Massive tyres, 1,6000HP engines, insane jumps and incredible drivers who are willing to crash, bash and trash their vehicles in the name of competition and entertainment. Yup, monster trucks are all sorts of awesome, and playing Monster Truck Championship has made me add a new item to my wishlist: drive a monster truck. But for now Monster Truck Championship will have to do, so let’s see if this newest attempt at capturing the size and power of these awesome machines stacks up, shall?
Teyon say Monster Truck Championship is geared more towards the simulation side of things, but that’s impossible for me to say because I’ve never driven a monster truck. I don’t think I can even begin to image how those 1600HP monsters would go round a bend. All I can talk about is how they feel in the game. The first thing that you’ll learn is the accelerator is your best friend. Thanks to their chunky tyres, these trucks have the most control when you’re hitting the gas, and can feel like icebergs at low speeds. The good news is that you’ll barely ever use the brake, and during races you’ll almost never have to take the foot off the gas. Just sliding these things into a corner will slow you down enough, and learning to feather the throttle to keep the revs up lets you rip through the bends. Despite their size, Teyon portrays these trucks as having almost a floaty feel through corners, presumably due to the huge tyres and the ultra-bouncy suspensions. They’re also surprisingly touchy, willing to over-steer at a moments notice.
The monster truck party trick is that they come packing separate rear-wheel steering for those tight turns and epic donuts. This feature is mapped to the right stick on a controller, so it feels pretty easy to get accustomed to. I typically found that in straight circuit racing the rea-wheel steering wasn’t so useful, but in the freestyle events where you need to slow down to line things up being able to turn on a dime is great.
Overall, the mighty monster machines of mayhem are good fun to drive, but I would have liked a some controller vibration feedback when cornering. Right now, there’s no feedback when you’re sliding. Having a little vibration through the pad would help sell the size and power.
The good news is that when you plug in a steering wheel everything becomes a lot more fun. My Logitech G920 was recognized without a problem, so hopefully that’ll be the case no matter what wheel you own. There’s really no comparison between driving with the wheel versus the controller. Immediately the wheel starts delivering the feedback, with plenty of weight. Even the basic G920 was managing to make the monster trucks feel heavy to drive, and a lot of work to muscle around. And at slow speeds, it’s like trying to turn a lump of concrete. That’s what having tyres the size of houses will do. And that’s when the rear-wheel steering comes in handy.
Using the wheel did bring to light one the things Teyon haven’t simulated: actual monster trucks typically have 2-speed automatic gearboxes where the driver selects one of the two gears, all without needing a clutch. Furthermore, second gear is pretty much used for everything. Monster Truck Championship does things differently with the trucks having four gears, as well as an option to use the clutch. My assumption is this was done because Monster Truck Championship has circuit style racing, something which isn’t usually done in real life. But in freestyle and destruction mode, trying to hammer through four gears and use a clutch really doesn’t work too well.
Career mode is the meat of the singleplayer. Thankfully, Teyon didn’t try to ram a story into the game, so you don’t have to sit through the agony of somebody trying to avenge their beloved monster truck or something. Nope, career mode is standard stuff, tasking you with going from the rookie leagues to becoming the monster truck champion, a momentous event that the game never bothers to actually celebrate. Seriously, there’s not even a screen congratulating you.
As a professional monster truck wrangler you’ll enter events by coughing up the entry fee and aim to win. Every event is made up of several stages that could be racing, drag racing, freestyle runs and destruction shows. Snag enough points through competition and you can enter into the big league finale, kick some ass and advance to the next league. Simple stuff.
Along the way you have some light team management to do. You can hire a few pit crew members who will provide various benefits, but the biggest thing to do is sign up sponsors who offer up big cash bonuses and new parts provided you can meet their criteria. At first these are simple, but later on the contracts are pretty challenging, so if you want to unlock everything you better be prepared to become a monster truck god.
Speaking of parts, as you chug along you’ll unlock new bits and pieces for your four-wheeled beast. The performance upgrades like a better engine or brakes that you’ll never use all make a palpable difference, which I really like. But the real cool stuff is the selection of bodies you can stick on your truck along with cool paintjobs and even some things like police lights or a rocket. It’s not a huge wealth of customization, but it’s enough for a game of this size, I think, and almost everyone should be able to find a body and paintjob combination that suits them.
There’s a lot of things that point toward Monster Truck Championship’s budget constraints. Little things like how the mud splatter pattern on the rear end of your truck is always the same (even though there’s no actual mud in the entire game) or how you texture of the track surface is clearly repeated over and over. Then there’s stuff like sound of the tyres sliding on dirt and tarmac feeling very artificial. Bigger issues include the very noticeable pop-in. Monster Truck Championship is running on the Unreal 4 engine which is known for having pop-in, but this is one of the worst examples I’ve seen in a while. Like, there’s one track where an entire section of tyres on the side of the circuit magically appear as you drive beside them.
