Monster 4x4: Masters of Metal Review

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Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft


Platform: PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Giant trucks jumping! Big wheels crunching! Rednecks cheering! All this and more can be yours in Monster 4x4: Masters of Metal, officially stamped with the Monster Jam seal of approval. Race the national monster truck circuit; go off-road with a gadget-augmented truck for the entertainment of a crazed millionaire; perform insane stunts for the roar of the crowd; and then grab a friend, some beer, and smash the daylights out of each other. All without the hazards of inhaling carbon monoxide inside a domed stadium.

Rating:
Dave Harlan


If you're the type of person who would look at a game based on the "sport" of monster truck racing and, based on preconceived notions, say, "There is no way that that thing could possibly suck less than a thousand souped-up Hoovers," then prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Monster 4x4: Masters of Metal is much more than a slapped-together electronic Bubba simulator.

The first run-in with Monster 4x4 involved the game, some beer, and two grown men with low expectations (but nothing better to do). From the start, our two-player race instantly devolved into a destruction derby – all thoughts of the finish line were forgotten, as latent hostilities were set free via two digital trucks smashing the holy heck out of each other. This remained fun for some time. There is a wide selection of trucks from which to choose, and each truck has a corresponding driver. There seem to be some minor differences in handling, speed, etc., but none are as obvious as the style differences – if you're going to drive a monster truck, don't you want one with big teeth? After enjoying the two-player mode, sample the single-player campaign mode: it's the campaign mode that really gives Monster 4x4 its bite.

The best way to describe Monster 4x4 is as a cross between SSX and the old arcade favorite Ivan Stewart's Off-Road. While there is no visible library of tricks to perform, various acts of stunt driving, such as riding on two wheels, high jumps and somersaults are rewarded by either cheers from the crowd in the stadiums, or cash in the case of the off-road races. Also in the off-road races, your truck can be augmented with a few Speed-Racer-like gadgets, such as jumping shocks and spiked wheels for better traction. Each of these abilities can be upgraded with reserve tanks that allow for more uses.

Take Your Show on the Road


The campaign mode takes you through ten cities, and each city offers three events: a stadium race, an off-road competition, and a stunt exhibition. Success in each mode earns cash that can be used to buy those all-important upgrades, and to pay entry fees for competitions. Many "famous" trucks are included, such as Reptoid, Bulldozer, etc., but Monster 4x4 loses a few points for only offering a single character in the campaign mode. While your character, "Rookie," a goofy-looking country boy, can choose any of the trucks as his own (several await unlocking), you aren't allowed to choose from any of the other characters available in multiplayer. A lesson from Twisted Metal Black goes unheeded here. It really would have been nice to play as Mom.

The stadium races start off simply enough, with ramps and rows of road humps as obstacles. These are soon followed in later stadiums by piles of cars ripe for crunching, enormous spinning hoops hanging over pits of fire and giant swinging wooden bars (that if thumped just right can smack your opponent, sending him out of control). As the obstacles become more elaborate and fanciful, so do the stadiums themselves – while the first stadium might seem somewhat bland, progress brings you to arenas with various large-scale decorations. One with a giant animated King Neptune rising and diving from a pool nestled in the track was a particular favorite. And yes, Truckasaurus makes an appearance!!! Well, whatever the non-Simpsons, real-world counterpart of Truckasaurus is, makes an appearance. Drive past fast, or a giant truck dinosaur will breathe fire on you!

"The Running Truck"? ... "The Most Dangerous Truck"? ... "Truckhunt"?


After the first stadium race, you are introduced to a powerful billionaire who wants nothing more than to pay a bunch of guys to drive around in giant trucks and tear up public lands. Yes, it's the Most Dangerous Game again, except this time with high-rise Chevys with giant tires. You compete against five opponents, racing from checkpoint to checkpoint in pursuit of the grand prize. Along the way are assortments of ramps allowing for big stunts, and scattered cash pickups to pad your winnings. There are also playgrounds and lovely landscaping for those of you with hostility issues. And though in stadium and exhibition modes you only have a turbo boost, the off-roads add Nitro, Shield, Grip Tire and Jumping abilities. A well-timed shock jump at the end of a ramp can send you hurtling through the air, and gives you more time to go for those $500 somersault bonuses. The abilities can also be used simultaneously – it's entirely possible to go straight from 6th to 1st with a judicious use of a nitro-boosted shock jump. Just this mode alone is better than all of Smuggler's Run. As a final comment on the off-road races, it should be noted that the billionaire seems to get, er, a little bit too excited sometimes as he cheers you on.

The third event, Exhibition, tests you on a particular stunt, and completion of that stunt wins you a cash prize. Multiple donuts, hoop jumping, car ramming – your finely honed monster truck skills will be pushed to their limits (and they said you should have gone to college). Exhibition is the most forgiving of the events. If you fail, you can come right back in and try again. This contrasts with the stadiums and off-roads, where if you don't get first place on your first try, a sheepish reload is your only friend. And you will be tempted to reload, because that cash is important – it is quite possible to get caught short and not be able to pony up for the next race.

Should a Game This Dumb Be So Hard?


The difficulty level in Monster 4x4 will definitely catch up with many players. What seems simplistic at first becomes quite challenging in later levels, especially if you're dead set on taking first place every time to maximize your cash. You'll never be rolling in dough – you have to try your hardest to win the big prizes, and then you have to spend it wisely. Race entry fees tend to be steep, so it's unwise to blow all your cash on loads of upgrades. But while some of the events may have you twisting your controller in frustration, it keeps you coming back for more, and that's the mark of a good game. Another good sign is that when you lose, it's usually your fault and not the game's.

The graphics aren't bad at all. While certainly not pushing the PS2 to its limits, they get the job done; things like the crowds could be better rendered, but the progressive damage on the trucks is well thought-out and conveyed, and the arena designs get quite imaginative. In the sound category, the only real flaw is the one inherent to all racing games – though backed up by rock & roll, crowd noise, and announcer comments, you'll mostly hear: "RRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRR". And that's the sound that will eventually send your spouse/roommate/Mom stomping into the room. Perhaps they prefer "Boink Boink Boink SHOOSSSHHHH KABOOM!" to just plain old "RRRRRR." The best sound in the game, however, would have to be when an airborne trucks slams back to earth with a crashing THUMP.

Overall, Monster 4x4: Masters of Metal is a lot more fun than one would expect it to be. As a licensed game, it would have been easy enough for Ubisoft to slap together a piece of junk and depend on those who love everything monster truck to buy anything monster truck. But in the end they have delivered a well-balanced, rambunctious and relatively compelling racing/action game.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 8, 2004 3:50 PM.

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