The car combat genre in console gaming hasn't seen much in the way of variation outside of the occasional attempt to clone a Twisted Metal game. Fortunately, that's about to change, thanks to Ubi Soft. Monster Jam Maximum Destruction is essentially a car combat game with a twist. Leaving cars out of the equation altogether, Ubi Soft has opted to create a game filled with licensed monster trucks such as Wolverine, Grave Digger, Spider-Man, and Reptoid. It has also pushed the game completely over the top by including a wide variety of weapons and a number of fictional arenas for these vehicular monstrosities to smash each other to pieces in.
One of the first things you'll notice when you first boot the game up is the large number of vehicles contained within. There are 26 different trucks immediately available, with another 44 that can be unlocked. Thirty of these vehicles are licensed, such as those mentioned above, while the remaining trucks have been created for the game. All of them are rated in four categories: horsepower, acceleration, cornering, and traction. These stats can be improved after each level by purchasing new parts for your vehicle, such as tires, shocks, engines, or superchargers.
Each of the trucks has its own distinct look. For example, Wolverine is yellow and blue, with black highlights and a swept cab that resembles the mask of the superhero it draws its inspiration from. It even has a pair of claws that adorn its hood. Other vehicles, such as Goldberg, resemble monster cars more than they do trucks. All the models are quite detailed, with shocks that contract and expand noticeably and fiberglass bodies that splinter and break apart as they're damaged. Columns of fire fly from the exhaust pipes as the engines reach higher RPMs, and the engines also scream in a very satisfying manner. When a truck is destroyed, it will explode in an earthshaking display.
There are three main modes of play included in the game: season, exhibition, and a collection of minigames. Season mode has you tearing your way through the nine different competitions. Exhibition mode is essentially a one-shot deal where you select a truck and arena and jump right in for a quick battle. You can also bring a friend and play the exhibition in two-player mode, if you're so inclined. Season and exhibition also have three variations each. These include the deathmatch, cash grab, and points options. The deathmatch is self-explanatory--you basically try to destroy all your opponents before they destroy you. The cash grab is essentially a deathmatch with a focus on trying to collect more money than everyone else. The points option tallies the value of your attacks, and you can trigger multipliers if you smash into your opponent in a particularly devastating manner. Finally, the collection of minigames provides you with a variety of different options. The most appealing to fans of real monster truck rallies should be the stadium freestyle tournament, which has you racing around an arena track and smashing lines of cars. This mode also features a number of fixed camera angles that give it a more cinematic feel, rather than sticking to the basic variations of the chase camera that's the standard in all the other modes.
Most of the damage you'll inflict on enemies is achieved by smashing into them or pushing your front tires up onto opposing trucks so that you can continue damaging them after the initial hit. Throughout each level, there are a number of weapons power-ups that you can use to inflict more damage upon your opponents as well. These weapons appear on the top of your truck after you've driven over them, and the ammunition for each is reflected in a bar that occupies the lower left portion of your screen. According to Ubi Soft, there are 90 different weapons scattered throughout the game. Most of them are weapons that seasoned gamers will recognize. They range from flamethrowers and machine guns to railguns and heat-seeking missiles. In addition to the weapons power-ups, there are also cash icons that you can collect and use to improve your truck after you complete the level. The obligatory health power-ups are present, as are clock icons that will extend the duration of each match.
All the arenas in the exhibition and season modes have a basic hub layout. You'll start off in a close-quarters central location, in which there are blockaded doors located along the walls. These blockades can be smashed in, and doing so will open up another section. These sections are connected by hallways that can make for grueling face-to-face battles if you run into another truck while making your way from section to section. They leave you with very little room to maneuver, and the battles that result tend toward a pair of trucks smashing each other into walls. Each level also has a theme to it. These themes range from the Italian level, which comes complete with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the Military Base, which has an aircraft carrier that is launching a steady flow of aircraft from its decks. The Hollywood level is surrounded by large sound stages, most of which are spoofing various blockbuster films.
The control in the game is pretty simple, as it relies mostly on the left analog stick for steering and the X button for gas. You can also control the grip of your tires by holding down the circle button, which will allow you to make tighter turns or spin wildly in donuts. The R1 button serves as the trigger for the weapons that you pick up, and the L1, L2, and R2 buttons allow you to swivel the camera backward, left, or right, respectively. Triangle weighs in as the reverse button, and square serves as the brakes. The control is as tight as can be expected, considering that you're driving monster trucks around, which don't exactly handle well in the real world. That said, though, the control you have over them is quite good, and it really does feel as if you're driving one of these mechanized beasts. You'll bounce around quite a bit as you jump over ramps and opponents, and oftentimes you'll be sent flying skyward as an enemy truck you've just crushed explodes beneath your monster tires.
The build we received is in the beta stage, and it's shaping up quite nicely. The game is already running at close to 60 frames per second in most cases, although that number can dip down to 30 when the action gets more intense. If you enjoy the car combat subgenre of games, or you enjoy watching monster truck rallies and have always wanted to participate in one, this might be the game for you. The game is set to be released soon, but in the meantime, check out our media section for screenshots and movies of the game in action.