Twisted Metal Review
Twisted Metal brings an enjoyable car combat experience that is able to grease the wheels of this classic franchise
After a three year development, the vehicular combat carnage of the Twisted Metal series has arrived on the current generation of PlayStation for the first time. Somewhat confusingly titled Twisted Metal, this 2012 edition of the longest running PlayStation franchise brings much of the fanfare and demolition to the PS3 without skipping a beat. The game retains many of the core mechanics and presentation from the previous titles, which is sure to please fans. And although some elements don’t feel as though they’ve evolved beyond the PS2 era, Twisted Metal offers a unique experience that’s bound to grab your attention at least for a while.
The series has always occupied a niche space within the video game genre spectrum, and to this day remains a remarkably well-designed car combat title. If you’ve played the other Twisted Metals or something old like Interstate '76, you should know that the gameplay focuses on pitting opponents in cars against one another in various enclosed levels. The action is fast, the environment is destructible, and the cars are capable of using a wide variety of weapons from ammo that’s dispersed across the battlefield.
Unlike the past games, Twisted Metal includes a full single player experience (which can be played in online coop), focusing on the stories of three characters. Though this may feel limiting, their story paths are enjoyable and rather memorable. Assuming the roles of Sweet Tooth, Dollface, and Mr. Grimm, players attempt to win Calypso's Twisted Metal Tournament in order to fulfill a wish. Their wishes are indeed twisted in nature, as are the stories being told with disturbing details, which makes for a hauntingly memorable experience in the campaign.
Consisting of 6 events each (5 races and boss battle for each character), the game is decently long. Each stage presents a player with the time to beat in order to earn one of the three medals – which means, for those players who are able to complete each stage at the gold medal level - that the campaign is potentially under 3 hours long. It’s safe to say, however, that an extremely small number of players will be able to achieve that feat.
That’s primarily due to the game’s difficulty. Twisted Metal’s offline bots are challenging, to say the least. It’s not too bad early on, attempting to survive and take out the competition while getting used to the game. The bots pose a threat, but on their own usually don’t deal too much damage that can’t be avoided or healed. As things heat up towards the middle of the campaign during Mr. Grimm’s story, you’ll begin realize that some events are very demanding. All the AI opponents are squarely set to destroy you, and not each other – meaning it’s a one vs all out there, and you best be ready for an onslaught.
As game moves beyond simple deathmatches and into objective-based scenarios, such as Juggernauts which constantly spawn enemies until destroyed, it becomes a potential exercise in frustration. On normal (the game’s easiest level), there are a number of times when I had to restart events simply because the enemy force was overwhelming and my vehicle was destroyed without any hope of making it to a garage of health pickup. Fans and hardcore players may appreciate the challenge, but for most it might be too much to bear.
Some of the damage can be mitigated by picking the right type of vehicle. For most events with a garage location, players can select up to three vehicles to take into battle. Should your health be low, you can swap cars by driving to the garage and letting your current ride repair over time. The cars aren’t tied to a particular character, so Dollface can use Sweet Tooth’s iconic ice cream truck, and so on, which is a great design choice. Vehicles come with three stat areas: speed, armor, and special weapons.
Your chances of survival often depend on picking the right car for the event, and more cars are unlocked as you progress through the main story. Sticking with the same vehicle the whole game isn’t really an option as enemies constantly switch up their rides for something that’s very effective in a particular area. Twisted Metal’s handling model is decently responsive and very much arcade-like, not unlike other action/racing games such as ModNation Racers.
Speaking of controls, Twisted Metal features what is likely one of the most complex controls in recent memory. Perhaps complex isn’t the right word – point is, almost every single button on the controller is and should be actively used during matches. It takes some getting used to, but at the same time, memorizing the control scheme and successfully pulling off overwhelming attacks against an enemy and escaping unscathed is one of the most rewarding experiences. At the same time, this makes Twisted Metal a very difficult game for pickup-and-play situations.
