Twisted Metal Review
Written : Tuesday, March 20, 2012
By: Lee Bradley
Back in 1995 the world was a very different place. DVDs had just been invented, Toy Story became the first ever CGI movie and one of the designers of Mickey Mania created a game about blowing the crap out of cars. That man was David Jaffe and the game was Twisted Metal.
Now 17 years on and Blu-Rays have superseded DVDs, Andy has abandoned Woody and Buzz to discover sex and meth (probably), and Jaffe... well, Jaffe’s returning to his roots, revisiting the car combat series that made his name. Twisted Metal is back and it’s like the 90’s never left us. But is that a good thing?
Just like its creator, Twisted Metal is completely uncompromising. It’s brave and foolish and admirable and annoying; exactly the kind of game that I wish there were more of, yet not necessarily an experience that I enjoy. It will no doubt inspire love and hatred in equal measure. In a world of bland games designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, that should be applauded.
"Who's for ice cream!?"
This attitude is best reflected in the controls. Every single button on the controller is assigned some kind of function, with modifiers, context-sensitive actions and a slightly revised layout for each of the different vehicles confusing matters even further. Even the motion-sensitive Sixaxis controls have been dusted off and brought out to play for super-boosts. No concessions are made for ease of use.
Then there’s the scheme itself, which annoyingly isn’t customisable. It simply isn’t intuitive to use face buttons to accelerate and a thumb-stick to reverse, not in 2012. Nor is it helpful to have at least six buttons dedicated to various weapons, with another two responsible for cycling through them. Initially it’s baffling, a great big 'fuck you' to newcomers and those that haven’t touched the series for a decade.
Spend some time wrestling with all this, however, and once the frustration gives way to mastery you’ll see that the control method is actually spot on. Whether that’s Stockholm Syndrome speaking or not, I don’t know. But I do know that the controls work and they work well, one of the few conceivable ways to graft the game’s myriad of inputs onto one pad. It’s just infuriatingly obtuse and unintuitive; no compromises, merely a stubborn dedication to what it thinks is right.
At the other end of the spectrum is the handling of the vehicles. It’s a cartoony joy. Forget realism. Every decision has been made with fun in mind. Largely speaking, big cars are slow and heavy, small cars are fast and light, and every car can jump and spin on a sixpence, get chucked around corners and put a massive grin on your face. It’s accessible, easy and oh-so-much fun. No complaints there.
"Wait! We have to exchange insurance information!"
Built around all of this are a series of events that you can tackle either online or in single player against bots. The heart of the latter is the Story Mode, following a handful of lunatics - including series stalwart Sweet Tooth - as they compete in the titular car combat tournament. Each character hopes to win and have a wish granted by Calypso, the smooth, yet utterly demented business magnate responsible for arranging it. Once granted, those wishes tend to go horribly wrong.
What holds the Story Mode back is a frustrating difficulty spike and some redundant gameplay modes. Races are probably the worst of the bunch. They’re hamstrung by murderous AI with a single-minded desire to finish you, despite what effect that may have on their own race. These events also negate some of what makes the game fun: madcap, chaotic, free-form destruction is what Twisted Metal is all about, not crossing the line first. Feels like filler.
Boss fights, encountered at points throughout Story Mode, are similarly frustrating. They culminate in a multi-stage climactic battle that’ll have you chewing your controller. Restart, restart, restart. It’s just not fun.
Thankfully, this all goes out of the window when it comes to the real draw of Twisted Metal; the Multiplayer. Here you’ll find Deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Hunted, plus their team equivalents, alongside Nuke - where teams switch between offence and defence in an attempt to take down the opposing leader.
These gameplay modes may be overfamiliar to FPS fans, but in the context of Twisted Metal they’re a riot: fast-paced lunacy, stuffed with laugh out loud chaos. You start a match, go charging off to find the weapons dotted about the environment, stockpile as many as you can and then watch as everything around you - including buildings - explodes in a big mess of heat-seeking rockets, freeze rays and ice cream vans that can transform into flying robots. You can even unlock a helicopter later on. How that doesn’t break the game I just don’t know, or care. It’s ace!
"Chopper-based booms, ahoy!"
Facilitating the joy of multiplayer is a robust set of options. You can tackle the carnage in just about every manner conceivable, from LAN matches, to splitscreen battles, co-op Story Mode and straight-up games over PSN. Initially blighted by issues, the latter of these has been patched and (reportedly) is much better than when the game launched in North America. It’s still not perfect however, hampered by connectivity and matchmaking grumbles.
Another issue is the style of the game. It’s juvenile and trashy and presented in a way that clearly belies the series’ 90’s origins. And not necessarily in a good way. Twisted Metal is Nu-Metal album cover art turned into a game. That dressing may have been compelling a decade and more ago, but now it’s just outdated. Yet perversely, like some of Twisted Metal’s other flaws, I can’t help but admire the attitude. “This is who I am,” it says. “I’ve got crazy controls, stupid difficulty spikes and a crappy metal soundtrack. Don’t like it? Fuck off and play something else then.”
Even the Trophy list is uncompromising. Stuffed with bastard hard challenges necessitating a fair bit of grinding. There’s creativity in the list, but there’s also plenty of dreaded online challenges. Not even the most skilled of players are going to find this Platinum easy.
Ultimately, Twisted Metal’s defiantly hardcore, fan-serving, retro-pleasing approach represents a dying art. Games of this type just don’t get made any more, certainly not on this scale. As such, Twisted Metal will appeal to a very specific type of gamer, one who is familiar with the series, yet capable of wading through the less pleasing elements to reach a core experience that’s actually great fun. Others, however, may not make it that far.
A soundtrack featuring White Zombie, Iggy Pop and Judas Priest battles it out with some dull genero-metal. Audio effects are solid. The good old custom soundtrack feature keeps everyone happy.
It’s technically rough and artistically divisive, but you won’t really care about the throw-back style when you’re in the middle of a massive pile-up with explosions kicking off all around you.
Cumbersome, complicated controls and some wrong-headed inclusions mask an experience that can be wonderfully entertaining. It’s just disappointing that the game attempts to hide this from you.
The presentation is tacky and nasty, the Story Mode is poorly delivered and the multiplayer is arguably light, but the range of local and online options is impressive.
Ouch. You will be playing this for a very, very long time if you intend on getting the platinum. Lots of painful grinding.