Rainbow Studios’ MX vs ATV series let players tear up dirt roads, but its upcoming Monster Jam Steel Titans invites them to destroy just about anything. The developer’s first foray into the wild world of Monster Jam aims to provide an authentic experience to diehard fans that’s also welcoming to curious newcomers. I recently sat in on a gameplay walkthrough and came away impressed with how flat-out fun the game looked despite not being a monster truck aficionado. What impressed me most, though, is that Steet Titans was created in a dev cycle that specifically banned employee crunch. This admirable feat in workplace management and ethics could help ignite the engine of a broader reform in game development.
Monster Jam Steel Titans puts players behind the wheel of over 25 trucks both classic and contemporary. Well-known names include Grave Digger, El Toro Loco, and Max D, with additional vehicles slated to roll in post-launch. Players can tear it up in throughout 12 stadiums, 10 of which are based on real-life venues, and 6 arenas.
The game wastes little time getting players into the action. As soon as Steel Titans begins, players are dropped into an open world called Monster Jam University. This free-roaming area presents a great place to explore, practice tricks, and uncover collectibles and other goodies. Monster Jam University isn’t a static zone either. It expands in scope and activities as players unlock new modes through the campaign.
These modes includes a single-player campaign, 2-player split-screen, and more creative destinations like Timed Destruction. This particular mode tasks players with demolishing as many objects as possible within a limited time frame. Additionally, Monster Jam features four types of racing modes: Head-To-Head, Circuit, Rhythm, and Waypoint. Head-to-Head consists of traditional one-on-one races but others, like Circuit for example, features multiple competing cars. Such a thing wouldn’t be feasible in real-life Monster Jam but Steel Titans taps into Rainbow’s racing expertise to make it a reality. Those looking to get crazy can visit Stunt mode to try Freestyle and Two-wheel Skills destinations. The main menu can be accessed at any point so that players can switch from mode to mode quickly and easily.
An attention to authenticity aims to capture the unique aspects of controlling a monster truck. Unlike regular vehicles, these behemoths function on four-wheel steering, meaning real drivers steer both axis individually. This increased control over the wheels allows them to perform the myriad of impressive stunts that fans adore. Monster Jam’s dual-stick set-up emulates this setup by assigning each axis to one of the sticks.
With skilled finagling, players can manipulate their wheels to perform signature tricks such as crab walks, back flips, and power-outs. I watched the lead designer pull off neat tricks like spinning out from a downed position to get the truck upright. Tricks can also be comboed and chained together; the higher the chain, the greater the rewards. For those who require extra help, Monster Jam also offers a simplified single-stick mode that ties all of this action to one analog stick.
The physics engine makes it so that stunt execution is based on actual vehicle handling as opposed to a following a physics script. Rainbow’s custom-built destruction technology allows players to smash through environmental and scene objects such as fences. Body panels fracture and break in a realistic manner as trucks take on damage. Terrain deforms too; tires can spin themselves into ditches and holes. I felt the inherent fun of the sport watching the game’s lead designer make death-defying jumps, perform cool tricks, and smash all manner of objects. I may not know monster trucks, but Steel Titans makes driving one look immensely entertaining.
Monster Jam Steel Titans may be goofy fun, but it also acts as a counterargument to one of the most serious issues plaguing game development: crunch. For those unaware, crunch is a common practice of game studios where employees are asked/expected to put in excessive amounts of work time, including nights and weekends, to get a game out the door by its deadline. It’s a controversial practice due to the physical and mental burn out that often accompanies it. Thankfully, crunch has garnered increased attention in recent years due to a rising number of developers speaking out against it. Rainbow sits among these concerned voices and hopes to make a statement with Monster Jam Steel Titans, which was intentionally developed without any crunch whatsoever.
Rainbow CEO Chris Gilbert credits the accomplishment to the studios’ willingness to ax crunch from the get-go and then planning with that mind. Gilbert hopes their example inspires other developers to make similar workflow adjustments. “We have the same responsibility to our colleagues and to the industry to do our production aspect of our job well as we do to our fans to actually execute the game experience itself.” says Gilbert. “Crunch isn’t just a bad idea on ethical terms but it also makes your games worse and makes it harder to plan how long they’re going to take.”
Not only has eliminating crunch and setting more sensible milestones help Rainbow ship Monster Jam on time, but they claim that it’s a better game as a result. After all, it wasn’t created off the backs of overworked employees. The lead designer remarked that he hadn’t worked a Saturday or Sunday in “ well over a year”.
Monster Jam Steel Titans looks like it could be a blast for enthusiasts or anyone that likes to see giant trucks smash things to bits. In the grand scheme of game design, it also serves as inspiring proof that projects can be completed without working developers to the bone. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long to hop behind the wheel of their favorite truck.
Monster Jam Steel Titans game launches today for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
Edited by Marcus Stewart