As mentioned earlier, players have access to a large arsenal of weapons, rockets, bombs, and so on which vary in function and damage dealt. However, ammo must be collected by picking it up within the level, and there is a limit on how much you can stockpile before having to use it. Thus there is always a strategic element in the game, as you have to worry about finding ammo before you can cause any kind of mayhem. If you’re out, the special weapon is always available and unique to the vehicle. It recharges by itself overtime, and ranges from extra firepower from a mounted machine gun to a full transformation of your car into a robot. Yes, a robot. All cars also come with the ability to create a shield, fire a freeze ray, drop a mine, or even shoot backwards.
All of this action takes place on a variety of maps with varying levels of destructibility. From peaceful small town to a downtown in a large city, and from stretches of highway to specialized battle arenas, the game’s levels are intricately designed to be unique and offer their own gameplay opportunities. For example, most of the homes in the little town can be leveled to the ground just by driving through them, while a battle arena actually offers randomly shifting barriers which alter the racing field. A major criticism has to be a lack of any indication if an object is indeed destructible or not – some structures that can be destroyed don’t look any different within the environment than the apparently indestructible brick walls elsewhere on the map. There’s not a huge number of maps, but they are diverse and most modes employ portions of the playing field to create diversity.
Twisted Metal’s campaign includes a wealth of game modes. The aforementioned boss battles are interesting and pose unique challenges but are few in number, so to say more would be to spoil them. Standard deathmatch and races are all present and work as you’d expect (except most matches are more like death traps for the player due to AI). Juggernaut mode introduces a truck which spawns enemies until destroyed, and Electric Cage matches are an interesting twist – battle must take place inside of an area, which moves every few minutes to another part of the map. Being outside the cage begins a countdown which, when expires, starts draining your health. It’s a cool mode, but again with the AI being unaffected while outside the cage, it feels more frustrating than it should.
Once you head online, things get a lot better – at least in theory. The reason I say that is because getting into a ranked match has been very tough. Endless server error messages would appear when attempting to join a variety of games and lobbies through a number of different PS3 systems and PSN accounts. Stats not updating properly, matchmaking issues, and other hiccups were also experienced. Matches that we did manage to get into played smoothly, but we certainly wish it wasn’t a trial and error process. For a game previously known to be multiplayer-focused, these are the types of concerns that really shouldn’t exist. At least, there is the ability to create fully customizable unranked lobbies, giving players complete control over their online matches with friends.
Most of the modes that you’ve been practicing against the difficult offline opponents can be played online. There are plenty of things to unlock as you play matches, earn XP, and level up your online persona. An assortment of competitive deathmatch scenarios and their team variations don’t pose any threat to dethrone your current top multiplayer game, but it’s none the less a competent package.
Of note, Hunted mode marks a player as the target for everyone else (hey, you should be used to this by now!) in another example of a mode inspired by existing mechanics. In Nuke Mode, the only truly unique offering, teams take turns attacking and defending leaders. Attacking team must steal a leader and drag him to their base, at which point he is sacrificed and a nuclear missile is launched at the defendants’ statute. The attackers must destroy the statue within the time limit to win, and it makes for an involving mode that’s focused on teamwork. Developers should also be praised for including LAN and four-player split screen support, both of which have been long gone from mainstream releases.
For an explosion-filled game with a lot going on at once (ie you being bombarded by enemy AI), Twisted Metal runs quite smoothly. With high level of destruction on some levels, alongside all the fireworks, the framerate remains solid and only rarely dips. The game’s cars and environments look good as well, though there’s nothing particularly breathtaking. A wild and appropriate soundtrack selection works well with the overall theme of the game, as do the cutscenes. Twisted Metal features some very unique and particularly gruesome plot elements, which are beautifully represented with live-action scenes mixed with CGI and passed through a neat visual filter. They are definitely memorable and one might wish there was more of them.
Twisted Metal arrives on the PlayStation 3 in full swing, packing much of the chaos and destruction that fans have come to expect. A campaign that’s included for the first time in the franchise is rather enjoyable in both presentation and plot. Some may have considered it a bit short, if it wasn’t for the brutally difficult AI. Online, much of the same chaos takes place, though matchmaking and accessibility issues currently hamper the experience. The 2012 Twisted Metal is a return to more of the familiar for the long-running series, and if that’s all you need, the game delivers. Those new to the genre may be put off by arcade driving and complex controls, but should you choose to push through the game’s numerous difficulties, there’s fun to be had underneath it all.