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Monster Jam: Path of Destruction
Score: 55%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Virtuos Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports (Racing)/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:
When was the last time you saw a 7,000 pound behemoth crush a puny stock car as if it were a pebble on the highway? How about the last time you went deaf from the roar of the mighty Big Foot as it spun donuts around the steel carcass of an unfortunate vehicular victim? If you have ever been to a Monster Truck show, then you know what sort of mayhem awaits in Monster Jam: Path of Destruction. Part sport, part spectacle, Monster Trucks are the automotive equivalent of professional wrestling; over the top personalities competing head-to-head to sell merchandise to kids.

Let's face it. Monster Trucks really only appeal to young boys with fantasies of driving these big behemoths around and crushing tinier cars under one of the massive tires. So it makes sense why I would argue that Monster Jam: Path of Destruction is a game for kids. Kids don't really care too much about graphics as long as it gets the point across. Monster Jam understands this and caters to its audience, but that isn't always for the best. Drab arenas are filled with muddy textures (well to be fair, it IS mud most of the time) and bland crowds. It only works in so far as the Monster Truck you are driving looks decent enough to interact with its environment, but the overall impression isn't that much better than PlayStation 2 level quality.

The atmosphere set by the heavy guitar riffs and revving engines works well. It helps sell the feeling of being in the arena, but after a few short minutes, that generic guitar track becomes grating and annoying because it is looped over and over again. I know I am being asinine, but would it have really been that tough to include at least one other alternative to the already generic "rock" track? Don't expect much in the way of voice talent either. The inclusion of some pitiful announcer work does not do Monster Jam any favors and couple that with the nearly inaudible soundtrack and blown-out audience sound effects and Monster Jam becomes one big cacophony of car wrecks and engine roars.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by a game that will earn most of its revenue at an actual Monster Truck event, but even I was disappointed by the lack of any attempt at a Story Mode or coherent career progression. Monster Jam: Path of Destruction makes NO attempt to offer compelling story progress or anything other than the bare essentials. The overall message that Monster Jam promotes from the moment you insert the disc is simply "Grab a truck and go."

At least they took the time to include some real names that people would recognize. The benefit of partnering with The United States Hot Rod Association is that Monster Jam includes some popular trucks like Grave Digger, Bigfoot, and Grinder. Though if none of the established names do it for you, there is a fully-featured custom truck design tool where you can pick and choose every body style and decal. You can even customize hood ornaments including pet lizards and prehistoric dinosaurs. After trying out a few of the more recognizable trucks, I decided my own personal creation, The Dragon Wagon, was my truck of choice during my 8-stop National tour to be the Monster Jam National Champion.

You would be forgiven if you thought, as I did, that Monster Jam would be all car crushing and engine roaring, but in fact, there are a few different events to compete in which range from time trials to all out circuit races. Out of all the events, the circuit races have the potential for the most fun, but like all the rest, the fun is quickly drained by poor controls, shoddy hit detection, and a downright awkward physics engine. I shouldn't have to think when I am playing a game about giant trucks with wheels larger than my bedroom. Considering the primary target for this type of experience is also young and presumably inexperienced, it should be easy as pie to get in, cause some chaos, and get out. Instead, Monster Jam bogs the enjoyment down by including additional rear wheel controls, an XP skill progression system, and useless camera angles.

The core of Monster Jam, it seems, is giving kids an escape to a world where they can knock some cars around and do some damage. The harsh truth is that while Monster Jam tries to offer something different in the market, it didn't make the experience fun or enjoyable. Events are over in seconds, the Career Mode can be completed in just a few hours, the creation tools aren't very deep or robust, and the only real potential for fun (the Multiplayer Mode) is a relative afterthought. When competing with a friend in the Multiplayer Modes, there are no special events or bonus incentives to pursue. With the same events as the Single Player, the fantasy of competing in an all out Monster Truck massacre is quickly dashed by the reality that you will now have to take turns to see who can reach the high score.

For a franchise that is supposedly "high-octane," Monster Jam: Path of Destruction is decidedly sluggish when it comes to explaining the rules and controls to a newcomer. Every so often, a new event will offer a brief tutorial on a new trick or maneuver that it expects you to duplicate in return. The problem is that it tells you how to perform the trick instead of showing you. It gets especially confusing when trying to decipher the difference between a donut and a cyclone. It isn't a total loss however, because the different skill levels at least take some of the work out of your hands. Playing on the easiest setting is a pretty good way to get exactly what you want out of Monster Jam, which is total carnage and reckless abandon. I wouldn't recommend going any higher than that, because the more "simulation" elements become a bit more prominent and sort of ruin the only bit of fun Monster Jam has going for itself.

Game Mechanics:
Who knew driving a monster truck would be so complicated? Apparently, it is less about pressing the gas pedal and driving in one direction than it is controlling both axles independently to ensure maximum control. The driving system in Monster Jam is, by far, the most surprising in its complexity. Using both Analog Sticks, you can control the front and rear tires simultaneously to make sharper turns or to land safely off of a huge ramp. Boosting and accelerating while steering the different axles also produces different tricks and maneuvers.

To make things even more kid friendly, Monster Jam: Path of Destruction also includes a plastic clip-on steering wheel for use with the SIXAXIS to wirelessly control your truck. It works about as well as you would expect, with even the slightest movements of your wrist translating into wild jerks and swerves on-screen. All of the control and finesse is sacrificed in order to allow a more spontaneous and random experience so the whole family can laugh and enjoy. But it isn't fun. It's frustrating, infuriating, and an exercise in self restraint so you don't throw the hunk of plastic clean across the living room.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself "How much do I care about Monster Trucks?" If the answer is anything other than "I don't care about Monster Trucks," then you might find some enjoyment out of Monster Jam. It caters to a specific crowd and delivers the bare minimum to appease its fans. It's short, it's somewhat confusing, and it's often very sloppy, but it is serviceable. I suppose you could do a lot worse than Monster Jam (Big Rigs comes to mind) but for anyone that has outgrown their adolescence, Monster Jam is a total bust.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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