Having been away from the Twisted Metal franchise for quite some time, I went into this review wide eyed and anxious for a return to the days of old; when mindlessly screaming around a map, destroying all who get in your way was the order of the day and we all loved it. Strange now how fond memories of childhood are associated with images of an ice cream truck and a clown with his hair on fire. Anyway, the latest entry in the Twisted Metal franchise does bring me back to those glory days, but carries with it memories both good and bad.
The campaign follows the paths of three main characters, Mr. Grimm, Dollface, and, of course, Sweet Tooth. You start out with Sweet Tooth playing through a series of missions. The game is styled with strict linearity, meaning you start as Sweet Tooth and continue as such until his portion of the campaign is over. There’s no switching characters midstream, so if you want to see how the live action cut scenes are for the other characters, prepare for a grind. It’s well worth it, though. Strangely, the campy, over-the-top B movie style cut scenes lay out a loose storyline that has absolutely nothing to do with the missions you take part in. Nonetheless, the style of artwork is fantastic during these interludes, edgy and brutal. Not once did I feel the compulsion to skip ahead. Why they didn’t tie them in with the storyline of the missions presented to you in the single player mode, who knows. It’s a nitpick that is easy to overlook while playing, though some people will surely take issue with.
While playing the campaign, you will be presented with your standard fare of game modes, with your goal in each one to survive. Last man standing takes home the prize. In some instances you are just one man — erm, make that clown — on a map just trying to survive. Others find you in a map with a roving area of confinement called a “cage”. Stray out of the area, and you will eventually start taking damage. Make no mistake, when the cage moves, you will be outside of it. You have a grace period which prevents you from taking damage, but it is a single timer for the entirety of the level. So if you run out of grace period, then the next time the cage moves you will instantly start taking damage. Aptly named juggernaut levels provide you plenty of excuses to throw your controller down in frustration. Here, you are tasked with destroying an enormous semi-truck and trailer that continually spawns other competitors until you destroy it.
There are weaknesses on the Juggernaut, but it is up to you to find them. Believe me, even on normal level of difficulty, these levels are some of the toughest around. Part of this is due to a large level of imbalance in AI. If you find yourself in the middle of three or four AI opponents, they will drop everything and come straight after you. Forsaking each other, you are subject of their sole attention. On most normal maps, this isn’t a deal breaker, but on the Juggernaut levels this becomes a huge source of irritation. It seems that you simply cannot take the time to hit the Juggernaut until these irritating mosquito-like combatants are gone. These issues don’t make Twisted Metal a bad game, but it does remind us of how soft games have become. It is rare in this day and age to find a game that challenges a player like this, even on normal difficulty. Still, it treads a fine line between being heavily unbalanced, unfair or just plain difficult.
The game’s multiplayer component proved a little frustrating to review. Literally all available lobbies were sparsely populated, and were somewhat difficult to actually get into. That said the games I was able to get into were thoroughly more enjoyable than I had imagined. Whether it be 16-player deathmatch, team deathmatch, or any of the other competitive offerings up for grabs, the multiplayer excels as a compelling, all out mash fest. The same silky smooth gameplay is present in multiplayer just as it is in single player — not to mention, it is a lot easier to get kills. Furthermore, unlike the single player AI, human adversaries actually fight each other as well as come after you, which makes for a refreshing change of pace. At the time of writing, there is a patch in the works that is supposed to remedy the difficulty entering and staying in multiplayer games. I certainly hope this is the case, as this is where people will likely get the most enjoyment and longevity out of the game.
Graphics wise, Twisted Metal has nothing over the recent crop of PS3 games. It’s still a decent looking effort in terms of both multiplayer and single-player though, and unlike some games, there is no discernible dip in performance when transitioning between the two. Zooming around the map and blasting everything sight while clocking the devastation done to the surrounding environment is pretty awesome. Well, that is, until you start to pay close attention to the action. Allow me to elaborate quickly. When you fire at a tree and you see it disintegrate, it crumples to the ground with a believable animation. That’s when things go downhill. The tree then disappears into the ground, circa 1999. Not to be picky, but in this day and age, people expect to see realistic physics and debris. How cool would it be to be able to use the environment to actually affect gameplay? You can destroy huge towers, apartment buildings, houses, but they all simply disappear after crumbling to the ground. Therefore, there is no real bonus to destroying the environment other than a brief thrill and spot of eye candy. Why can’t we topple the towers to block an annoying pursuer? The textures on buildings and the environment are well done, and make for some gorgeous views. As stated, it is a good looking game, but there are some things that could have made the levels a little more believable in terms of destructible physics.
In addition to the campaign, there are some training missions, customizable practice menus where you can battle bots, setup challenges or drive any of the in-game vehicles in order to get a feel for them. There is even a practice level that sends countless waves of baddies your way to see how long you can hold out for. Not really much detail to go into here, as gameplay and graphics are identical, but in honesty apart from multiplayer, this is where I spent the bulk of my play time.
Twisted Metal is a trip to the past that carries with it some fond, old school experiences, but lamentably also some things we’d rather see the back of. Flat environments with little physical interaction with the cars, destruction which is done for the sake of doing it, unbalanced and brutal AI causing many level retries, along with some twitchy controls might have been deal breakers. Thankfully, all of the issues I had with the game are instantly trashed when you load it up. It moves like butter, looks good, and provides some good old school chaotic fun. It has to be said, people looking for an easy game should search elsewhere, as you will not find it here. If you are up for a challenging, great looking car combat romp brimming with destruction however, snatch this game up asap. Amp it up a few notches on the fun scale by having friends over for some local split screen, or playing MP online (once it’s patched). Believe me, blowing the hell out of your friends online hasn’t been this much fun in years.