Twisted Metal
Developer: Eat Sleep Play
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: Solo campaign, 2-4 split-screen, 2-16 online
Words By:

The Twisted Metal franchise must be on about its seventh outing now and is one of the longest-running franchises on Sony’s consoles, making its debut as an original PlayStation launch title way back in 1995. It has therefore acquired “gaming royalty” status in my book, and should thus be treated with some level of respect and decorum when reviewing it, even if you find that its metallic gameplay is full of holes...

Twisted Metal has an extremely dark back story that tells the tale of Sweet Tooth the psychopathic clown, Mr. Grimm the mad, father-fixated biker and Dollface the mental supermodel. This divides the game into three chapters each of which end in a boss battle, so if you hate lengthy boss battles I’d stop reading now. One in particular is a doozy, and took me 43 minutes to complete! (Thankfully it does have checkpoints within the various stages of the boss fight if you fail).

Firstly there’s the mapping of the controls, a task which I can only presume was left to a mischievous juvenile monkey, who randomly assigned the various controls and functions to the PS3 controller’s sticks and buttons, rather than someone who’s ever played a combat racing game before. This cack-handed default “Classic TM” setup can admittedly can be changed to alternate “Dual Stick” or “Race Control” setups, but it’s questionable if either of them sort out certain control issues because some actions are still remarkably fiddly to accomplish; for instance, you have to press L1 & R1 simultaneously to make a vehicle jump, which is vital to make some shortcuts/reach certain areas-try this while trying to maintain full speed, I for one don’t have enough fingers to do this.

Other problems include some sluggish response to button inputs and audible messages that erroneously inform you of your weapon status/availability because the game moves at such a pace and the announcer speaks so slowly. Your special weapons’ availability seems to come and go at a whim, and apparently you lose its use if you’re hit in the interim period.

TM has some of the most aggressive AI opponents I’ve ever come across, they don’t just fight amongst themselves and let you pick them off one by one like a lot of games, they come at you four or five at a time, and initially at least, this can be hugely daunting and off-putting, The game doesn’t really ease you in gently enough and you’re expected to master the controls, learn the maps and use each vehicle’s weapons’ strengths to the maximum from the outset.

The ‘Freeze’ weapon (available to all vehicles in limited supply) is great when you use it on others as it stops the target vehicle so you can pound it with your guns/missiles easily, but is intensely annoying when you get ‘frozen’; you’re left there bashing the buttons to restart your vehicle’s engine for a random period. So Freeze is annoying, but AI enemy Road Boat’s special weapon, a homing magnet that fastens you to its bumper to then be hurled a ridiculous distance away (often to a place that’s difficult or even impossible to rejoin a race from) is simply infuriating! To put it simply; the game can seem unfair and be overwhelming when you’re new to the series, which is obviously not a good idea if you’re trying to lure a new generation into the TM fan club.

The vehicle’s physics don’t make any sense either. Although the larger, heavier vehicles handle more sluggishly and have the highest level of armour to protect them, they don’t seem to have the correct mass, so they can be violently diverted if they collide with much smaller vehicles and even nudged annoyingly when racing side by side. Even a sportscar or the helicopter, which have no armour at all, will ram them when they obviously shouldn’t actually dare to as any collision would mean certain death and destruction. This is particularly annoying during the race events when you have to pass through a certain number of narrow checkpoint gates. Some more thought, testing and balancing of the weapons and physics was definitely in order.

The vehicles are just as twisted as you might expect; brutish armoured versions of innocent-looking vehicles like a sedan, muscle car, van, tow truck, 18-wheeler big rig, semi-truck, SUV, sports car, ambulance, hearse, helicopter, chopper motor cycle and of course, Sweet Tooth’s ice cream van-all of which can be painted with a selection of customised paint jobs. There are a few additional vehicles to unlock that will be familiar to TM veterans including Warthog (an SUV body mounted on tank tracks) and Axel, which is basically a pair of huge tractor wheels with your character in the middle.

I mentioned that the controls; which are confusing, vary between vehicles and can be fiddly and overwhelming to master. The training mode does go some way to helping out with this as it walks you through each vehicle’s controls and weapons. Unfortunately even this is flawed as although you have unlimited ammo there’s no drone vehicle to practice on, and no one attacking you and therefore no pressure, so you don’t really get to use the weapons as they’re meant to be used, and have to learn in-game, during which I found some of the weapons completely impossible to use in any sort of effective way. The ‘Normal’ difficulty setting was quite hard enough for me (and I’m a Twisted Metal veteran), and why anyone would want ‘Hard’ and ‘Twisted’ settings above that is beyond belief in this day and age with so many games coming out every month; I get the feeling that there will be a lot of used copies of Twisted Metal available soon as gamers become frustrated with its unforgiving gameplay and learning curve that goes vertical shortly after the intro.

The various landscape settings look good without stretching the PS3’s graphical capabilities too far, and although some of the maps seemed under-tested as they have numerous places where you can get stuck, the genius of Black Rock Stadium’s ever-changing levels is probably the high point of the game. The level of damage and the sheer amount of on-screen mayhem is impressive but some of the race tracks’ design leaves a lot to be desired, with fiddly slopes that even the muscle cars won’t climb and unfriendly, evil even, jumps that plummet you straight into disaster if you get them slightly wrong.

Online the game plays much the same as off, there’s never anyone to talk to unless you’re playing with friends so it’s just like playing the solo game against AI bots, with the added “pleasure” of the occasional bit of lag to distinguish the two modes of play. The different online modes include: Team Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, Hunted and Nuke modes. If you rent or pick the game up second-hand you will require a PSN Pass code to play online (a system that requires players who purchased used copies of the game to also purchase pass to access online features). Allegedly Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe was against using the PSN pass code idea (what a great guy!) but he was obviously overruled by more powerful and greedy people at Sony, intent on copying EA’s gamer-alienating marketing model for online gaming. The split screen mode works relatively well on a large TV, but it's unlikely TM's samey gameplay and fiddly controls are going to keep 4 people interested for long.

Twisted Metal not only looks impressive but also sounds amazing, with all the explosive and weapons sounds you’d expect blended with some perfectly apt music. The highpoint is probably the evocative and melancholy “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, which just about sums the entire game up better than my review ever could...

Best Bits

- Eye-pleasing amounts of on-screen mayhem.
- Nice variation in landscapes, vehicles, weapons etc.
Worst Bits

- Highly-aggressive AI and a steep learning curve.
- The physics needed work.
- Sticky points on maps.

by: Jensen Buttons

Copyright © Gamecell 2012