Monster Jam Steel Titans First Impressions Review

There are several subjects I cover, I suggest looking over and finding only the things you are interested in, as it is a long read.

As some of you may or may not already know, Monster Jam Steel Titans was accidentally released and available to download/play for people who preordered through the Xbox Store. There have been various videos posted on YouTube already and I myself posted two gameplay videos to the monsterjam subreddit. I've played the game for about 5 - 6 hours and I have formed my personal opinion on this game already. There will be spoilers in this review so if you want to know what it's like playing the game for the first time and experiencing it yourself, I suggest this is where you stop reading. I am not a professional game reviewer and I've never written one before so I apologize in advance if this isn't the most comprehensive review.

Startup/General Game Modes/Menus --- To start, the game opens with an attractive Rainbow Studios clip and a refreshing title screen which seems to indicate a serious game. The very first thing you are put to do is a tutorial on how to gas, brake, reverse etc. After this you're tasked with completing some box smashing events to get you familiar with the handling. Complete these tutorials and you're left to explore the Monster Jam University training track and the surrounding area. This is technically a free-roam/free-ride style mode, however it is also where you access the main menu which is not very straightforwardly mentioned. While free roaming the open world, press the pause button and up pops a menu from which you will be able to access all the modes. There's Quick Play, Career, a photo mode, and settings amongst other things. From quick play you'll be able to immediately play all the game modes but only with a limited amount of trucks and tracks, the rest of which need to be unlocked by playing the career mode. The game modes include Circuit Racing, Waypoint Racing, Rhythm Racing, Arena/Stadium Racing, Timed Destruction, Two Wheel Skills, Freestyle, and Free Ride.

Circuit Racing- Just as it seems, you are given the choice between two lengthy outdoor tracks to race against a few other monster trucks for a couple of laps.

Waypoint Racing- Set in the outdoor map, there are checkpoints which only appear after you've reached the previous one, leaving you to guess the best route possible.

Rhythm Racing- a style of racing wherein throttle control is key. Much like motocross, you have to find a rhythm in the ramps to produce the best times. Simply holding down the throttle will not do. Later in the review it'll become clear why.

Arena/Stadium Racing- like the stuff you see on TV except with a couple more laps, if you chose.

Timed Destruction- Personally I've not played this mode but based on some trailers, you need only know how to smash portapotties in a timely manner.

Two Wheel Skills- again just like on TV except you could try 2 times or 10 depending on what the game decides to count as an attempt..

Freestyle- In this mode you're let free to do what you want for 2 minutes in an arena or stadium, however chaining stunts together is essential if you want a chance at getting a decent score. They make this easier by laying little floating monster jam symbols around the map called beacons. Hit these and they allow you to keep the combo going if you're close to running out of time to get to the next stunt.

Free-Ride- Self explanatory. You may choose the outdoor map and any arena or stadium to free ride in. No time limits.

Audio --- As soon as the game starts you're introduced to a rather generic rock soundtrack reminiscent of Forza Motorsport 7 music with some different themes for different trucks. The trucks have a rather realistic sounding idle engine. However, beyond this is where the realism ends. Below 6,000 rpm there seems to be no noise, and above 6,000 there's a lot of noise. That noise resembles a Monster Jam Truck.. somewhat. The damage sounds and crowd are also nothing special, but they are there. 6/10

Visual --- This subject is sort of a mixed bag. There are some highs and lows here but it should be noted that this was played on a regular Xbox One and not the more powerful X model, and is not representative of all experiences. The first impression one gets from the title graphically is unrealistic. The environment looks cartoony but nothing short of any other mid level arcade game. The vegetation and textures in the outdoor map tend to be pretty low quality, though the stadiums and arenas are adequately detailed. The best part of the game visually are the trucks. They are nicely detailed stadium lighting reflects nicely on most models. Some trucks look more accurately represented than others. Grave Digger looks rather wide, and Max D a little tall, but the developers insist they are very close to their real life counterparts. There's a noticeable amount of aliasing in certain environments, and trucks become dull and blurred at a distance. They also lose their shadows at about 2 truck lengths from your own. Overall, it's an okay looking game. Not bad, not amazing. 6.5/10

