Who doesn’t love monster trucks? They’re big, they’re loud and they are, just generally speaking, ridiculously cool. Well, if you’re a big monster truck fan then this latest release of Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 might be the game that you’ve been waiting for.
The original Monster Jam Steel Titans released in 2019 and was the officially licensed game of Monster Jam® – as is this new iteration. Monster Jam, for the uninitiated, is a motorsport tour operated by the USHRA (United States Hot Rod Association) that tours the globe although predominantly throughout North America. At these events, they host several competitions between its drivers that vary between freestyle, racing and two-wheel skills.
This new instalment in the series promises to “expand on the game in every way”. It contains 38 of the “greatest trucks in Monster Jam history”, five new open-worlds to explore, 12 stadiums and online multiplayer for the very first time.
Let’s take a look at whether this new game from Rainbow Studios (of Motocross Madness and the MX vs. ATV series fame) and published by THQ Nordic can recreate the epic spectacle of a real-life event.
When first getting into Monster Jam® Steel Titans 2 you’ll first go through a tutorial hosted by the Truck Instructional Navigation Assistant (TINA). It’s a series of short tasks for you to acclimatise to the basics of truck handling. TINA can feel a little bit patronising at times, telling you “you’re doing great so far” when all you really did was press the accelerator and flicked the analogue sticks a little bit. It’s not a huge problem though, the tutorial doesn’t last long and you never hear from TINA ever again. “Like a pro!”
One of the most interesting features of this game is rear-wheel-steering. Playing on a controller, the left analogue stick will affect the front steering whilst you control the rear wheels with the right-stick. It is a little bit tricky to get used to but can be pretty entertaining. It has several implications on how you take corners and how to get the most out of your freestyle skills.
2019’s Steel Titans game did not feature this steering system, going for a more straightforward left-stick-steers-both-axles approach, but since Monster Truck Championship introduced the two-stick approach last year and once you’ve adapted, the new control system is much more engaging.
Following the tutorial, you get dropped into one of five outdoor worlds that are there for you to explore. You unlock more as you progress through career mode – more on that in just a second.
There are a number of different game/competition modes that you can play through. These range from races of the waypoint, head-to-head and circuit variety, to freestyle in timed destruction, two-wheel combo and points challenge formulas. Each of them has a particular flavour and style.
Waypoint races utilise the open-world environments and see you race through a number of checkpoints until they’re all completed. These can be enjoyable due to the open-world nature and the varied paths you can take. Occasionally, however, they are ridiculously frustrating because you end up going down a narrow path and not being able to overtake.
The AI can be of varied performance in these races as well. Sometimes you’re easily the fastest vehicle and for other sections – particularly when it’s narrow and the options are limited – they will steam ahead. Also, some of the paths seem to flip you upside down like a beached turtle.
Head-to-head is either a tense battle or extremely boring depending upon the track. These events take place in stadiums and, generally speaking, the smaller stadiums are essentially circles and the larger stadiums have a bit more variance. The bigger tracks can be challenging and enjoyable to drive but the circles just made us dizzy.
Timed destruction, whilst somewhat repetitive, can help alleviate stress as you try to destroy as many elements as possible. The key here is to chain items together, so you need to plan your routes out and get the biggest combo boost. This was generally the easiest game mode to win against the AI.
Freestyle and two-wheel challenges are where the most skill is required in our opinion. The rear-wheel steering plays a big part as does patience and precision on the gas and brakes – not something we can really attest to having in large quantities. There is definitely a lot of fun and challenge to be had on these game modes as you push the limits of your monster truck control.
Single Player and Career Mode
Playing through career mode is how you unlock more trucks, stadiums and open-world experiences. It will also help level up your trucks to make them faster and perform to a higher level.
However, the chapters feel very repetitive. Churning through them does unlock new vehicles after top-three results and earns XP for vehicle upgrades. If you want to explore more of the worlds, the monotonous career is the only way to unlock them. You’ll have to suck it up, unfortunately.
There is also no way of seeing what’s in store for each chapter, which is mildly irritating. To compound things, the composition seems somewhat random – although most chapters contain a race and a freestyle or demolition event, they aren’t particularly linked together. We think it would be much more coherent if there were grouped challenges. For example, if all competitions in a chapter were waypoint races in a certain open-world or all freestyle challenges in a set stadium environment, that would perhaps make more sense.
There are unlockable items available through other methods too. The open-world setting features separate garages where you can also access challenges. These are point-to-point and demolition races and unlock more XP for your trucks, but not much more.
“The Big Show” is another way of unlocking items, but it’s hindered by poor signposting. Analogous to a full season of varied Monster Jam racing, there is no progress bar so you are unaware of how much progress you have made or if quitting mid-season will cause you to lose progress. Luckily we found out that you do retain your progress, but only because we quit after thinking we were in an endless loop.
