A barebones yet highly enjoyable monster truck sim.
There’s something about monster trucks that should translate perfectly to games. They exist almost in their own world, sectioned off from the rest of entertainment, not quite as detail-oriented as NASCAR but not quite as intentionally bombastic as the WWE. But what makes them so great is their huge, over-the-top ability to take down anything in their path and still get up to breakneck speeds. While it doesn’t have the luxury of using the real-world Monster Jam license, Monster Truck Championship makes this crossover work about as well as you could hope. Even with its higher emphasis on simulation over arcadeyness, its level of control over these giant metal beasts feels wonderful, both on the racetrack and in the freestyle arena. The only problem is that there isn’t more of it.
Compared to its officially licensed counterpart, Monster Truck Championship puts a lot more emphasis on the simulation aspect of its monster truck simulator. Trucks don’t have a boost, nor can you control them in mid-air. Instead, you have a high degree of control over the trucks without it ever feeling unrealistic or punishing. These beasts can get up to exhilaratingly high speeds and do awe-inspiring tricks, and while you need to take note so that you don’t lose traction or flip over, the gameplay always feels like it’s giving you the benefit of the doubt when you’re doing something cool.
"These beasts can get up to exhilaratingly high speeds and do awe-inspiring tricks, and while you need to take note so that you don’t lose traction or flip over, the gameplay always feels like it’s giving you the benefit of the doubt when you’re doing something cool."
Most of the game’s structure falls into the career mode, where you participate in sequences of multi-staged events to gather points and make your way from the starting National League into the higher prestige, more rewarding Major League. Every event consists of some combination of stages, and you garner more points the better you do in every stage. The more points you get, the more events you unlock, until you reach the league’s finale and you move up to the next stage of your career.
The actual gameplay occurs in one of four ways: longer races, short one-on-one drag races, simple freestyle trick showcases, and other demolition-focused skill showcases. Every event does a good enough job of mixing up the sequence of stages, so you don’t feel like you’re playing the same thing over and over again. There are six or seven unique courses for each type of event, and they’re generally diverse enough to feel distinct from each other course in an event type. Some long race courses, say, are much longer and more straightforward, while others have diverging paths or are set in packed stadiums. The drag races, which are much shorter 8-person tournaments, have a lot more variety, mostly due to their short length. Some are less than 10 seconds and require a single turn, while others are a bit longer, maybe 25 seconds, but require some more tight turns and jumps. These give you a lot less room for error, especially with their focus on getting a good RPM even before you start, but they can be the most fun in their quick runs.
Freestyles and demolition events are set in the same arenas, each of which is crafted to naturally allow you to keep your combos going. Even when you’re not attempting a massive, death-defying trick, odds are you’re still performing some long jumps or bicycles to connect you between big tricks. Plus, they all start out with a planned, slow-motion major stunt that gives some early vigor to your run. I always felt in these trick showcases like I was actually doing something cool and that the game rewarded what I thought were the coolest things I did, even if they weren’t the biggest tricks. Even if doing backflips can get old after a while, I always felt like I was doing the kinds of tricks that would get me “ooh”-ing and “ah”-ing at an actual monster truck event. It doesn’t hurt that these courses, along with the trucks themselves, look really good, from the dirt coming off the tires to the shine off the truck doors, and their impressive load times on the Xbox Series X makes it very easy to jump into events.
"Even if doing backflips can get old after a while, I always felt like I was doing the kinds of tricks that would get me “ooh”-ing and “ah”-ing at an actual monster truck event. It doesn’t hurt that these courses, along with the trucks themselves, look really good, from the dirt coming off the tires to the shine off the truck doors."
You’re mostly free from any detailed management of your career, aside from the ability to hire sponsors and staff to your team. Sponsors give you specific missions to complete, like land a backflip or win a race, in exchange for reward money. The harder the mission, the bigger the payout. Your team, on the other hand, is the only real way to improve your truck. You can choose your truck’s chassis for the cosmetic change, but the team you build, which grows as you progress, makes the real changes to your truck’s stats in exchange for a piece of your income. You can also hire managers that give you higher income and lower event entry fees over time.
While the ability to add engineers to your team is a good idea in theory, the game’s economy and overall lack of difficulty make team management almost entirely moot. Aside from the first few events, I was never lacking in the financial department. I was regularly making much more money than I’d need for entry fees, so even the best engineers taking even 10 percent of my income was hardly a tough concession to make. And with the chassis and other cosmetic options having no effect on gameplay, it’s easy to completely forget about the economy altogether.
When it comes to actual gameplay, too, I found that I breezed through almost every event without much stopping me, emphasizing how short the campaign really is. Even without the best team members or most upgrades, I regularly finished in the top 3 of almost every event, if not outright winning them. Even in the final, theoretically most challenging league, any event that I didn’t win was a disappointment, not because of my desire for greatness, but more so because of the opponents’ general lack thereof. I often found myself leading races wire to wire, and I sometimes would double the next highest score in freestyles, all on the normal difficulty. The game’s structure lends itself to forcing you back to previous events to place higher in the standings and get more points, but when all was said and done, I had not only not needed to go back, but I had unlocked most future events without so much as retrying a single one.
"I was able to barrel my way to the top of the highest league in about 5 hours, and by that point, I felt like I had accomplished everything there was to do."
It doesn’t help, then, that the game is far too barebones to keep your attention for longer than a few hours. Because every track is used in every league, they become extremely repetitive by the time you reach the Majors, with the only change being the number of laps in a race and a change in the logos on the sides of buildings. I was able to barrel my way to the top of the highest league in about 5 hours, and by that point, I felt like I had accomplished everything there was to do. There aren’t other trucks to change how you play, nor are there any substantial other modes aside from traditional offline and online quick play. I wanted to continue playing, but I had little incentive to go back and complete everything all over again.
Despite lacking an official license, Monster Truck Championship puts itself in a great spot to be the premier monster truck racer on the market. Its simulation feels great and finds a good balance between realism and encouraging impressive stunts, and a diverse array of tricks allows you to feel like you’re achieving all the cool things monster trucks should be able to do. Without anything in the way of endgame or really any reason to return once the campaign has ended, its only major problem is selling itself short. I really wish there had been more to Monster Truck Championship’s package, since it shows glimpses of a great foundation for a top-tier monster truck simulator.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Balanced sim gameplay; Beautiful courses; Good event diversity; Encourages the most fun aspects.
Far too easy; Very short; Little reason to care about economy.
Monster Truck Championship makes a case for the most impressive monster truck simulator on the market, but its lack of content hinders its longevity.