Monster Jam Steel Titans gives players a convincing monster truck experience, but confused priorities and a lack of online play hamstring the game.
Monster Jam is the world's premier name in monster truck motorsports, and Monster Jam Steel Titans is THQ Nordic developer Rainbow Studios' remarkably faithful ode to these over-sized stunt machines. Unlike other Monster Jam-licensed titles, Monster Jam Steel Titans doesn't spend any of its time trying to convince the player as to how badass monster trucks are with over-the-top scenarios or ridiculous gimmicks, instead letting the incredible power of the massive vehicles speak for itself. That said, Monster Jam Steel Titans holds itself back from good monster truck simulation with a blunder-prone physics engine highly, while at the same time missing the mark of being a fun game due to some serious technical missteps and bad developer decisions.
Enrolling players in the real-world Monster Jam University at start, Monster Jam Steel Titans does a great job of bottle-necking players into a quick tutorial of the fundamentals to show players how the game's trucks handle, as well as how to perform a few helpful stunts like off-the-wall flips and power out recoveries. An assortment of equally helpful advanced tutorials are always available after the initial one is completed, and its recommended players check most of them out because (much as one would hope) Monster Jam Steel Titans' monster trucks don't drive quite like the nimbler cars that they're likely more accustomed to. Insanely high torque, four-wheel drive, and a tendency to land on the hood make these hulking beasts a presumably realistic challenge to drive, making the road to mechanical mastery fairly rewarding.
Monster Jam Steel Titans puts player skills to the test in two main arenas: great outdoor off-roading and glitzy stunt competitions held in the packed, floodlit stadiums normally associated with monster truck events. There's a Quick Play option that allows players to pick from a handful of racing and stunt events (and, thankfully, its from here that 2-player split-screen gameplay can be accessed), but Monster Jam Steel Titans' principal focus is to be found in its Career Mode. This campaign of sorts - oddly devoid of cinematics or any contrived stakes - puts players through their paces, first showing them the ropes in simple rhythm races before inevitably pitting them against tough-as-nails times and scores of "AI" drivers in the Monster Jam World Finals.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but the career's potential is painfully ground to a halt by a few big problems, the most prominent of which is the lack of a simple restart button for races. Structured as tournament-like series that score competitors based on overall performance, it's easy to assume that developer Rainbow wanted to maintain an authentic competitive atmosphere by quasi-forcing players to roll with any mistakes they make during these long contests. This would be fine were it not for Monster Jam Steel Titans' frequent frame rate dips and far-from-perfect physics engine, the latter of which wonks out hard and often, with at least half of these malfunctions resulting in ruined runs at critical moments. Players can always quit a series and start over, but this process is made infuriatingly slow by the developer's bizarre decision to make the game always load back into the game's open world, making load times excessively long.
By the by, there is an open world, and the game's sparse offering of outdoor courses are variably carved up and served directly from it. It's in this decent-looking, sizable space where the game could have really shone in the face of Monster Jam Steel Titans' failure to properly replicate the main draw of Monster Jam, but not enough emphasis or time seems to have been placed on the open world. The desert is populated by a diverse array of jumps and set pieces, but they're accompanied by a deficient number of collectibles and virtually nothing else. This lack of development love is compounded by Rainbow's questionable decision to cordon off vast swathes of this sandbox, locking areas behind the purchase of the non-transferable truck upgrades needed to beat the predetermined marks of career competitors.
The AI keeps getting a somewhat passive beating throughout this review, and that's because calling Monster Jam Steel Titans' non-human drivers "intelligent" would be an insult to programmers everywhere. There's a reason why players never see other competitors performing stunts of their own at freestyle and two-wheel combo events beyond Rainbow's dedication to realism, as the AI drivers in races are so simple-minded that they actually just all follow one another in perfect single-file lines during outdoor races. That leaves Monster Jam Steel Titans even more wanting for an online component, an inclusion that the game brashly eschews.
For its $30 price tag, Monster Jam Steel Titans is probably worth it for the dozen or so hours monster truck enthusiasts and other curious parties will spend with it before the excellent feel of the weighty metal behemoths becomes overshadowed by the core game's flaws. More than any other Monster Jam title, Monster Jam Steel Titans does the best job yet of delivering an authentic monster truck experience to gaming audiences, but the game trips over itself at nearly every turn with poor choices and clunky mistakes.
Monster Jam Steel Titans is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One key for this review.