The Xbox 360 has been graced with some incredible racing titles since its release in 2005. Project Gotham Racing 4, Forza Motorsport 2 and even the newly-released Race Driver: GRID are just a few of the titles which spring to mind. But with great success, comes great failure, and after looking at preview trailers for Monster Jam, I had little hope that the title would join the successors. Don’t get me wrong, I love racing games, but when one of the main selling points of the game is “Race Outdoors!”, it really gives you little faith in the title.
Monster Jam is based on the live motorsport event tour and television show of the same name in which monster trucks compete against each other in racing and freestyle for entertainment. Believe it or not, this isn’t the first game in the series. In 2002 and 2003, Ubisoft (responsible for the Far Cry and Prince of Persia series) released Monster Jam: Maximum Destruction and Monster 4×4: Masters of Metal respectively. Now Activision (responsible for the Call of Duty and Guitar Hero series) has hold of the license and has brought monster trucking to the next generation of gaming.
Monster Jam isn’t as jam-packed as you would imagine for a next-generation title. There are 20 monster trucks in total, though only six are available at the start of the game. Similarly, there are thirty race tracks and events in total, with only a total of nine available from the start. Players can unlock these monster trucks, tracks and events by playing through the four Series’ and the World Finals, collecting points. Points are earned by smashing obstacles and by completing stunts. More points can be earned by creating combos and driving into bigger obstacles.
The game’s controls are very simple – probably too simple. The right trigger is accelerate and the left trigger is the brake. Holding A gives you a boost, though if you hold it too long (indicated by the bar) your engine blows and you can’t use boost for ten seconds or so. With racing games, you would expect to see quite a few different camera angles, but Monster Jam just has the three. The first is the default angle just behind the monster truck, the second is a little further back than the default, and the third is on the monster truck’s bonnet. The one camera angle I was surprised to have seen left out is the in-truck camera, where you see the race from inside the monster truck, but being a budget title leaving small things out like this are inevitable.
The monster trucks’ handling is monstrous and some of the truck designs are horrible. My least favourite is the “Monster Mutt” truck, which has a sausage-like tail on the back which bounces up and down as you drive. It’s very off-putting and the commentator’s jokes at the start of the events are worse than mine. I’m also very disappointed by the lack of a speed meter and on-screen map or radar. It is impossible to tell how fast you are going so players end up driving straight into a wall or up the side of the mountain when turning corners.
And yes, there are even more negatives. The lack of races means the game’s longevity is only approximately two hours… and people claimed Gears of War was short! I also noticed – mainly within the stadium – a lot of in-game advertising, such as for Ford and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruits chewing gum. Some advertising is fine, but when you can’t go around one corner without seeing a banner with the company’s logo on, you really have to question the developers.
Surprisingly, Monster Jam does have multiplayer for up to four players though it’s only available offline. If it wasn’t for the poor handling and the poor choice of monster trucks and tracks to choose from at the start of the game, it would make a good mode, but unfortunately it isn’t.
Visually, the game is very poor as it looks more like a PlayStation 2 title than an Xbox 360 one. The poor textures stand out and background environments have been cheaply designed. The audio is average at the most and the main menu music is annoyingly repetitive. Another disappointment is the lack of commentary within racing aspect of the game, as the only commentary is present during freestyle events and even then, it is overused.
In all fairness (and I am very surprised I am saying this), the achievements are the best thing about Monster Jam. There is a good variety of easy and hard achievements which will get you playing the Campaign twice on different difficulties. There’s also achievements for smashing all the “Monster Smash” obstacles, which will get players looking for shortcuts in order to find them as well as destroying a number of obstacles such as cars.