t even imagine having the power of nearly 2000 horses at your disposal to crush anything in front of you. Monster Trucks, before the world is in the situation it’s in these days, were so popular that they were able to fill arenas full of fans wanting to watch these machines do what they do best; crushing cars.

What initially intrigued me about Monster Truck Championship, developed by NACON and TEYON, touts itself on being the first Monster Truck “simulator”. While there’s been a handful of Monster Truck games in the past, they were usually always very arcade like, so I was curious to see what a simulation take would be. Now on one hand, if a game is being touted as a simulator, I would expect it to reflect the sport as accurately as possible, which meant I was excited to see the classic and best known monster trucks there are, namely Bigfoot and Gravedigger. Sadly Monster Truck Championship isn’t licensed at all, so don’t expect to see any real life counterparts in the game.

The majority of your time is going to be spent in the Career Mode, and while there is an online component, there’s little to no reason to play it, which I’ll get into shortly. You start your Monster Truck career with a basic truck with practically no stats in the lowest League possible. As you win events you’ll earn points and money, allowing you to eventually move up the ranks and into the bigger leagues. There are over 25 arenas for the different event types, some indoors and others out, but they all blend together, none really standing out from the others.

Each of the three leagues are broken into different events, with each event then consisting of two to five individual races or destruction modes. You have your typical races, drag races and then destruction and freestyle events. It’s important to differentiate these two main types of events, as the physics are completely different in both, which takes some getting used to, but more on that shortly.

The early events won’t cost anything to enter, but the closer events get to the finals the more the entry costs becomes, though so does the rewards you can earn for winning. As you earn points from winning events you’ll eventually be able to participate in the Finals of the league, where a win allows you to move up into the next bracket of competition. You’ll begin in the National League, eventually moving up to Professional and then Major.

As you earn certain amounts of points in the leagues, you’ll also unlock parts for your monster truck, though there are other ways to do so as well. You’ll have access to sponsorships, choosing who you want to work with. These are essentially small challenges and objectives that if you complete them within the allotted events, you’ll earn money and parts for your trucks. You’re also able to hire staff for your team, each of which have a small cost, but will give bonuses to specific components like extra cash earned, lower entry costs, better torque for your engine and much more.

Now, since this is a ‘simulation’, don’t expect your typical driving game. Actually, Monster Trucks don’t control anything like a regular vehicle, which should be obvious given their power, height, weight and stature. The biggest initial shock was that you are able to steer both the front and rear axles independently. That’s right, one stick will move your front wheels and the other the rear. This takes some serious getting used to and is touched on within the tutorial. The tutorial will go over the basics and how to do all of the tricks you’ll need to master within the Freestyle and Demolition events as well.

All of the events take place across the United States and will range from race and trick types. Races are your typical lap style races where the first across the finish line wins. I actually really enjoyed the Drag Races though. Here you go one on one with another driver in separate identical lanes where the first driver across the line advances to the next round in a knockout setup.

When you think Monster Trucks, you most likely think of them launching into the air and crushing dozens of cars, and this is where the Freestyle and Destruction events come into play. Freestyle has you chaining tricks together, like donuts, flips, high jumps and a bunch of other tricks to net a high score. Destruction is basically the same, but more objects like cars, outhouses, trailers and others are placed around that will give point boosts and can be used to combo between tricks. Where the issue comes in is that these modes where you focus on tricks utilizes a completely different physics than the racing, so going back and forth in-between event types can be a little confusing as to why flooring the gas makes you go on two wheels in one mode but not the other.

As you win events and earn money you’ll get to customize your trucks in a variety of different ways. Most of your options will be cosmetic only, changing the body type, wheels, flags and other visual flairs. There are only a handful of upgrades you can purchase to improve your truck stats like engine, brakes and more, but these are earned from progressing in the career. I was excited to add a Canadian flag to the back of my truck, hoping to see it flap in the wind as I take jumps, but sadly it’s a static flag that doesn’t move at all. That being said, it’s quite entertaining to see your truck body be a dog or a massive toaster.

While I didn’t expect there to be a robust online mode, and is included, it’s incredibly bare and disappointing. You’re able to create a lobby for your friends to join and race, but that’s really it. You can choose Race or Drag Race. That’s it. Why is there no option for multiplayer Freestyle or Destruction? This is a monster truck simulator and you’re unable to crush cars with your friends online. Even worse, there’s absolutely no progression to be made online. You don’t earn cash to be used in single player, there’s no ranking system and no real reason to play online since there’s no progression in any way, and the lack of any lobbies every time I’ve checked proves this community is going to be quite bare.

Visually, Monster Truck Championship won’t impress. Yes, the mud that splatters over your wheels and truck’s body looks cool, and the truck damage when panels break off will make you smile, but everything else looks simply bland. Textures look dated, and if you stop and look at the crowd when you’re not moving, you’ll be shocked at how badly these models look, some of the worst crowd models I can remember in recent memory. Frame rate also dips quite regularly, even on an Xbox One X. The packed starts of races with eight trucks all at once can slow to a crawl and the draw distance of objects, trees and shadows is incredibly close and a constant distraction. That being said, being able to drive your massive monster truck in first person view makes it feel much more authentic and I have a feeling most won’t even experience this since it’s not set by default.

Campaign is where you’ll spend the majority of your monster truck time, and while there’s a decent amount of variety, it won’t take long to complete all of the events and purchase all of the upgrades for your truck. Sadly, when you complete this portion, there’s nothing really left to do unless you care about trying to climb the online leaderboards. While touted as a ‘simulator’, that’s more of a loose description.

If Monster Truck Championship was a budget title for $20 to $30 or so, I’d have no problem recommending it for a fun weekend that is much like a guilty pleasure. Sadly, it’s priced at basically double that, and while it has some good ideas, its execution feels sloppy and comes across more arcade than simulation, even with having to use both sticks to control your monster truck. Like your favorite fast food you know isn't great for you, you still enjoy it every time you pull up to that drive through window, though you may have to crush a few cars in the way with your monster truck.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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