Twisted Metal Review
Made2Game Twisted Metal Review Score: 7/10
Developer: Eat Sleep Play
Reviewer: Martin Bigg
For some extraordinary reason, the once popular car combat genre came to a complete standstill this generation. It’s especially true for PS3 owners – okay, so there was the forgettable Full Auto 2, admittedly, but Twisted Metal is one of Sony’s flagship franchises that’s been curiously absent for over a decade now, with the last entry Twisted Metal Black designed principally to showcase the Sony’s debut online network for the PS2.
But whilst Mr. David Jaffe has been busy occupying himself with the gargantuan God of War and the criminally underrated Calling all Cars (I still have fond memories of blurting “GO FOR THE PADDY WAGON” in a rubbish Irish accent), the rise of the console’s Call of Duty generation of online gaming has been crying out for Twisted Metal to return.
Fear not however, as the granddaddy of the genre is finally back with a vengeance in all its unrelentingly savage, OTT glory.
You would think that such a long absence would result in a complete personality transplant, and yet it’s as if Twisted Metal never left us – it’s like rekindling an old flame as you’re greeted with the grisly sneer of mascot character Sweet Tooth the Clown. This is still a series that doesn’t exactly take itself seriously, featuring killer clowns, visceral violence and bombastic battles that have you fending off monster trucks in an ice cream van armed with a flurry of weaponry that can morph into a Transformers-style robot.
And yet delving into the main campaign reveals a number of notable changes that may not bode well for series veterans. The satanic Calypso returns ready to grant a bunch of deranged psychopaths their ultimate wish if they compete in the deadly Twisted Metal tournament, but this time only three characters enter the fury – the aforementioned serial killer Sweet Tooth the Clown, Mr. Grim and Dollface.
Each character has their own story arc which ends with the traditional twist of fate, and the predictably bonkers story is told via a series of extravagant Grindhouse-style cut scenes that blend live action actors with CGI environments, but after such a long wait it’s hard not to feel that the story could have been more fleshed out. Twisted Metal is renowned for its eccentric, colourful cast, so restricting it so drastically feels like a disservice.
To make matters worse, each character no longer has their own signature vehicle. Instead, you can now select any vehicle regardless of which character you are playing as: it may sound trivial on internet paper, but true Twisted Metal fans will know what I mean when I say how wrong it feels to drive Sweet Tooth’s ice cream van with Mr. Grim or witness Dollface riding Mr. Grim’s motorcycle.
If you’re a newcomer to the Twisted Metal franchise, don’t expect an easy ride. In fact, you would be very wise to meticulously study the separate training missions since the main campaign doesn’t offer any guidance to prepare you for Twisted Metal’s surprisingly steep learning curve.
Mastering the convoluted controls is initially an almighty headache. Twisted Metal veterans will feel right at home with the default classic control scheme, but for everyone else accelerating using the square button feels decidedly dated. If you’re more accustomed to accelerating using the triggers then we recommend reverting to the alternative race control layout. It’s just a pity you can’t fully customise the controls to make it more intuitive.
From textbook timing of activating shields and firing rear weapons, to making your car jump, turbo boost and activate special weapons, not a single button combination is unaccounted for in the overwhelmingly myriad moves to learn. At times it’s like trying to rub your tummy, pat your head and recite the Arabic alphabet backwards at the same time.
The overly aggressive AI doesn’t help, either. We weren’t exactly expecting a soft ride in a vehicular combat game, but it’s painfully obvious that every opponent has been set to rampantly attack you and completely ignore the competition. Consequently, there are times when Twisted Metal’s difficulty level will drive you to the edge of reason as enemy cars swarm at you from all directions, though some will likely relish the refreshing challenge and the sheer intoxicating intensity. Monitoring your health level is therefore essential, though thankfully health packs are littered throughout the maps and you can also switch vehicles if you can find an allotted garage in time.
Fortunately once you grasp the controls and accept the challenging campaign, Twisted Metal’s relentless action becomes addicting and rewards dedication, reminding you just why you fell in love with the series all those years ago.
Take the delightfully eccentric physics model, for example, which compliments Twisted Metal’s OTT tone. Cars have the ability to jump, will often flip preposterously into the air and vehicle handling is tight and absurdly grippy to the point you can pull off j-turns at about 300 mph and never lose control. It’s not realistic, but in the heat of battle you’ll be very thankful for it.