Another slight irritation we found is that we could not find a way of jumping to and from the different worlds unlocked, other than driving. This can sometimes be enjoyable, riding around in our chosen monster truck and exploring, but if you want to do a specific garage challenge or fancy a change of scenery, you need to drive there, which is a little clunky.
Ultimately the career and single-player modes are in equal parts enjoyable as they are frustrating. You’ll want to unlock new trucks but aren’t sure how and the experience can be repetitive and flat at times. This is livened up by some unique unlockable worlds to explore as you make progress.
To be frank, the graphics are not the most incredible we’ve ever seen. It’s releasing on previous-gen hardware and despite using PS4 Pro and a 4K display for our review, the visual fidelity is not quite as pretty as other modern racing games.
Despite the overall look and feel lacking in ultimate polish, the open-world environments are pretty awesome. Some are more detailed than others and the first worlds, Camp Crushmore and Bark Park, are two of the plainest, but after that, the themes become nice and varied, including Wastelands which is based around an abandoned desert scrapyard.
It’s also a marked improvement over the first game, especially when you factor in the deformable ground effects.
Unfortunately, audio is one of the biggest disappointments in this game. The roar of a monster truck in an arena is absolutely one of the big draws to a Monster Jam event and this game lacks the roar and the energy delivered by the real-life counterparts.
If like us, you turned the music off after a while, you realise that it masks some of the sound shortcomings. We also witnessed some awkward noises upon collisions – hitting a tree sounds like someone punching a melon. Simply the sound of your AI counterparts drowns out the sound of your individual truck and the engine sound doesn’t match your inputs. We suggest that the audio mix needs refinement.
Split-screen is also included in the game, which is perfect if you’re currently locked down with someone that’s wanting to jump in on the action. The partitioning of the screen is vertical though, which is different to a number of other racing games and it can make it pretty tricky to see where you’re going on some tracks, particularly around corners.
Another feature new for this release is the ability to explore the worlds and race your friends online. There are two options for the multiplayer experience, either by joining public sessions or the ability to create and host your own session.
Within the public session options, you can choose from ‘Free Roam’ where you explore the worlds with a maximum of six players, ‘Versus’ which is head-to-head racing with another player, and finally ‘Race’ where, you guessed it, you race up to five other competitors on waypoint stages.
We had a go in the public sessions a couple of days after release and the results were disappointing. After joining the Free Roam session there were only three other players, but with no way to communicate with them and all the maps to explore, it could be easy to lose the fun quickly unless you stayed together.
The Versus and Race sessions faired worse, with no players on either, and with no way to see the number of players online it could be a long wait. What’s more, for Versus and Races it just throws you into a random arena or world by yourself with no option to choose from a lobby list for example, which just leaves you stranded.
Seemingly not being able to choose different public sessions was frustrating and the usefulness of the online addition will depend on how many users are willing to take the plunge. A rock and a hard place.
What we would love to see done differently
Damage is definitely something missing in the experience for us. The trucks bodies do deform and peel away, but nothing affects performance. It might make us think a bit more about going for a ridiculously hard or impossible overtake or stunt and would make the experience more impactful. In real life events, the trucks get damaged way more than what you see in Steel Titans 2.
The collision physics could also do with a bit more work for us. Even with a head-on collision, there’s not much more to the physics than the car just stopping dead. Pairing improved collisions and damage would make a big difference in future titles.
Combine this with the confusion progression, mish-mash of event structures, last-gen visuals and odd AI behaviour mean there’s plenty on the list for a sequel to improve up. That being said, this is a step forward from the original Steel Titans game.
Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 is light-years ahead of its predecessor but still leaves us disappointed in some areas. The trucks should feel epic and the sound design and implementation don’t help in that regard. Some of the events feel repetitive in the career mode and the AI can be somewhat unpredictable. However, we did enjoy the new open-world environments – although it would be great to have a bit more to do once in them.
That said, there is a lot to complete and work through despite some repetition. Unlocking different and famous trucks is enjoyable, so you will get a lot of hours of gameplay out of this title if you’re already a Monster Jam fan. For that reason then, Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 is recommended for followers of the genre, but might be worth holding off for a post-launch pricing reduction if it’s not one of your biggest passions.
The game is out on 2nd March 2021 and if you pick it up, please let us know your opinions on social media.
|Release date||2nd March 2021|
|Available platforms||PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam, Physical DVD), Nintendo Switch and Google Stadia|
|Version/s tested||PS4 and PC|
|Best played with||Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. This was originally published as a ‘review in progress’, but we have updated it with our final opinions about online gameplay.
Side-note: Gravedigger, which is in Steel Titans 2, is probably one of the most famous vehicles in the world – check it out, in reality, thanks to Donut Media.