There are some things missing, too, that I think would been perfect for a game like this. There’s no weather effects, for example, so every event takes place in the dry, which makes the mud splatter problem even weirder. Where is all the mud coming from? Being able to race around with rain hammering down onto the track could have been amazing.
The destruction and damage isn’t what you’d really hope, either. When the monster trucks slam into each other the sense of size and impact just isn’t there, and the damage modelling is incredibly basic. Damage can also effect truck performance, but again it’s simplistic. Apart from my truck sitting off-angle, wrecking the wheels never seemed to have a real impact on my driving. But if the engine catches fire you will at least notice a major loss in power.
However, one place in which Teyon nailed the presentation is the audio of the trucks. 1,600HP beasts have such a snarl that it immediately makes you want to kick down someone’s door, beat them up, shag their partner/pet/whatever, down a bottle of whiskey and then try to invade Hell. Admittedly, every single truck and engine sounds exactly the same, but I’ll forgive that since they sound so bloody good.
Aside from the normal races there’s a couple of other event types to take part in. Drag races are the coolest, I reckon, because you have to nail your launch and then navigate a couple of corners and maybe even a jump or two. It’s all over in 10-20 seconds, but because it isn’t just a straight line there’s a chance to make up for a bad start in the corners.
Freestyle events are interesting because they completely swap over the handling model. The suspension becomes ultra-soft, and that’s to allow for tricks. Jumps, donuts, spinning on the tyre sidewalls, summersaults, wheelies, backflips and more all count toward your point total. It’s like playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater, but with huge-ass tyres and engines. Meanwhile, Destruction is a variant where you get extra time on the clock for smashing up stuff like cars and caravans.
These events are the highlight of the game, capturing the classic Monster Truck show vibe. I can just picture myself now in the crowd, screaming in delight as massive trucks crush puny humans beneath their…what? Ah. No people crushing. Got it. However, actually trying to perform tricks with any consistency is tricky because the handling is so twitchy and the truck so prone to doing whatever it wants. Even a basic trick like a drift is hard to do because the truck flips over so easily or wallows like a pig in a mud bath. Other tricks like a wall-backflip need you to go at a certain speed, making them hard to fit into a combo, especially as the combo chain times out rather fast. More frustrating is when the combo times out while you’re literally in mid-air doing a flip.
The key is to go against your own instincts which are screaming to just hit the throttle. Those huge tyres and bestial engine urge you to be careless, but it turns out Monster Truck Championship wants you to be more thoughtful and methodical. After a while, you’ll probably start to get the hang of things and approach freestyle and destruction events more carefully than you might initially want to. Once that happens, the freestyle and destruction events are a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the A.I. doesn’t provide a compelling challenge, by which I mean they’re about as dumb as the trucks they drive. Even on the hardest settings the A.I. racers wallow around the track. While I appreciate that they make mistakes and can go tumbling across the track, they’re just way too easy to overtake. At one point, I was lapping other trucks despite my engine being on fire, having crashed magnificently early on. Keep in mind, it was only a 4-lap event lasting about 3-4 minutes.
You also can’t change the A.I. difficulty during your career. You have to choose what level of challenge you want at the very start, and then you’re locked into that. So like me, if you find it too easy and want something more challenging you have to reset your career.
Heading online can help provided you don’t mind the pushing and shoving. Monster truck racing was always going to bring out the inner psychopath, but it’s hard to say exactly how mental things will get once the game is launched. I had Monster Truck Championship a few weeks before it came out, so multiplayer was difficult to meaningfully test out.
I can at least tell you that the two modes available are races and drag races, with both freestyle and destruction events sadly off limits. I would have loved to have seen at least the freestyle events included, perhaps with other players being visible as ghosts or something. But anyway, the handful of races I did manage to get into were a lot of fun with no connection issues to speak of. I do wonder, though, if griefing could become an issue. Obviously with monster trucks you expect the action to be scrappy, but there’s a difference between that and races becoming nothing but smashing into other people.
There’s a lot of room for improvement in Monster Truck Championship. The career mode is fairly basic, and the damage modelling is basic, and there’s no weather system, and the multiplayer is limited, and…yeah. But, at its core the handling is satisfying, and monster trucks aren’t something we get to play around with in games very often. If you have a love of monster trucks I think this absolutely a recommendation, especially if you have a wheel and pedals. If you don’t find monster trucks appealing, then Monster Truck Championship is an okay racer.