Twisted Metal’s arenas for the unfolding carnage also impress, with a series of expansive, well-crafted maps that are often completely destructible. Before you get excited, we’re not talking levels of destruction on par with Frostbite 2.0 – think of it more on the lines of Ridge Racer: Unbounded where you can plough through buildings without worry. It’s not always easy to distinguish which buildings are destructible, however, leading to a few embarrassing misjudgements.
The suburban map of Sunsprings is a good showcase of Twisted Metal’s diverse map designs and wanton destruction, allowing you to bulldoze through neighbourhood houses, a packed cinema, a football stadium and an entire mansion, to name a few. The Blues Brothers would be proud indeed.
Thrills and Spills Park is another highlight, which sees you rampaging through a theme park staging battles atop of winding rollercoaster tracks, as is Metro Square, a sprawling, snowy night time city setting complete with rooftop jumps, a comical ice rink and an underground subway networkk. Unsurprisingly, however, there are a few weak links – I lost count of the number of times I fell off the roofs of skyscrapers in the treacherous LA Skyline map.
While each map has a distinct visual style, the graphics don’t always do them the justice they deserve thanks to muddy textures and a lack of next generation polish. Suffice to say, Twisted Metal is not going to win any awards in the graphics department, but the pay-off is that the frame rate stays silky smooth amidst the chaos.
Along with standard death matches, the brief campaign does a decent job of shaking things up in a variety of different game modes. Even the death matches get reinvented in the Juggernaught matches, which populate the maps with trucks that regularly respawn new enemies just to make life that little bit harder. Hint: Talon the helicopter’s special weapon will make light work of them.
Cage matches on the other hand keep the action close and personal by forcing you to keep within designated areas of the map, and straying away from the zone depletes your health but the zone constantly alternates, resulting in a mad dash to find health and make it in the nick of time.
The new race mode fares less well, as the physics really weren’t designed with racing in mind. Coupled with the absurd difficulty of having to successfully pass every checkpoint in the later levels, win first place and survive the wave of blood-thirsty opponents constantly trying to kill you, implementing a racing aspect was an interesting diversion for the series but one that ultimately feels out of place.
By far the undisputed highlights however are the outlandish boss battles. I won’t spoil the details, but each climactic battle plays out as a multi-stage epic duel against characters that are, shall we say, larger than life. They will test your patience, but the sheer daftness of it all will keep you coming back for more.
Getting away with murder
Then there’s the murderous multiplayer, which is most likely the main reason for playing Twisted Metal in the first place for many players. The good news: the action is just as fraught as the single player, without the unfair AI. Cursing at human players just feels more natural and satisfying.
The bad news: be prepared to have fun endlessly waiting around in lobbies. Unfortunately, Twisted Metal’s online suffers from an archaic system that, in a baffling design decision, forces you to wait for the host to manually start the match regardless of how much time has passed or how many players are ready. You can’t spectate either, which meant I was often waiting an eternity for matches to start whilst staring at a lifeless lobby.
When you do finally enter an online game, the wait is usually worth it but there simply aren’t enough multiplayer modes – the offline Cage and Race matches have been excluded too, bewilderingly.
Instead you’re left with the obligatory Death Match and Team Death Matches which we’ve all seen before, along with Hunted and Nuke. Hunted puts you in an all against one scenario where one player becomes the ‘hunted’ meat for the other players to feed on, but it’s Nuke that manages to inject some innovation into the proceedings.
Nuke is Twisted Metal’s, um, twisted take on capture the flag, whereby your objective is to destroy the opposing team’s statue with a guided missile.
Simply driving over a power-up would be too mundane for Twisted Metal’s standards, however. Instead you must capture the team’s leader by yanking them to the back of your car and laugh morbidly as their dangling body gets impaled before strapping them to said missile and watch it sail away to its target. It’s a genuinely intense and well-executed mode that encourages tactical teamwork, particularly as it takes 10 agonising seconds to load the driver onto the missile and perfectly sums up Twisted Metal’s dark sense of humour.
It’s a shame some elements of Twisted Metal’s belated reboot, i.e. the graphics, online functionality and overall concept, feel decidedly “last generation” and you could argue it’s essentially Twisted Metal Black wearing high definition lip gloss. But, for better or worse, at its core this is Twisted Metal exactly as you remember it: fast, frantic fun, deceptively deep and challenging and deliciously demented, reborn for a new generation.
Words by Martin Bigg (Twitter: @drivinggamespro)
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