Review: Twisted Metal (Sony PS3)

Twisted Metal
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Eat Sleep Play
Genre: Vehicular Combat
Release Date: 02/14/2012

Back in 1995, a new genre was born, and the longest running Sony franchise was created. The original Twisted Metal created a world where crazed characters piloted suped up vehicles in a demolition derby. The prize at the end was a wish granted by a man called Calypso. The series would become a huge hit and spawn a loyal and rabid fan base, as well as launch the career of one David Jaffe.

This new Twisted Metal comes seven years after the release of Head On, a game which I and many others deem the best of the series. With the series creator back at the helm, the power of the PS3 to play with, and an online world to conquer, Twisted Metal has some lofty expectations to meet.

It’s time to see if this old concept can still get player’s motors running, or if the series was better off left in the past.

Story/Modes

This installment takes a different approach from its predecessors. Instead of offering a fighting game style of story progression, you have a single campaign. This campaign takes you through the stories of Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, and Dollface in that order. Each character has a reason to partake in Calypso’s contest, with vastly different goals. Sweet Tooth wants to murder someone, Grimm wants to go back in time and prevent a death, and Dollface simply wants to become a world famous supermodel. Their stories all told though cutscenes involving live action actors on digital backdrops. We’ll get back to these later. There are thirty plus minutes of cutscenes and the game’s tales are pretty well thought out and interesting. My only problem here is that they get less interesting as they go. Sweet Tooth is by far the star of the game, yet you clear though his path first.

The campaign also demonstrates the biggest single change to the franchise. Individual characters are no longer tied to a specific car. In fact, there are only four characters in the game, one of which doesn’t get his own campaign. This is a bit of a controversial issue for fans, as it can take away from the story for some, but make the game more free than others. It should be noted that in all three final boss fights, the characters do not use their trademark cars for the final battle. That certainly felt odd.

Finally, what the campaign lacks in terms of choosing characters and running through a tournament, it makes up for in ingenuity and big moments. There are more than just death matches here, with a special events taking center stage. One level may have you racing to stay within the confines of an ever moving electric cage, another has you racing through checkpoints in order to stay alive, and yet another has you battling a vehicles that towers over most houses! Throughout, you unlock new vehicles and sidearms. This coupled with the structure of some levels, does leave a feeling of the campaign being a training tool for multiplayer. It’s definitely a mixed bag.

Other single player modes include death match, and endurance. In these modes, you can set up what map you use, the number of enemies, and other options. These are fun if you can’t find other people to play with, as well as great opportunities to learn maps, weapon layouts, and vehicle handling. These are standard modes to Twisted Metal. Also included is a live action demo which walks you through the controls for each vehicle. I definitely recommend using it for each vehicle at least once.

Twisted Metal is really all about the multiplayer this year. It supports four player split screen for local play, and sixteen player matches online. Private matches allow you to fiddle with all kinds of variable, such as one hit kills, endless weapons, etc. Ranked matches (online only) allow you to earn experience and rank up, allowing you to unlock new vehicles and extras. In this regard, the game has taken a huge step in terms of modernizing its approach. You rank up and earn an unlock point. You can then spend that point on anything you want in your tier. When you’ve bought everything in tier one, you move on to tier two, which has a host of new goodies to unlock. Modes available for play include death match, team death match, last man standing, hunted, and nuke. Nuke is the showpiece, requiring team work to complete. It has you capturing a faction leader, bringing him/her to a launcher, holding that position, launching a nuke, and then hitting a large statue in order to score points. Small skirmishes and mad dashes occur at all times, making a chaotic but fun mode to play.

This is probably the most fully featured of any Twisted Metal game. The strong online features are a huge part of that. The only problem is that the connectivity is suspect, and it can be a pain to get a match going. But once you do, it’s all gravy. Some might be disappointed by the single player campaign, but that’s only because of how different it is.

