Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat, OK? Monster truckin' is totally awesome. Let's break it down into its component parts. Loud motors are cool. Breaking stuff is cool. We can all agree on these two things. When you combine the two into a gigantic, beastlike truck that drives over other cars and smashes them into dust, it's totally insane. A full-on sport has been constructed around the concept of big trucks that race each other and break stuff, and a handful of video games have come out over the years that have attempted to duplicate the county fair-style excitement in digital form. Most of them really aren't very good. In fact, most of them are pretty weak. Ubisoft's latest stab at the genre, Monster 4x4: Masters of Metal, is no exception.
Masters of Metal is broken up into a few different event types. The most standard event is a one-on-one race on a short, stadium track. This mode plays sort of like a 3D version of Excitebike. Your job is to mash the gas, ride the turbo button without overheating your truck, and level out your wheels over jumps to land with all four tires at the same time, thus keeping your speed up. The tracks are painfully short and bland, making this mode pretty dim. Off-road checkpoint-style races are up next. Here, you race against five different trucks in a 15-point race that has you driving all over a large area, often rife with obstacles and other stuff that you can break. This mode also lets you use truck power-ups, like extra turbo boosts, traction enhancers, or shields. It's a bit more exciting than the dopey circuit races, but it still lacks any real pizzazz. You can also enter into stunt exhibitions. Here you'll perform donuts, jump though flaming hoops, and so on. The stunts are a neat idea, but they're poorly executed. A career mode of sorts ties the different race types together as you go from track to track in search of trophies. The career mode also contains some laughably lame cutscenes. The game contains two-player multiplayer, which works just fine, though it doesn't really add much excitement to the mix, either.
Masters of Metal is a low-rent production from start to finish. The trucks themselves look OK, but the environments are really plain. Also, for a game that attempts to duplicate the thrill of smashing up puny cars with a giant-sized truck, you would think that the cars would actually break up or crush when you drive over them. But instead, the roofs of the few cars found on the stadium tracks are reinforced with steel or something, because they don't budge at all. Monster 4x4 contains a handful of real-life trucks, including the ever-popular Grave Digger, but the differences between the trucks, as well as between the game's different drivers, aren't clear. The trucks feel like they drive and handle identically regardless of your selection.
Since so much of monster trucking is about driving through stuff and over stuff, there's really a potential for great physics and damage models in a monster truck game. Masters of Metal has neither. The physics model in the game is acceptable. It's greatly exaggerated, so your truck is incredibly bouncy, and turbo-boosting off a jump practically sends you flying halfway across a level. The damage in the game consists of a few parts of your truck's body flying off, and if you take too much punishment, you'll lose a wheel and have to wait for a few seconds before it rematerializes. Destructible environments consist of fences, hot dog stands, and garage doors to bust through in the off-road races. It would have been nice to see more things like this throughout the game, as the importance of crushing cars can't be overstated. That's one of the basic concepts behind monster trucks, so for the game to go as far as to present cars for you to drive over but then fail to include the math required to crush those car polygons up seems like a pretty glaring oversight.
Generic guitar rock makes up Monster 4x4's soundtrack. The game's sound effects aren't very good, either, but the speech is where the game really sticks out. Each race is preceded by some announcer chatter, and the words are stitched together with all the nuance and quality of a 16-bit sports game. The inflection changes from word to word, and the speech is generally the sort of mess that you don't expect to hear in modern games.
Overall, Monster 4x4 fails to excite on any level. It offers a decent amount of different tracks and courses, but nothing that you do on any of these courses is the least bit interesting. While the GameCube isn't exactly long on off-road racing games, you can certainly find something better than Masters of Metal.