28th February 2012 - Back in 1995, David Jaffe made a game called Twisted Metal on the original Playstation, the first game of its kind revolving around cars blowing each other to pieces. Rumor has it that when Jaffe first concieved the idea for the game, it was while being stuck in a major traffic jam, red in the face and ready to scream himself hoarse. After various imitators filled up the market like Carmageddon and CRASHDAY, the series eventually ended in 2001 with Twisted Metal: Black. Now, Jaffe and Eat Sleep Play are bringing the series back with a reboot. It's fitting that the conception of the game was done in a blind rage while in traffic with the result being the fantasy of relief through cathartic destruction, because that exact same sequence of anger and relief is an apt summary of the game overall.
Every year, a large scale demolition derby is held by the mysterious figure known only as Calypso, with the winner getting a wish granted. The participants in this contest are made up of the deranged, the delusional, the disillusioned, and all around homicidal maniacs. The most dangerous of these thugs are Sweet Tooth, a serial killer whose kill count is in the thousands and has a penchant for ice cream trucks and clown masks, Mr. Grimm, a traumatized psychopath with a chopper, a chainsaw and a death wish, and Dollface, an amoral supermodel who is willing to do anything to get to the top including slaughtering any competition that gets in her way.
Gameplay is, at its core, unchanged from past Twisted Metal games. You drive a car that controls like a bar of soap in a greased pan, armed to the teeth with enough hardware to wipe out an entire city and are pitted in large arenas against other equally armed drivers to battle to the death. The major thing to get out of Twisted Metal is that it is, without a doubt, one of the most unapologetic and brutal kind of game, from top to bottom. People explode like blood pinatas if hit, flaming chainsaws are thrown, buildings are blown apart into powder, there's a sequence in a cutscene where someone is stabbed in the eye with a pair of scissors, and if a car isn't covered in spikes, guns, fire, or all three, it's considered to be less a car and more like an obstacle to run over on your way to something that will put up more of a fight. Yet, despite this degree of brutality, the game makes it very clear that it is something not meant to be taken seriously. It doesn't try to be realistic, thought-provoking, or even rational. The design of the world as a whole feels like it was refined from a combination of 90's Heavy Metal Albums and the violent drawings of a fifteen-year-old with anger issues. Catharsis and violence for the sake of it is, in a nutshell, the law of the land.
The Single-Player Campaign, using the three above mentioned characters' backgrounds and motivations as a framing device for the mayhem, livens up said car-focused death matches with appropriate amounts of variety, including electric cage matches, endurance challenges, and some truly grand-scale boss fights, one of which adds new meaning to the words, “monster truck.” The amount of arena variety is great, from the demented murderous intent of the Black Rock Stadium to the multi-leveled urban environments of Diesel City. The level design mashes up the best qualities of a BMX rally and a more urban form of Mario Kart, and the saturation of power-ups and weapons littered throughout manages to keep any game from turning into a prolonged session of someone camping for the next broken arsenal addition. The controls are a bit overwhelming at first but once learned are continuously responsive and reliable, whether it's pulling a sharp 90-degree power turn to cut off an opponent, or instinctively activating your Shield before getting a face full of gunfire. Finally, the individual car designs are great and full of enough variety for any kind of fighting style, be it running circles around the enemy with Crimson Fury's flamethrower, or the remote controlled gurney bombs of the Meat Wagon.
Unfortunately, collision and clipping issues tend to pop up. More than once I found myself wedged between a ramp and a wall and unable to move, which in this kind of game is like putting on a t-shirt covered in bulls-eyes. There were also several minor and rare issues where my vehicle would be blindsided by invisible projectiles, the camera shaking around uncontrollably, and more than one scenario where in the middle of a mid-air jump, my vehicle was immediately smashed down to the ground as if by a large flyswatter. It also doesn't help that the Campaign has a bizarre difficulty curve. One level might be a simple fight, then the next level could pit you against twelve AI cars all designed to attack you and only you within a quarter second of being given control. The difficulty curve feels stilted and just a bit off whenever the series tries something new, like racing missions, but whenever it returns to novel changes to its core engagement, a bunch of cars turning eachother into scrap, it is very invigorating.
Difficulty curve aside, Single-Player mode will last about 9 or 10 hours depending on one's individual skill level and patience, but one of the major features of Twisted Metal has to be its Multiplayer and this is where the analogy of anger and relief is most apparent. There is Splitscreen Story Co-Op if you and a friend want to tackle it together, standard online competitive, as well as 4-way Splitscreen competitive if you want to relive some of the glory days of couch gaming. There is standard Death Match, Team Death Match, Hunted Mode where a player is marked after killing another player and will be hunted down by everybody else in that fashion, Last Man Standing where everyone only has a set amount of lives, and Nuke mode which is basically Capture the Flag but with a Attack/Defend set up while featuring giant missiles and statues. Let it be said that these modes are nothing short of pure fun, from those seeking a casual match to those wanting to put a clan together and get into more competitive games, and the ranking system that allows one to unlock more vehicles, bonuses and weapons as one progresses is icing on the cake. However, the matchmaking in the game is nothing short of rage-inducing. Too often I would try to enter a game for a match, only to be met with network errors, freeze-ups, or being stuck in a lobby for more than twenty minutes waiting for the match to simply begin, which only exacerbates the long loading screens upon entering said match. The excitement and thrill of the gameplay by itself has made these issues bearable, which is impressive, but they are in desperate need of a fix and fast.
Twisted Metal is really well optimized, taking up only 6 MB on the Playstation 3 Hard Drive, and is a visual joy to behold on a large scale, less so at a smaller scale but in a fast paced game like this that can easily be overlooked. The framerate is solid throughout, and the particle effects of the special weapons manage to be fantastical yet restrained. The Story Mode's cutscenes use live-action actors with some CG backgrounds that just don't entirely meet up. It creates a less uncanny effect and more the impression of a film experiment. The actors put in some effort but the entire presentation actually fits with the atmosphere of the game, the live action actors adding to the surrealist rage fantasy that the world is made of.
The licensed soundtrack of Twisted Metal is great. A great mix of iconic hits like Rob Zombie's “Dragula” to “Raise the Flags” and “Heavy Metal.” The sound effects are great, whether it's the sound of breaking glass, a sports car rampaging through a shopping mall, or a rapid scream of a pedestrian before being turned into chunky salsa.
The best way to summarize Twisted Metal would be how it's like the proverb, “one who speaks in anger makes their anger heard, but their words are forgotten.” It's not going to revolutionize gaming as a whole, it's not heralding a new shift in the market towards car combat games, and in a lot of ways it isn't going to be mind-blowing. It is a game with no substance other than simple primal catharsis, but with Multiplayer so fun and so much variety in mayhem that can be enough on its own.
Twisted Metal isn't perfect, between getting stuck on walls and corners, inconsistent difficulty curve in its Single-Player, and its subpar online matchmaking, but looking past all of that it is still well put together. The game is unrefined and rough around the edges, but its core is still as solid as it was back in 1995. If you have a PS3, I recommend it.
AAG Score: 8/10
+ Fun Addictive Car Combat
+ Great use of Licensed Music
+ Fast-Paced Multiplayer
- Uneven Difficulty Curve
- Online Matchmaking Issues
Reviewed and Written By Tyler Chancey