Graphics

Let’s talk about all of those cut scenes first. They look awesome. Using real life actors was a huge gamble that could have easily backfired, yet it ends ups creating a world that would work brilliantly as a movie or television series. (There is in fact a Twisted Metal movie in the works. No idea if it will ever see the light of day, but these cut scenes could certainly convince people.) Sweet Tooth is once again the star here. His story sets up a rather nice series of slasher flicks. There are perhaps a bit too many flashbacks, which is the only problem I can bring up.

The game itself is an evolution of what Black presented players on the PS2. Characters and vehicles are very dark and not all the zany goofballs of Twisted Metals past. The vehicles are dirty and banged up, though Vermin still provides some silliness. Also, it’s hard to take things too seriously when Sweet Tooth can turn into a flying mech that throws its own head as a weapon.

The environments are by and large the best in the series. This is to be expected, but they really outdid themselves here. They are full of detail. You can enter a museum and take down a T-Rex statue, crash through seats in a movie theater, and get lost in a haunted house. The textures can be a bit muddled, and the camera can get wild, but a strong art style and all of those little details sell the game in a big way.

The effects are also top notch, which is great as there are usually a ton of projectiles flying around at any given time. Building get bulldozed into rubble, explosions are dramatic, and animations are smooth. It’s not perfect, but it is still damn good. Sweet Tooth’s “hair” is the best example I can present. Overall, this is a pretty darn good looking game.

Audio

Voice acting in Twisted Metal games hasn’t always been a high point. I was pleasantly surprised, then, that what was here was so good. All of the main characters are well done, even when given hokey dialogue to speak. Considering how much time is spent watching cut scenes, and how important they are to the game’s story, this was a very good thing indeed. The only issue I had here was the announcer’s voice, which can repeat itself and get annoying.

The music is another high point. There are plenty of original songs here, all with a campy hard rock flair that fits the game like a glove. A lot of it is fun to listen to outside the game as well. Twisted Metal 2 still has the best soundtrack, but this game gets a leg up thanks to a strong set of licensed tracks as well. Rob Zombie, Ghostface Killah, and even Patsy Cline make appearances. If you don’t get into what the game offers, you can also use your own custom tracks to tailor the experience for you. More games need to do that.

The sound effects are probably the least impressive of the bunch. A lot of the sounds come off as muted. This is probably because of the sheer jackhammer to your skull that would occur if they were full on, but it was still noticeable. A little more work was needed here, but there aren’t too many complaints. I just wanted a bit more oomph.

Gameplay

Every single button on the controller has a function, with many pulling double duty. This controls scheme can seem absolutely daunting at first, as there is a lot you can do. However, a little bit of practice and you’ll see that the controls work like a dream, and this game is a blast to play.

OK. So you steer with the left stick, reverse and aim with the right stick, while the d-pad is reserved for attacks that use a refilling meter. These are the classic shield, mine, and freeze. L1 and R1 shuffle through main weapons while R2 fires the weapon. L2 is for your sidearm. Square if for the gas, X is the hand brake, circle is the break, and triangle allows you to use alternate versions of specials. You can also change your perspective with the select button, but there is no first person. That’s probably for the best. If I had one issue with the controls, it’s that in the heat of battle, remember how to reverse can be a pain. Again, this is something you learn with practice.

There are all kinds of weapons in the game. Basic pick ups like fire missiles, homing missiles, and and napalm return. They work the way you’d expect. New weapons include the sniper rifle and shotgun. These are risk/reward weapons. Sniper rifles do little damage at first, but if you can keep a target in sight, you can get better shots. If you hold it long enough, you can get a head shot that instantly kills the opponent. This is very hard to get against a moving opponent. The shotgun is a useless weapon at distance, but if you get in close, it can deal a ton of damage. It works great when ramming and drive bys. Some older weapons have been modified as well. The ricochet can be charged for a bigger blast zone as well as more damage, you can stick a remote bomb onto another player, and you can break out of a freeze by mashing on face buttons. There is a diverse set of weapons here, but we haven’t even gotten into the specials yet.