Options/Settings --- If there's one place this game shines, it's in controller options. By default, the truck is in automatic and has linked rear steering. Right trigger is gas, left trigger is brake/reverse, left stick is steering (both front and rear). As noted by the developers many times, you have the option to have the rear steer be a seperate control, however it seemed that the right stick was the only alternative. The game offers several options. You can also have the rear steer be the X and B face buttons, with B steering your truck to the right and X to the left OR B for crab walk rear steer and X for donut rear steer (these are the games terms). You can also make the left and right bumpers (LB RB, or L1 R1)have either of these functions. Additionally you can have the reverse gear engage only when both brake and gas are pressed simultaneously, with the gas button controlling the applied power. You may also choose to manually switch between gears, which in a monster truck are two forward gears and the one reverse. You may bind these actions to Y (triangle) for upshift and A (x) for downshift, or left and right bumper for down and upshift OR left and right stick/ L3 R3 (push in as buttons). The only thing that would have given this category a better score would be the freedom to bind functions to any button. Moving from controller settings, you may also disable the in-air throttle tilt control. The throttle tilt control allows you to lean the truck back when pressing the gas and lean it forward when pressing the brake. At full gas and full brake the truck tilts quickly and unrealistically, but with lower pressure can be controlled well. This is why you cannot throttle down in the Rhythm races mentioned earlier, the truck leans back and causes you to crash, and if you press the brake to control that, the truck accelerates much slower on landing. The whole game mode is mostly just pressing and letting go of the gas the entire race. Steering sensitivity can be adjusted as well and feels best in the lower options. And then there's the obvious like volume controls and a choice between metric and imperial units etc. 8/10

Gameplay --- This is what most people look forward to in a game, right? I would love to say that it is this games strong point, especially in comparison to all previous Monster Jam videogame installments, but there are issues. Actually, the game plays just fine. But it is definitely not the game people were waiting for. It's commonly known within the community that Monster Jam games tend to be on the extremely arcadey unrealistic side of the videogame physics spectrum. The trucks act differently depending on the game mode you're playing. Stadium and outdoor racing will have the truck improve in cornering at speed and stability when beginning to tilt over. In my personal opinion, this handling style is the most realistic of the 3. My one real complaint here is that the suspension absorbs everything, no matter how big or small the jump. Wheelies, stoppies, and bycicles are non-existent here. Arena racing has it's own physics setting where the trucks are tuned to handle better in a tighter environment and acceleration is quite quick. On one particular arena track which had a figure 8 shape layout (the only one of the game), the truck struggled on multiple occasions to engage 2nd gear and my truck refused to accelerate. It was also very susceptible to flipping erratically. The same could be said for the Freestyle/Two Wheels physics settings, except now the truck tends to stick on its side, front, and back to allow you to control two wheel skills. I know that, at least for me and my preferences/expectations, that this is exactly the sort of thing I didnt want in a new Monster Jam game. You may have a different opinion on this and I respect anyone else's view on this but for me this is a huge let down. I will, if anything, admit that they implemented this better than past games. Like most people noted, the trucks do have a tendency to seem to "float" when in the air. This is most noticeable when your trucks top speed is upgraded to max and it flies from one end of the stadium to the other in one jump. When playing in the Free Ride mode, you can choose between these 3 physics settings, unfortunately there is no option for this in actual events, you are forced to use the physics setting that corresponds to the type of event you play. Likewise, in free ride, arena and stadium races can be one lap like the real deal, or longer in length for gameplay's sake, but in the Career mode you have no choice but to unrealistically make several laps around. Speaking of the Career mode The gameplay gets repetitive rather quickly and not having the freedom of these settings in competitions is frustrating. 5.5/10

Performance Issues/ Bugs --- The game is still technically in pre-release stage, so this part (or any part really) of the review may not be accurate for when the title finally releases officially in two and a half weeks. On the first gen xbox one at least, the game struggles with outdoor racing. The fps looks to drop significantly below 30 when all trucks are on screen and there's a lot of vegetation. Theres also a bug where, in outdoor racing, once you've left behind the pack in your quicker truck, there is no engine noise, and you race in silence. Until the game decides it's time to start working again. I also experienced a glitch after completing two rounds of racing and was unexpectedly thrown back to round one and had to do 6 races, as opposed to 4, to complete the event. These issues will probably be patched eventually.

There are still many subjects I did not touch on but these are the main things I think should be noted when considering the purchase of this game. Remember, these are my opinions of the game, and I do not speak for anyone else in this review.

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