Twisted Metal has always been a unique beast among games, essentially creating the car-combat genre back in 1995, and is Sony’s longest-running franchise. While there has been the occasional imitator, Twisted Metal practically owns the genre, being comparable to only previous entries in the series—most notably Twisted Metal 2 and Twisted Metal: Black. In that regard, the PlayStation 3 reboot of Twisted Metal never really hits those high points, but neither does it crash and burn in a ditch.
This new version of Twisted Metal attempts to form a more coherent narrative by trimming away the cast to four main drivers: Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, Dollface, and Preacher (who appears in cutscenes, but is only playable in multiplayer). The story is told through live-action cutscenes reminiscent of the ones edited out of the original PlayStation Twisted Metal, skirting the line between awesome and awesomely-cheesy. These cutscenes detail the motivations of the three drivers for joining a contest hosted by demonic CEO Calypso who promises to grant the winner one wish, which will inevitably backfire on them.
The narrative is set up like a horror-movie anthology, but this new approach doesn’t necessarily work. Sweet Tooth’s story arc is by far the most interesting , serving as an origin story for the deranged clown while the final story concerning Dollface’s journey to supermodel stardom feels tepid by comparison. It’s difficult not to miss the dozens of endings from previous games rather than this handful of vaguely intertwining stories.
That said, the campaign deviates from the standard formula of free-for-all matches against AI-controlled bots. Story mode introduces things like races, over-the-top boss battles, electric cage matches, and battles against hulking semis called Juggernauts. Curiously, the game flirts with these new ideas but never really commits to them. None of these features made it into multiplayer, but given the amount of frustration with each one in the campaign, it might be for the best.
Races are by far the worst of the lot. Twisted Metal‘s cartoon physics and single-minded AI enemies make them a nightmare to get through, and by the time the third race rolls around, you start to question just what the developers were thinking. Bosses are huge and quite difficult as well, later on culminating in a multi-part battle that quickly loses all novelty after dying repeatedly and trying again. Electric cage matches are the best of the bunch as they center on an ever-moving quadrant of a map where once players are out of the parameters and use up their grace period, they start to take damage.
It’s an interesting idea for a mode that never comes to fruition, and Juggernaut matches quickly become irritating as well since now you have a heavily-armored semi that spawns bots on the map. None of this would be particularly irksome if the AI dog-piled on any other combatant besides you. The broken AI is most prevalent in the races, as enemies will literally throw the race just so long as the player gets screwed over in the end.
It’s such a shame, because the heart of Twisted Metal‘s mechanics are just as much fun as they ever were. All the ingredients for classic, car-on-car action are represented with plenty of new toys to play with as well. There are lots of missiles, bombs, and napalm along with devastating special attacks unique to each vehicle. This time around, every vehicle has an alternate special attack that’s typically harder to use, but deals extra damage, and more conventional weaponry like a sniper rifle or shotgun wielded by the vehicle’s gunner.
The standard mounted guns can be replaced with different sidearms like a rocket launcher, magnum, or uzi, though each one takes far too long to reload and there doesn’t seem to be a distinct advantage one has over the other. Cars can be further customized with unique paint jobs and some neat designs. These don’t change up the experience dramatically, but it’s nice when you get tired of looking at the same thing.
The roster of vehicles ranges from lightning-fast sports cars to slow, heavily-armored trucks and they’re all balanced pretty well, even the helicopter which one would assume would break the game. Still, it’s best to go with the cars that have a balance of armor, speed, and power. Fast vehicles are a lot harder to control and typically get taken down very easily, especially the motorcycle, while the heaviest vehicles are a total chore to maneuver.
Twisted Metal‘s real replay value is found in the multiplayer, and luckily the game has an impressive amount of options in that regard. Players can take on the campaign together, play split-screen, LAN, and most importantly play online. Modes available include Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, Hunted, their team equivalents, and Nuke mode.
This is unquestionably where Twisted Metal shines, with human players tearing through the game’s eight massive levels trying to blow each other up in a variety of colorful ways. The high-speed, uncoordinated chaos is a refreshing change of pace from the usual multiplayer experience found in online shooters cluttering up the market. It’s not necessarily a deep experience—especially considering that the most successful strategy is to stockpile weapons and then unleash a volley on whatever poor soul crosses your path—but it’s undeniably fun.
Nuke mode is the only objective-based mode wherein two teams switch between defense and offense, with those on offense tasked with capturing the opposing team’s faction leader and sacrificing them in order to launch a missile to take out a giant statue, and the team on defense has to prevent that. It’s a fun mode to play, but definitely not a game-changer and most players are going to focus on getting the most kills rather than scoring points.
Sadly, the sheer number of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch games vastly outweigh the more exotic modes Twisted Metal offers, so this makes up the bulk of the online experience and while there’s nothing wrong with either one, it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen a thousand times before. The biggest hurdle to enjoying the online portion is the fact that for every one game that manages to get off the ground, it’s preceded by an inexcusable number of matchmaking errors, taking much of the enjoyment out of playing online.
For all its faults, Twisted Metal at its core is a fun game. Whipping around at high speeds in destructible environments while dodging attacks from enemy cars is as fun as ever, it’s just too bad that the game makes players wade through a frustrating campaign and connectivity issues that cripple the enjoyment of online play. While there’s been talk of patching up these online issues, so far there hasn’t been any noticeable improvement and it’s yet to be determined if Twisted Metal will have a thriving online community.
Twisted Metal is stuck in second gear, trying to evolve beyond the simplistic (but enjoyable) nature of its mechanics. It introduces new ideas while attempting to please hardcore fans of the series at the same time, and this middle-of-the-road approach doesn’t really work. Rather than trying to complicate the experience, it seems like Twisted Metal should’ve stuck to its roots of no-frills, arcade-y action.