Each car has two specials, a first for the series. You can switch between them by using the triangle button. For example, Reaper’s basic special is a thrown chainsaw. This can also be set on fire for extra damage, but that’s beside the point. Reaper’s alternate special is an RPG that you have to manually fire. It’s harder to hit with, but does a ton of damage. Axel’s classic energy wave returns, but he can also turn into a spiked wheel of death that does combo damage. Hell. Sweet Tooth can freaking fly! These specials are important to master, and offer only part of the equation when dealing with differences between cars.

Each car has three main stats. These are speed, armor, and special. The first two are self explanatory, and special is an arbitrary rating of how useful that vehicle’s special attacks are. There are other, more subtle differences as well. Each vehicle recharges energy at a different rate, does differing amounts of ram damage, and they each have a different jump height. The best way to learn all of this is to experiment against bots or in the live training mode.

Talon and Sweet Tooth represent the first time flying characters have been playable in Twisted Metal. They control differently, in that they use the left stick for more functions. They still control well and have other factors that help keep the vertical game in check. Talon has the lowest armor rating in the game, and Sweet Tooth is far too slow to avoid attacks. (He’s also a pretty big target.) Still, the increased maneuverability make them a blast to play with.

The eight maps in the game are phenomenal. Worried that there are only eight? Well don’t. These maps are so big, that you have the option of using only a small portion of them, many of which are still bigger than the biggest maps in old games. These maps are chock full of destructible objects, hidden goodies, and places to go. Metro Square has a toy store, museum, subway system, skating rink, and even more places alone. A minimap helps you navigate and find enemies, while turbo ensures you can get right into the action. The best weapons are usually put in hard to reach or dangerous areas. For example, you may find a sniper rifle on top of a building, or a power missile on the edge of a cliff. If you want the extra boost, you need to take the time and/or risk needed to get it.

What it all boils down to is a fast, tight, car combat experience. Once you get past the complexity of the controls and start experimenting with different vehicles and sidearms, you’ll find one hell of a deep game. There are plenty of vehicles to choose from, maps to explore, and just enough modes to keep you going. It’s just a blast to play.

Replayability

The single player campaign isn’t too terribly long. There are eighteen levels, each of which will probably take somewhere between ten to fifteen minutes to complete. Add in retries, and it will take most players between four to five hours to complete it for the first time. You can replay them to earn a better ranking, which can unlock content, earn trophies, and move you up on the leaderboards. Also, trying them on a harder difficulty is a definite option.

The multiplayer is a blast, and there are enough modes that anyone should be able to find a favorite and have a blast. There are tons of connection issues, but the diligent can find a game and get right in the action. These issues will hopefully be resolved in a promised upcoming patch, so have patience. If not, it’s fun enough to push through the aggravation. There’s also plenty of fun to be had in local multiplayer, including the ability to play the campaign with a friend. It’s offline only though.

Anyways, this game definitely has plenty of content. This is a welcome surprise, as not having to play through the story with each character saves a lot of time. If you get into Twisted Metal, it will definitely give you your money’s worth.

Balance

The single player campaign can be a truly frustrating experience, even on lower difficulty settings. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are a number of campaign specific levels and mechanics, such as an electric cage, races, and gigantic multi-stage boss fights. These take some getting used to, as you have to figure out the tricks and what the game wants you to do. Secondly, the you have to unlock all of the vehicles and sidearms, so you can’t instantly use your favorites. Finally, the enemies have magical missiles that are always glued to your bumper. It’s insane. A seemingly endless barrage will hit you time and time again, as well as freeze blasts and other pains in the ass. At first, I was thinking that this was because instead of a free for all contest to determine a winner, the enemies were legitimately supposed to swarm you. Later on though, you fight a level where Calypso specifically states that in this level, EVERYONE is coming for you, meaning they weren’t supposed to before. There’s a definite learning curve here. Once you get used to what the game wants you to do, learn the maps, and figure out the vehicles, it becomes much more manageable. Still, it’s going to cause new players fits.

