At first thought, it would seem as though Monster Garage might make a good videogame. The TV-based reality show is all about creating custom vehicles from stock vehicles and stock parts. With some ingenuity and the help of a team of skilled professional customizers, it's interesting to Jesse James rise to the challenge of creating the perfect vehicle for its intended purpose. Unfortunately Monster Garage: The Game fails to capture the excitement of Monster Garage: The Series.

Like similar shows such as American Chopper and American Hot Rod, a lot of the fun comes from watching the pros pull ideas out of thin air but there can be little argument that the most fun is generated by the arguments. You have a roomful of know-it-alls and one boss. Things are going to get heated. Monster Garage: The Game fails to capture any human interaction at all.

As in the series, you are given one week, three grand and five professional assistants to help you create a customized vehicle that must perform some bizarre challenge at the end of the construction phase. You might have to turn a Range Rover into a hot air balloon, or perhaps make a lawn mover out of a Mustang GT. Maybe you will have to find a way to turn a Ford Explorer into a garbage truck or make an amphibious swamp vehicle out of a Beetle.

Jesse James is the overseer. The only problem is that he has little to oversee in this game. Of the five different professionals that appear in each episode they just appear in the game as icons. The interaction is relegated to assigning them tasks. You don't even have to worry about their area of expertise.

Experimentation is reduced to trial and error. You don't actually get to design anything, you simply select options from the interface to see what they will do. Since you don't really have a point of reference there's not much else you can do within this format.

Each vehicle can be examined in 3D from any angle. You can zoom into the problem area with ease and perform a limited amount of tasks such as screwing, unscrewing, bolting, unbolting and welding. Limited seems to be the operative word. There are only a few limited designs to choose from for each project and although there may seem like a lot of options in the way of tires and accessories, it's almost illusionary as they have little affect in the vehicle's performance.

You never feel as though you're right in on the designing process. It kind of reminds me of a toy that was sold years ago which featured a hard plastic statue that was covered in less solid material that made it look like a big glob. Using fake sculptor's tools like a chisel and hammer, you chipped away at the material until you uncovered the actual statue within. It's this kind of hand holding that pervades the entire Monster Garage game making one feel creatively impotent.

The only good thing about the game is that you get to play around with it at the end. The vehicles handle fairly well and it's a bit of a challenge to get them to do your bidding. There are eight different challenges and all of them have appeared on the TV show. The vehicles are fairly detailed but as a budget title there's not much in the way of atmosphere. It would have been great to include some kind of RPG character interaction whereby the team earns experience points based on good ideas or successful customization. There should even be a moral meter in which certain events cause the characters to work together or, heaven forbid, fight among themselves.

Monster Garage is a reality show - which is what is sorely missing in this game. You'll have more fun watching the actual show and pretending to string rows of popcorn on a thread.

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System: XBOX
Dev: Impulse Games
Pub: Activision
Released: Nov 2004
Players: 1
Review by Dan