There are few things that scream America more than Monster Jam. From the ridiculously humongous wheels to the fireworks, the pageantry and the sheer ceremony of horsepower, there's something about watching a ridiculously proportioned monster truck crushing a car that screams U-S-A. And, while it may not quite be a completely faithful recreation of the real thing, Monster Jam: Crush It still provides plenty of fun.
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There are three modes to get stuck into here, each of which lets you race as one of your favourite trucks. From well known legends of the show like Grave Digger and Madusa (until writing this review, we had no idea this was driven by the former WCW wrestler of the same name), to our new favourites, El Toro Loco and Monster Mutt (which is done out like a dog, complete with giant novelty ears), there's a grand total of 24 lovingly recreated monster trucks on offer, giving you plenty of scope for picking a favourite.
There are three main modes here, divided up into two very specific different types - Stadium, and Hill Climb. The Stadium events take place in authentically recreated 3D stadiums, and give you full control over your vehicle, while Hill Climb mode plays out in a more 2D setting, and actually feels a lot like legendary motorbike platformer, Trials.
It's probably best to start with the Stadium events, as there's certainly a lot less of them. With just half a dozen events to be found in each category, you'll likely blaze through the Freestyle and Race sections in under an hour if you know your stuff - although for younger (and less experienced players), they do provide a pretty substantial challenge. While the races here may be brief and to the point, they're also surprisingly tricky, as you try and wrestle your monster truck from point A to point B slightly faster than your computer opponent. With an over the top physics engine, plenty of lumps, bumps and jumps in the way, and a computer opponent that seemingly knows how to handle their truck, beating your foe to the finish is easier said than done, and it'll likely take several attempts before you manage to perfect your route, and control your throttle enough to make sure you cross the line first. As a handy tip from us, just remember that you don't have to fit through the finish post - simply crashing into it will count. And if you can crash into your foe and flip them at any point, more the better.
Stadium Freestyle events, meanwhile, are all about style. Rather than a race, this is like ballet, as performed by 1,500 horsepower monster trucks. Presented with an open arena in which to go nuts, there are only two rules - 1) don't stop moving, and 2) whatever you do, do not reverse. You'll gain points for performing jumps, earning more points the longer you stay in the air - but staying still (or getting yourself stuck) will eventually start to actually take points off you. Reversing, meanwhile, is enough of an admission of defeat that it'll instantly start to dock your score. While it'd be nice to get points for performing more moves than just jumping - getting rewarded for driving on two wheels, for example, would be nice, as would a bonus for a perfect landing - it's still fun while it lasts.
The real meat of the game, however, comes from its Trials-like mode, Hill Climb, where the camera switches to a more side-on perspective, your car drives pretty much in a straight line automatically, and the only controls you really have are over your throttle, and the attitude and pitch of your truck.
Kind of like a platformer, only without a jump button, here, your success depends almost entirely on how well you can control your throttle, as you'll have to time your approach to ramps with perfection. Leap over the top of a bump, and you'll spend so much time off the ground you'll end up wasting all your momentum - instead, you'll need to slow down for bumps, and do your best to hug the game's rugged terrain if you want to get to the end as quickly as possible.
Here, too, there are three different modes on offer, each letting you take on the game's set of 28 courses in a slightly different way. Time Attack is the most basic mode, and simply asks you to get from A to B as quickly as possible - all you'll need to do here is get your monster truck from one end to the other, in one piece (i.e., without flipping your car or otherwise getting yourself stuck). Pushing the left stick or right stick forward or backwards will let you adjust the attitude of your car mid-air, letting you angle yourself just right for those hard to reach jumps. Sometimes, all you have to do is land your front tyre on a landing ramp to get the traction you need to drag the rest of your monster truck up. Staying on the ground for as long as possible, and getting your speed just right as you approach the jumps is key to your success.
Stunt mode, meanwhile, is all about getting as many spins and rolls in between you and the checkpoint as humanly possible. Any time you leave the ground here, you should be holding the stick in one direction or another, to send your monster truck rotating like a catherine wheel. Meanwhile, the final mode, Survival, changes up the designs of the course slightly, adding in lots of big wooden ramps (and loops), whilst also dropping in a few dozen piles of explosive barrels. Time your jump wrong and land on the barrels, and it's kaboom for you.
There's even collectibles to grab, too, as each of the three modes has its own set of five letters scattered throughout (C-R-U-S-H) for you to collect. Figuring out how to time your jumps for the best, so you can actually grab the letters is sometimes easier said than done. And just so there's always something new for you to unlock, the vast majority of the cars in game are locked off when you first start playing, with each having its own, unique unlock requirement - usually earning a silver medal or better on a track. We should probably note that the game's very generous with trophies, too - your first few hours with the game will be nothing short of an unlocking spree, with the trophy notification popping up after almost every event.
However, while many of the unlockables are linked to achieving a certain medal in specific events/races, it's a bit of a disappointment that there's nothing here to tell you what the tiers are for each medal. If you get a silver, there's nothing here to tell you what you'll need to score to earn either the gold, or the illusive platinum - something that's a bit of an oversight for a game that's so focused around chasing a high score. It's also a bit of a disappointment that you can't filter the game's leaderboards by friends only. We don't really care that much how we compare against the world's finest - but we do care if we're the best of our friends.
Still, if you're looking for a game that prides itself on fun, with a bevy of collectibles to be found, (and plenty of laughs to be had), you can do much worse than Monster Jam. While the two arena modes could do with being fleshed out a little bit more, the surprisingly addictive platformer-with-monster-trucks Hill Climb mode makes Monster Jam: Crush It is well worth a look, especially at its discount price.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4