The rest of the game is very well balanced. Different vehicles have different stats, and a skilled player can win with anyone. The flying vehicles have some advantages, but again, it’s something you have to get used to. The DLC character, Axel, is another initially strong character that can be stopped with smart play. This is a game about skill, not brute force. You’ve got to plan your attack, time it, and then implement your strategy. After the initial learning curve, you’ll be able to get right in.

Originality

In terms of basic setup, controls, and gameplay, this game doesn’t deviate from the Twisted Metal formula in any way, shape, or form. I’ve been playing these games for well over a decade, and I knew pretty much what to expect.

That being said, this game doesn’t simply rest on its laurels. It separates driver from car, doubles the special abilities, and puts a huge focus on the online multiplayer. The campaign is also completely different from anything in the series. Also, one has to remember, there are very few games like this out there anymore, which helps it stand out.

This game might not be teeming with originality, but it is truly a unique and interesting specimen in the Twisted Metal series. That helps it earn some points and keeps it from being a derivative mess. If you’re tired of yearly copycats and sequels, this game is comparatively fresh.

Addictiveness

It’s hard to describe the chaotic fun that ensues when battling with other people. It’s very easy to get sucked into a series of matches. Plus, the promise of unlocking new cars, weapons, and perks keeps you going. Testing out a new vehicle against human opponents is simply fantastic. With the ability to set up clans, this game can keep players going for a long time.

From a single player standpoint, the game is full of big moments in the campaign. It can be frustrating, but the thrill of finally beating a particularly tough level is fantastic. Also, it’s fun to experiment with new vehicles against bots. The endurance mode is also surprisingly addictive, tasking you with taking on an endless barrage of opponents.

Basically, this is the kind of game you’re likely to find yourself either in large bursts, or for a little bit every day. It’s going to be a mainstay in my PS3 for quite some time.

Appeal Factor

Twisted Metal is a storied franchise, even if it has laid dormant for quite some time. While Head On was released for the PSP, a lot of people like to pretend that portable titles don’t count. That’s why some people say it has been over a decade since the last “major” release. For those people, this is one hell of a homecoming, and a game that simply shouldn’t be missed.

For the new crowd, Twisted Metal is all about crazy, skillful combat and is a blast to play. It might seem too over the top and silly to some, but that shouldn’t stop you. The barrier to entry seems initially high. However, through experimentation and prodigious use of the tutorials, that barrier can be overcome. When I started playing this series, tutorials didn’t exist.

Twisted Metal offers a unique experience in the gaming landscape. If you’ve never played one before, now is a great time to start.

Miscellaneous

Firstly, the Limited Edition of the game comes with a voucher to download Twisted Metal: Black onto your PS3. That is just damned cool. Also included is a Sweet Tooth skin for the upcoming Starhawk game. If you’re getting that too, this is a nice bonus. The game does have require an online pass though, so keep that in mind if you want to go the used route.

As of now, there are plenty of connection issues with the online. Trying to join a match through a list will almost always results in a matchmaking error. Your best bet is to use the quick-online option, but even then you can end up waiting a while and getting several errors. Jaffe swears these issues are being worked on, so I’m hoping that they won’t be around for longer, but I can’t give the game points for something that hasn’t happened yet.

Overall, however, this game is aces. It brings the Twisted Metal style of play into the modern age without too many hiccups. It maintains fast, fun combat and a “twisted” sense of style and storytelling that helps it stand out from the crowd. It is definitely worth checking out.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Good
Audio: Great
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary


Twisted Metal is a triumphant return for the series, though it does hit a few bumps along the road. The bond between car and driver has been severed, which will cause some problems with series fans. Also, there are some serious connection issues that suck some of the fun out of the online modes. However, this is still a darn good game with great gameplay, plenty of content, and a unique sense of style that you just don’t get anymore. If you used to play Twisted Metal or never have before, now is a great time to get in on the fun. Now if you need me, I’ll be working on trying to unlock Warthog.

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