Few people can deny the basic allure of the monster truck. Young boys and a few adults marvel at the sight of what looks like an average truck with massively oversized tires roaring through stadiums and crushing almost everything in its path. With such a machine as a big attraction on its own, it is surprising to see that video games centering on monster trucks have been, at best, less than mediocre. Small and big game publishers alike just can't seem to make a monster truck game that is enjoyable by even hardcore fans of those vehicles. Zoo Games' latest effort, Monster Trucks Mayhem, tries to rectify this and create a good racing game centered on these behemoth machines. Unfortunately, despite some great strides, some key decisions and omissions keep alive the streak of less-than-mediocre games.
Monster Trucks Mayhem presents monster trucks in two different competition types. The first is the basic racing that you'd come to expect from a vehicle-based title. You'll race against three other opponents in a two-lap event in seven different environments. Each track is littered with obstacles such as cars, billboards and log piles, just to name a few. Unlike other games, where these objects become hindrances, the title takes full advantage of the fact that you're a monster truck and has you demolish them for bonus boosting power. In a way, the game is encouraging you to get off the road and bash into everything if you want to beat the competition and get a fast time. The title also has a good variety of tracks for you to go through. Some are pedestrian fare, like desert and forest landscapes, but things go into fantasy territory when they ask you to race in places like sewers and rooftops.
The other competition type is more varied, as it has you performing various tasks to win and unlock new vehicles. Some of these involve breaking a certain number of objects within a certain time period or jumping from mountain tops to hit targets at the bottom. These are not only something different from what you'd expect of a racing title but turn out to be the most challenging and fun activities in the game.
Monster Trucks Mayhem faces a myriad of problems, but one of the biggest issues is that everything feels truncated. There are a total of 20 events, but the game cheats a bit by making you go through the same seven courses twice (normal and reverse). The seven bonus events are nice, but it would have been better to see more of them in the game since they're tons of fun. They are also more challenging than the races, since it would be a stretch to call the AI drivers intelligent and you'd have to work very hard if you want to lose at all. There are eight cars to choose from, but there's nothing really different about them. Aside from their looks, every vehicle performs exactly the same. Without any differences in handling or speed, there doesn't seem to be a reason for the player to try anything else. Finally, the game only features one mode. Without anything like mini-game modes, quick races or even multiplayer, the player is restricted to going after the campaign mode only. With the ridiculous AI making this a game that can be beaten in an hour at the most and no real payoff once it is all over, the player will definitely feel shortchanged with the experience.
The controls are simple and work fine for the game. With the Wii Remote held NES-style, steering the vehicle requires that the remote be tilted left or right. Button 1 hits the brakes while Button 2 accelerates and either the A or B button activates the nitro boost. The controls are responsive but not overly sensitive, so vehicle control feels natural. The only complaint would be menu navigation. Unlike other games that let you control the menus with the d-pad, this title has you take advantage of the IR controls and point at the button in the menu you want to hit. It gets cumbersome since you'll constantly be switching remote positions just to play through the title, but it feels especially awkward if you're using the Wii Wheel peripheral.
If there is one element that is completely positive, it would be the graphics. The trucks look great, even if the tires don't seem to be moving at times. The environments have clean textures and don't suffer from issues like pop-in or thick fog hiding draw distances. Particle effects, like explosions and nitro boosts, also look clean and don't harm the engine displaying things at a constant 60 frames per second. Combined with a 480p resolution at 16:9 widescreen, which isn't often seen in budget titles, and you have a good-looking package here.
The sound is minimal at best. The music is a generic rock-techno mix that sounds fine for a racing title but has the unfortunate distinction of being short. You'll hear all of the tracks before all of the environments become unlocked. The roars of engines, along with explosions from crunched cars and nitro boosts, sound fine and make races exciting. Unfortunately, other sounds, such as castle arches breaking and trees being hit, lack any strength and all sound the same. Overall, it seems like the bare minimum was made in the sound department to make the game feel like a finished product.
The prevailing theme to come from Monster Trucks Mayhem is that it provides too little of everything, no matter how good it is. The racing may be good, but there aren't enough tracks to make it enjoyable in the long term, and the same can be said for the various challenges. With no multiplayer and no other modes to speak of, there really isn't much of a game left here. If you're a die-hard fan of monster trucks and want to play a game featuring them, you'd be better off renting this title, with plans to rent something else once you complete it. I'm hoping that the next time the developers work on a monster truck game, they decide to make it much more substantial than this one.
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