We go for years without monster trucks getting much of a look in for games, then all of a sudden we’re reviewing two within the space of a week. There’s a saying about buses that we could apply here, but that would mean we’ve been waiting for ages for games about massive engines and oversized wheels on standard car bodies, and that’s not really true in our case. Whereas the last outing in Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 was more about the playful side of these behemoths, Monster Truck Championship is a bit more serious and even bills itself as a simulation. Does that mean that it loses some of the thrill of romping around in these machines as it tries to make it more technical? Or will having it grounded in a recognisable reality make it a more promising proposition? We’re looking at the next-gen version here, the original game came out towards the end of 2020, so does the extra horsepower bring better performance as well?
Despite what is no doubt a very complex bit of machinery to build and maintain, monster trucks seem pretty simple in their purpose, almost as if the Hulk is being distilled into vehicular form. Truck Smash! Go fast, jump, spin, crush… it doesn’t seem like it’s that difficult to do. Yet that’s what Monster Truck Championship is looking at proving – it’s a lot harder than you think. It’s created as a genuine sporting series with leagues, events and stages that all tie in to determine who’s the best driver across two different disciplines: racing and stunts. Mastering both styles is the key to success, though learning how to control 1200 bhp being put through the wheels of something that has very little weight might be the biggest challenge. Get to grips with the metal beasts and earn enough points and it’ll be time to rise through the ranks and take on tougher competition in the higher leagues. Driving skills aren’t all that’s important though as there’s a team to run and sponsors to please, so time and money needs to be put in to make sure everyone is happy, and that the best upgrades are being made available. Being the best isn’t just a solo effort.
Getting you into the swing of things is a comprehensive training mode. Full marks for here on the way it does it to make sure you understand the mechanics of the machines, and in particular the weight shifting nature that the high centre of gravity brings. Half the events are about tricks and racking up combos to maximise the score, and the tutorial is very good for teaching the linking elements. It does mask a few things at this stage though, mainly that it’s so easy to tip the trucks onto their backs and not be able to spin them back up again without a reset. You’ll discover this in spades as you progress through the leagues and add better performance parts. It’s also not clear that the combo time limits are pretty tight and registering that you’ve done a trick can be quite a way behind actually pulling it off. In a way it puts me in mind of Tony Hawk’s combo meter, and even though Monster Truck Championship is definitely less forgiving it shares a similar idea. At least conveying the racing part is really easy – press accelerator, turn, press brake. MENSA membership is not needed in that respect, but calculating the effect of low friction surfaces under massive amounts of torque might need a bit of brainpower.
With a three league structure that equates to easy, medium and hard, and a difficulty system that is actually easy, medium and hard, there’s a decent mix of challenge available depending on your skill level. Each event has between two and five stages attached to it, and scores are given depending on finishing position for each. The overall performance in the event adds to the league score tally and leads to opening up more events until the end of season championship is available. Do well and you’ll get promoted to the next league. Don’t do well and you’ll just have to keep practicing. The stages are mixes of the race and stunt categories and will be either:
- Race – laps around a circuit against 7 AI opponents,
- Drag Race – very quick head-to-head race,
- Freestyle – stunts and combos around an arena to rack up the highest score,
- Destruction – wreck as many items in the arena as you can.
It’s done so that there’s usually at least one stage of each type for every event, and they’re all relatively quick to get through as well. Monster Truck Championship doesn’t believe in dragging things out. Interestingly, depending on the event there’s a different starting requirement for getting the revs in the right place, with the Drag Race having a kind of mini game for getting the right launch. It’s simple and effective, and has you challenging yourself to do better.
The difficulty level selected determines how many resets and restarts are available, and given the nature of the handling for the basic truck it’s better to go easy to begin with. This allows infinite attempts until you’re used to the handling, and the latter there is the biggest gripe about the game. Driving the monster trucks is like ice skating most of the time. They slide, spin and drift off in different directions to where they’re pointing. I’m sure it’s realistic in how the massive tires and light bodies react with the power of the engines, but it gets really frustrating in the early stages. Buying new parts when they unlock or taking on team members that boost certain stats is one way of getting more control. It’s a nice, yet light touch, addition in the team management, and it’s good to visit it every now and again to check of there are any extras, especially when it comes to grip. Sponsors fall in this area too, though need to be updated constantly as they are only active for a couple of events at most. Pleasing these guys brings in extra cash and unlocks, so it’s wise to always enter an event with a sponsor and hope there are performance upgrades in the parts they reward. There are setup options for each event type as well, so tuning will dial out some of the problems with grip, but it won’t fully solve it… and neither does a completely upgraded loadout.
This being the next gen version, we’re treated to 4K/60 FPS gameplay and faster loading times. In fact, getting into a stage is so fast there’s no time to read any of the loading screen tips. Maybe that’s one thing this generation will make redundant? Sadly on the PS5 there’s no DualSense support which is where the adaptive triggers could have helped with the throttle control and reducing the amount of sliding around from the handling, but even if you get used to the gentle input responses needed it feels lacking without the haptic feedback. It’s possible to compensate with the comprehensive adjustments on the controls (and there’s wheel support), so it’s worth digging through the config menus for that detail. The main action looks really nice though with plenty of particle and lighting effects, as well as damage ripping and tearing sections of the bodies apart. AI isn’t too bad either to race, though any time you tangle with them you’ll be the one that comes off worse… even if they’ve deliberately run into you. I’d love to tell you what it was like to race online, but the game always seemed to think I was signed out of the PSN and lobbies were never populated when I did try. It could be fun with friends, especially the drag events, if they work once the game is launched fully.
Monster Truck Championship is quite a lot of fun. It’s well put together with a wide variety of options that you’d expect from a game aiming for sim status. Is it really a simulator though? I’m not sure on that as my test is usually putting it in cockpit view and seeing if that feels right – here it’s a novelty and almost impossible to do stunt events that way. There’s challenge present with understanding the handling and making it all come together to win an event, and the attempt at adding a team structure to support is welcome, if not very deep. It’s the length that doesn’t really help the game out though. With 30 events to take part in (and that being somewhere near 120 stages) it sounds like a lot, though it’s possible to see the end in only a couple of hours. Some Drag Races are less than 10 seconds long so don’t take much to fly through, and Freestyle and Destruction are short time limits as well. If you’re hankering for some big wheeled action then this will keep you entertained for a while, and help fine tune your gas button control too.
A PS5 review copy of Monster Truck Championship was provided by Nacon’s PR team, and the game is available now on PS5 and Series X/S, as well as the previous generation of consoles, for around £30.