Monster Jam: Path of Destruction Review
Popularized in the ‘80s with the help of Bigfoot and Grave Digger, Monster Truck events are loud, thrilling, and loaded with gasoline-infused adrenaline. If it isn’t your thing, don’t bother with Monster Jam: Path to Destruction; it certainly isn’t good enough to spark a sudden interest in the big-wheel sport. For the fans, it might be good enough, provided you’re willing to deal with a surprisingly steep learning curve, some drab technicals, and a one-dimensional career that doesn’t exactly feature a ton of depth or customization. On the good side, there’s a fair amount of entertainment and the atmosphere seems to work. The physics aren’t bad, the controls are okay, and the various events, vehicles, and required skill is appreciated to some degree. Trust me, if I can have a wee bit of fun playing a monster truck game, it can’t be that terrible.
The graphics are definitely a low point, as they’re muddy and unimpressive, mostly due to mediocre textures and some definite clipping issues. Admittedly, it must be tough to make a monster truck arena look pretty but even so, the developers could’ve set the bar higher; they could’ve worked on the overall level of detail and clarity. However, I’m willing to bet they didn’t have the necessary resources or funding, because this is exactly the type of barely passable visual presentation that reeks of those two dreaded words: “low budget.” Therefore, we have to take that into account and cut ‘em some slack. Besides, it doesn’t look awful. It’s just a little bland and uninspired and in all honesty, it’s unlikely even the hardcore fans would expect much in the way of graphical superiority. Some of the trucks look decent and a few flashy special effects are tossed in for good measure but that’s about it.
The sound is in the same boat. The engine sounds are unrealistic and almost comical due to that lack of authenticity, the crushing of cars really needed to be more pronounced, and the soundtrack doesn’t do anything to bring us into the experience. We do have the benefit of what I assume are voices from professional drivers (they assist in the tutorial and explanation aspects), but the effects and music miss the mark. If anybody has ever been anywhere near a monster truck rally, they’re well aware that it’s an ear-splitting phenomenon. The crowd is loud, the announcer is louder, and the trucks are loudest. That atmosphere needed to be recreated and the soundtrack should’ve been amped up several notches. The sound category is indeed fitting; it just isn’t in-your-face enough…and unless I miss my guess, “in your face” is sort of the point of monster trucks.
If you weren’t aware, monster truck rallies do consist of more than just crushing station wagons from the ‘70s. There are different sorts of races, freestyle events, and the crowd-pleasing stunt challenges. The cool part is that each requires a very different style of driving, which is why the game lets you choose one of three tuning options; each of which are specifically geared toward certain events. It doesn’t take the step a simulator would take, in that you actually have to fiddle with individual tuning elements, but that’s probably a good thing. You really want to spend as much time out on the course as possible, because that’s where 99% of all entertainment resides. You really only have the Career option and you simply progress through a series of events in different cities; it’s pretty linear, in that you can only unlock a couple more events by placing first in the initial offerings.
Obviously, it’s the control and playability that matters most. Thankfully, this isn’t bad and in fact, how the truck responds to impacts and angles does seem just about right. It can get a little frustrating because you need such a light touch on both the throttle and the wheel, but then again, that’s part of the sport. The biggest challenge is learning how to steer with both the front and rear wheels. You handle the front with the left analog (you also use the same stick to alter mid-air position) and you control the rear wheels with the right. This can prove problematic and I kept thinking a different mode of steering would’ve been more accessible, it not more authentic. They do provide an assist when steering, though: if you need to take a sharp turn, just press the X button, and both the front and right wheels will steer at the same time, allowing you to whip around an especially tight turn.
But you will need both the front and rear wheels during trick-oriented events, and this can be quite difficult to master. There are plenty of stunts to attempt and most seem to take way too much practice, especially considering the fact that this really isn’t any sort of simulator. Furthermore, even though we do have four or five different events, that’s basically it; that’s the entire game. As a result, everything starts to feel really repetitive within the first few hours of play, and even upgrades – awarded when you level up – are automatic, and you just unlock new vehicles as you go along. Then you’ve got some iffy collision detection and that aforementioned frustration level can spike at certain times. Lastly, the opponent AI during races is crazy erratic; I saw two trucks simply fly into a wall for no reason, and another flipped upside down and stayed there. It’s just an incomplete production from top to bottom.
Monster Jam: Path to Destruction is a low-budget, niche title that might appeal to those who really love monster trucks, but even that’s pushing it. There just isn’t enough content, the technical aspects fall well shy, the AI can be really weird, and mastering the front/rear steering seems irritating rather than realistic. The control isn’t bad, there is some fun to be had in many of the various events, and practice and patience is rewarded, but it just isn’t enough. Parts of it are kinda interesting and might even keep you playing for a while. That’s the best that can be said for it.
1/6/2011 Ben Dutka