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Monster Jam (Xbox 360)

Rated: U.

Gameplay: Drive a monster truck over and through obstacles in a series of events. These include:
  • Normal races around such places as a shipyard and an airplane graveyard.
  • Eliminator races where the last placed racer is knocked out after every lap.
  • Stadium races round obstacle courses.
  • Stadium freestyle stunt performances. (Crush, smash and jump for points.)
There's a small element of strategy from the use of boost. Boost lets you go faster but heats your engine. Smashing scenery items and pulling stunts allows the use of boost for longer without danger of overheating your truck's engine and disabling boost.

Save System: Automatic save after every event.

Comments: The three main selling points on the back of the box do not inspire confidence: CATCH MASSIVE AIR! DESTROY EVERYTHING! and, er... RACE OUTDOORS!

Race outdoors? I can't think of a racing game I've ever played where I didn't get to race outdoors. It's like a first-person shooter promising to let you 'RUN AROUND WITH A BIG GUN!' or a platformer advertising the ability to 'JUMP ABOUT COLLECTING THINGS!'. I mean, what's next? 'TURN LEFT AND RIGHT!'?

I suppose real monster trucks are confined to stadia and so being able to RACE OUTDOORS! might be novel to actual fans but still... it does suggest that someone somewhere wasn't trying too hard. This is backed up by the opening video of monster truck action which appears to have been shot on a mobile phone. It made me wonder what horror would result when I actually began the game proper. I braced myself and pressed START.

And then something surprising happened.

Monster Jam turned out to be quite good fun.

It's not a serious racing game like Project Gotham or Forza. Sprog1 wanted me to explain how to play the game and I said, "Hang on a minute, I'm concentrating on not crashing into things." Then I realised that that wasn't entirely true. I was mainly concentrating on crashing into as many things as possible.

There's no engine tuning or sticking to the racing line or even much use of the brake most of the time. Monster Jam is about destroying things by driving into them very fast in a stupidly large 4x4. It's a racing game for people who like to hold down accelerate, have a tendency to smack into the opposition at any given opportunity, need a very, very wide track and enjoy leaving a trail of devastation in their wake.

Yep, that'll be me and most children.

Monster Jam is uncomplicated and grin-inducing. The need to constantly crash into stuff takes a little getting used to, though. So does the physics - the trucks and obstacles bounce all over the place like gravity doesn't apply. It's also hard to tell at first what can be driven through and what can't. An eighteen-wheeler or a space shuttle are apparently no match for a truck with a name like Grave Digger but a small pile of ordinary cars won't budge. Luckily (and somewhat unbelievably), the trucks turn virtually on the spot like radio-controlled vehicles, allowing quick reverses out of trouble.

Once you're adjusted to the lack of realism, however, the game becomes a decent romp, even if the low budget feel remains. There aren't many tracks, the AI is ropey and the commentary is dire. That said, there is a 4-player split-screen mode which is pretty unusual these days.

All things considered, Monster Jam isn't big or clever but Sprog1 (age 8) has been playing it and reckons it's almost as fun as the new Mario Kart. I have to disagree. I think it's actually a little more fun.

Conclusion: Launching several tonnes of thundering truck off a ramp and through a luxury yacht is more enjoyable than lobbing shells at Princess Peach.

Graphics: Adequate. They're not going to win any awards for detail but this is only an issue in the stadium events where you're moving more slowly. In races, there's too much going on to notice.

Length: Short.

Rating: 3/5.

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