Year after year, monster truck shows bring in millions of dollars from devoted fans. People love to see big pieces of metal crush smaller pieces of metal, particularly after ingesting large quantities of cheap beer and pork rinds, not to mention the occasional hot dog, peanut, and racial slur.
While the mechanical mayhem is kind of cool, I've always been more impressed with the announcer. You know, the guy who screams about "the awesome power of Rod Johnson and the 2 ton Bigfoot coming to the Anaheim fairgrounds this Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!!!" This to me is the best thing about monster trucking, though I hoped that Thunder Truck Rally would change my mind.
The game isn't bad; it's just not particularly good. Thunder Truck Rally plays it safe by relying on tried and true gameplay elements, but ultimately suffers due to some fairly significant design flaws.
The two main modes of play are Circuit Racing and Endurance. In Circuit Racing, you must complete a specific number of laps around the course, while Endurance mode requires you to race through 8 gates scattered throughout one area. Endurance racing is the better of the two, mainly because it doesn't involve the same pattern of turns. There is also a Car Crushing event that takes place after you complete a Division circuit. What should have been the best part of the game is done terribly. You get points for crushing cars, but nowhere does it say how such points are awarded. The cars don't even change shape when you run over them.
You can choose to race as one of 9 Monster trucks, each with different ability levels in terms of Acceleration, Grip, Weight, Armor, and Turning. You unfortunately can't design and race your own truck (or even change the color palette ala Rage Racer).
The graphics are excellent. The cars are all polygonal (though even my cat is polygonal these days) and look great. The tracks are also polygonal, with interesting designs and very smooth texture maps. There aren't many breaks in the action, but the pop-up is noticeable: about what you would expect. A good looking game, indeed.
The controls are pretty simple. You have your gas, brake, horn, and tight turn buttons. Oddly enough, there's no manual transmission option - surprising, considering that you're driving huge automotive death machines. I have no idea why they forgot this feature.
The gameplay is pretty simple as well, with nothing new or exciting going on. You can choose from several camera angles (including one of the wiliest first-person perspectives around). You don't have to follow a preset track - in fact, you can drive just about anywhere. This freedom of movement works nicely with the Endurance mode in particular, because you can find nifty shortcuts by cutting across the map.
There are several annoying problems in the design of the game. First off, the loading time... is.... really.... bad.... (loading).... (done). It takes a month to get from the Main Menu to the start of a race, and even longer to get from the end of the race to a Save screen. The PSX is not known to be a fast loader, but the time you waste waiting kills the flow of the game and diminishes the fun.
There is another problem concerning armor levels. Each truck can withstand a certain amount of punishment before quitting (based on its Armor rating). Unfortunately, most of the tracks are bumpy enough to deplete your meter before you even finish 3 laps. Even if you drive a near-perfect race (i.e. not hitting any other drivers, staying on the track, etc.), you'll barely cross the finish line intact. This is the sign of poor design. Who wants to spend all their gaming energy trying to overcompensate for a badly made car? These are supposed to be monster trucks, not Matchbox cars!
Again, Thunder Truck Rally isn't a bad game so much as a bad product (is there a difference?). The subtle features that give a game a distinct feel are missing; it's just not very dynamic. The worst part is that it bored the dickens out of me, and now I have no dickens (though I still have about 20 unopened bags of pork rinds to deal with.).