We all want games to be good.
There, it has been said. The thing we, as a society, have been slowly moving towards for a generation. Finally, the most controversial comment of the century has been written down and fired across the digital waves of the internet for us all to see.
When we sit down to play a game, we want to enjoy ourselves, be captivated and pulled into another world of adventure, mystery or suspense-filled drama, but there’s also something to be said for the truly awful game. A game that is so bad that it beggars belief. One that offends our senses so completely and utterly and can at times have a sort of “I just need to see this car crash unfold” kind of feel to it that, for reasons you can’t quite describe, you find yourself being pulled back to again and again. Anyone who has been around this hobby for any length of time will know exactly how it feels to come into contact with one of these games. When we play games, we want the experience to illicit some kind of emotion from us. Most of the time, that’s a positive one, but every so often, we find ourselves playing a game that we know is terrible, but we just can’t stop ourselves from picking up the controller and playing ‘just a little more’. In a way, I wish that was Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2. It’s not a bad game at all, not even close, but unfortunately, it’s not a very good one either, somehow managing to thread the needle between good and bad so perfectly that it is utterly cold and devoid of almost any kind of personality at all, and trying to muster any sort of energy, positive or negative, will feel nigh on impossible.
What is Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 then? In essence, it’s a vehicular-based events game in which players will control various styles of monster trucks and take them through events that are, for the most part, racing either round laps in an arena or point-to-point in a more open-world area, with the odd destruction or skill-based score attack mode thrown in there for a bit of diversity.
After taking part in a tutorial section that takes the player through the basic controls and events, the game turns players loose on the main game, consisting of open areas for the player to explore that contain event markers. The player can then choose an event to take part in, change their vehicle or customise their trucks either in the looks or performance department. As the player completes events, they earn XP, which goes towards levelling up and unlocking more events, vehicles and mods. This is all fairly standard fare, but where this game does differentiate itself somewhat is in the controls.
As the player might expect from a racing game, you steer with the left stick and accelerate with the right and left triggers. What is interesting, however, is that there’s an added rear wheel steering element to the game through which, by using the right stick, the players can turn the rear wheels independently from the front. On the face of it, this may seem like a marginal change, but it genuinely adds another dynamic to the steering. Players will find that they can throw their vehicles into corners that a big, lumbering oaf of a machine like a monster truck has no business going into and come out relatively unscathed. Beyond that, there are also trick and assault course-type elements to certain challenge modes, and the rear wheel steering adds a level of control to the game that will see players perform feats and tricks that would otherwise be impossible. Genuinely speaking, one of the most satisfying things I’ve seen in a game in years is when I flip my truck, jam on the accelerator and point the sticks in opposite directions, causing the monster truck to spin like it’s breakdancing and righting itself to allow me to continue on my way.
Once the initial joy of throwing the car about has subsided, the player is forced to revert to a much more mundane affair, and although there are a good variety of racing or event types to be getting on with, your bulk of the experience will be spent competing in races, either round a track or point-to-point. The point-to-point events shirk the usual “track” that we would expect from a race, instead placing competitors at one end of the map and largely asking them to make their way to the other side and back by any means necessary. Think you can handle rolling down that hill over there? Go for it. Or,you might spy a path you can really put the pedal to the metal on to give you an advantage. In my experience of this section, these races were as much about figuring out your route on the fly as it was your ability to manoeuvre your car. Many of these point-to-point races were set in the open environments you had been exploring to find events to take part in, so many players will see these sections as a test to see how well the player has gotten to know the region. The problem with this, however, is that other than to seek races, which are, for the most part, clearly signposted, there are little to no interesting features that would encourage the player to explore and learn the area. They are blandly competent and nothing more.
Beyond this, there have been attempts to flesh out the experience somewhat and offer some variety to the event types. The most interesting of these revolve around time attacks and scoring events, asking the player to do things like cause as much destruction as possible before the time runs out or showcase their ability to throw the monster truck into the air and perform tricks for points whilst competing against other truck drivers. These events can have some fun to them due to the steering mechanics, but they are largely short-lived, and the player will be back racing against other trucks before they know it.
Taken as a complete package, it’s really hard to recommend this game to anyone at all, even if you are a big fan of monster trucks. Never before have I experienced a game that is so completely and utterly bland in its competence. The environments aren’t ugly or badly designed, it’s just that there’s nothing in there that serves as an effective hook to want to pull the player back in. The races and event types also feel well made but will leave players feeling cold. There are no stakes for winning or losing, other than to know that you won or lost, and even the opportunities to breathe life into the game through the truck customisation features fall sorely into the “meh” category. Ultimately, I suspect that Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 lacks the bells and whistles of a game that would seriously command your attention because of budgetary constraints. It’s clear form playing this title that the developers were on a tight budget, and in fairness to them, they have delivered a competent baseline for a fun game. There are no bugs that I encountered, and the way the Monster Trucks control are surprisingly fun and nimble for what I would expect to be a lumbering elephant of a machine to handle, but they stopped there before injecting these controls into a game that will keep your attention beyond the first play session. In a way, I hope they get the chance to make another game and build upon what they have here, it’s just that to get to that point this game will need to gain a level of success that it seems completely incapable of garnering.
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia, Xbox One
Release Date: 1st March 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 was provided by the publisher.