Off-road veterans Rainbow Studios have been providing me with thrills and spills right back to 1998’s original Motocross Madness. In recent years they’ve pitting motocross bikes against quads in the MX vs ATV series. The developer has since moved on and invites players into the over-the-top world of monster trucks.
I’m familiar with racing off-road in virtual rally cars and motorbikes, but huge trucks with oversized tyres in a new one for me. The truck handling in Steel Titans 2 is very interesting and took some getting used to. The game uses both the left and right thumbsticks to steer the front and rear wheels, independently. This gives you a massive amount of steering control as well as enabling tighter turns. It also makes it very easy to flip the truck if you are going too fast.
The game is set across five huge environments that are unlocked through the course of the single-player campaign. The campaign consists of a series of chapters that feature a mix of event types. The events range from stadium-based races and monster truck stunt antics to waypoint and circuit races across the game’s outdoor environments.
Freestyle stunt events in the arena require players to get as many points as possible jumping, rolling, and flipping their trucks. Some events add destructible objects for extra points whilst others require only certain types of stunts to be performed. There are also indoor head-to-head races and knockouts.
The outdoor areas range from an open parkland theme to a spooky nightmare- there’s even a dog-inspired area. The areas start reasonably true-to-life but then start to take a turn towards the absurd. I’ll go into this more a little later, but aside from the Mario Kart elements in the actual races, the environments are very well designed. They even feature deformable terrain that leaves proper tracks and marks as the trucks slide through the mud.
Outdoor events consist of circuit races and checkpoint-to-checkpoint races. Some events divide the participants into two groups and have them going in opposite directions for a bit of extra carnage.
Each area is paired with a series of similarly themed unlockable trucks. As players progress through the chapters these themed trucks unlock, as do the various events for casual play. The game can be played in a single-player career mode, local split-screen, and online. It’s nice to see local multiplayer, making the game great for some couch tournaments.
Steel Titans 2 wasn’t a game that I was immediately enamoured by. The graphics are passable, propped up by the detail in the monster truck models and the deformation of the ground as the trucks churn it up.
The vehicles drive, unlike anything that I’ve ever driven in a game before. The rear-wheel steer took a little while to get adjusted to. Like motocross, monster trucks need a delicate had to avoid losing control. Once I’d got a handle on this discipline and resisted the desire to open the machine up, the truck became a pleasure to drive. The front axle is enough to traverse most environments, but the rear-wheel steering is very handy for negotiating tight turns and great for donuts as well!
The game tries hard to translate the spectacle of real-life monster truck events but, instead of playing it straight like 2K does with its WWE games, Steel Titans 2 has one foot in Mario Kart territory. This semi-cartoonish approach didn’t sit well with me, reducing what could be a realistic monster truck simulation into an arcade game. It’s a shame, as the physics are good and the trucks are very challenging to drive (in a good way). But the powerups and fantasy elements in the outdoor environments betray a series that doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 offers some interesting racing across some great outdoor environments as well as some less interesting arena events. The cartoonish aspects contradict the effort put into bringing these huge trucks to life. The result is a game with an identity crisis that doesn’t seem to respect its subject matter as it should. Fans of the real-life Monster Jam trucks may get more of this game than I did, even though I did enjoy the truck handling and challenge of the cross-country races.