I have fond memories of playing Microsoft's Monster Truck Madness many years ago on my first 3D gaming PC. In the more than decade since that game was released, there really haven't been a lot of monster truck games, be they arcade or sim, released. Just last month, however, Activision published the next Monster Jam game by developer Virtuos. Monster Jam: Path of Destruction differs from its Urban Assault predecessor in several ways, including by nixing non-stadium events and also in offering a more sim experience. While it has some commendable points, there's still a lot of room for improvement in Path of Destruction.
Fire Up Those Engines
Path of Destruction is a pretty basic game featuring a career mode and support for a second local player to compete head-to-head with. The career mode is clearly the heart of the experience. Within it, players will be able to level up twenty times, unlocking all eight playable stadiums, seven event types, fifty-plus events, over twenty licensed monster trucks, and nine different tricks. Players begin by creating their own monster truck or by choosing from a few authentic ones including Avenger and Afterburner. Initially, a couple of authentic stadiums are available with just a couple of events, but as you complete these and earn XP, more stadiums, events, and vehicles unlock. The goal is to become the Monster Jam World Finals Champion.
Monster trucks differ primarily in appearance but the game also provides you some other criteria to judge them by. Each truck has bar graph associated with its Power, Handling, Durability, Nitro, and Suspension. You can switch to any unlocked truck in between events at the 'Digger's Dungeon.' You can also Test a vehicle before using it as well, although using one and doing poorly really doesn't effect your career stats at all since you can replay events.
Once you have your vehicle selected, it's time to pick the stadium and the event that you want to participate in. The stadiums are really for true fans only as they ultimately don't offer much variety from one to the next. Still, it's nice to see the authentic settings included. The event types that you will play in these stadiums are: Stunt Challenge, Freestyle, Stadium Race, Circuit Race, Time Crunch, Gate Rush, and Team Race. Most of these events are self explanatory but some of these deserve elaboration. I'll explain a couple of these shortly, but first I wanted to point out that before starting an event you can use one of three presets for your truck -- Piston Popper, Crowd Pleaser, and Throttle Out -- to get an edge. Piston Popper will improve handling at the cost of top speed while Crowd Pleaser adjusts your vehicle for maximum air time and trick ability. Obviously, Throttle Out is a preset designed to give you a higher top speed for timed events and races.
So with the Stunt Challenge event, you learn new tricks. Tricks are an important part of the game for not only getting the most out of the experience, but also to earn XP to unlock more content. Stunt Challenges give you a text description of how to perform each trick and then challenge you to perform these tricks several times to compete against the CPU (who aren't on the screen with you during this event). There are nine different tricks available as you play through the career including Donuts, Wheelies, Barrel Rolls, Stoppies, and Big Saves. The Big Save is a vital one -- you'll find yourself flipped onto one side rather often, so knowing how to get yourself right side up without having to respawn (which costs you time and XP) is a trick well worth knowing.
The other event type I wanted to elaborate on is Freestyle. In these events, the goal is to perform as many tricks and crush as many cars as you can within ninety seconds. You can earn a bonus thirty seconds if you avoid having to respawn yourself during the first ninety seconds.
At the conclusion of each event, all of which take roughly five minutes or much less (not unlike real monster truck events), scores are displayed and your XP is totaled. How much XP you earn varies based on your tricks, speed, air time, and the like. If you want to earn XP quicker, or at a slower pace even, you can change the difficulty for each event before it starts from Easy to Hard.
As far as actual gameplay -- Monster Jam Path of Destruction is okay, but it definitely takes some getting used to. The tricky part is just keeping your vehicle upright. That's actually harder to do than it may seem, primarily because the right stick controls the rear wheels while the left stick controls the front wheels. It's also important to use the sticks to land properly when coming down from a jump or you will simply bounce and topple over. The Big Save trick, which requires using Nitro, is a huge help, as is the ability to press X to basically relinquish rear wheel control. All told, if you can get a handle on the controls and treat this as more of a sim than arcade game, you may be in for a good time. But, given that the game is so-so at best, the learning curve may be too much for some to want to mess with.
Control issues aside, the physics and AI are similarly 'meh.' I can't say I was impressed nor really disappointed with the CPU AI in races. The physics seemed mostly consistent though, to the game's credit, and, while I'm not an expert by any means in monster trucks, realistic as well.
The presentation package of Monster Jam offers a smooth frame rate but a significant amount of clipping and flat textures. The authentic textures for the licensed vehicles was nice (although expected), but it's a fairly dull visual landscape otherwise. Most of the audio in game is just the roar of the engines, but some commentary is slipped in there too. The commentary is repetitive and forgettable though, and I wonder if the game wouldn't have been better off without it.
With that, let's get to the summary...