Publisher: SCEA / Developer: Eat Sleep Play / Price: $59.99 / Played on: PlayStation 3 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
You know how you might stumble on some dumb action movie from your childhood—like, say, Demolition Man—and you’ll still watch it all despite the fact you can see clearly how stupid the movie is? There’s tons of violence, cheesy one-liners, car chases, and a plot that’s basically window dressing to allow the characters to get into fights where lots of shit explodes? That’s exactly what playing the new Twisted Metal remake is like: dumb and gory, but fun as hell, and hard to stop playing, even when you know better.
Just like the original game for the PlayStation, in Twisted Metal you get behind the wheel of a weaponized death-car tricked out with guns, missiles, and more, and do your best to a) kill all of your opponents and b) not die. There are six vehicles available at the game’s start, and that number escalates to more than double as you progress. Each offers strengths and weaknesses: Darkside is a semi-truck with strong shields and weapons, but piss-poor speed. Death Warrant—a Camaro—has decent shields and can outrace its competition, but doesn’t have particularly strong weapons.
Environments range from sleepy Californian suburbs and metropolitan city blocks, to sadistic death-arenas—complete with lava pits waiting to melt you should you lose your way in battle.
Deathmatches—whether against the AI or online—are the real draw here. There’s something magical about peeling out in a demonic ice cream truck and mowing down fleeing pedestrians right before colliding with a house, reducing it to rubble as you plow through. These matches can have a cat-and-mouse feel, as you switch from chasing down opponents to turning tail and running to find health or more weapon power-ups. While reminiscent of Mario Kart’s weapon enhancements, the destructive fare available in Twisted Metal more closely resembles something you’d find in a military bunker, including napalm, rockets, homing missiles, and RC cars with sticks of dynamite stuck to them.
Story mode tasks you with fighting through a series of 18 deathmatch arenas, races, and boss fightshat escalate in difficulty, with victory unlocking more vehicles and weapon options. Last Man Standing-style deathmatches dominate the majority of the levels, and they’re broken up with boss-fights or races. But when the game strays from its recipe of arena-based mayhem, frustration starts to set in. While each level requires certain sets of conditions to emerge victorious—don’t stray too far from the approved battle-area, take out a certain enemy before the others—the races and boss battles heap those on to such an extent that they become more of a chore and less fun. For instance, if you miss too many gates in a race, you explode. But the enemies you face in a given race are often so tough that it’s much, much tougher to stay on the track…especially when you consider that the main skill set in the game doesn’t emphasize staying on a prescribed course.
The game has a mostly decent difficulty curve, keeping the challenge fairly manageable and winnable for more than half the time. But suddenly, the difficulty takes a dire turn in the last third of the game, becoming nigh-unwinnable. For instance, one tight course challenges you to destroy two souped-up Juggernaut trucks, which regularly spawn more opponent cars while blasting you to hell when you try and take them out. While this is tough enough under normal circumstances, there are only two health power-ups on the whole map… meaning you’ll die and retry a lot.
That said, the difficulty isn’t because the game is plain broken Instead, it fits well with the overall theme of Twisted Metal: unjust violence upon the innocent (the innocent being you). The challenges themselves have clear paths to victory. The main question is whether or not you’re bad-ass enough to get it done. Apparently, my ass is just not the right kind of bad—it’s mostly the regular, bad kind of bad. But even with this difficulty, the gameplay is fun enough to keep you coming back for more punishment.
The game boasts robust online gaming options, letting gamers choose from Deathmatches with unlimited respawns, Last Man Standing matches, team competitions, and Nuke, which is an interesting play on capture the flag. In Nuke, players are put into two opposing teams and take either offense or defense for five minutes. In that time, the team on offense must capture the enemy’s faction leaders and kill them by loading them into roaming missile-launching trucks that run on human blood. The missiles are fired at the enemy’s statue, and teams get a point for each time the statue is hit, and three hits in one round garner five points.
All the online modes are tons of fun, but the online functionality doesn’t seem totally stable—at least not right at the game’s launch. The first time I tried going online, the game straight up crashed. The next few times, I got booted and couldn’t reconnect to matches. Eventually, though, I managed to get online, and once I was playing, I experienced no problems or lag. Hopefully the kinks will get worked out soon.
And if your friend is in the same room with you, the game offers a surprisingly comfortable split-screen mode. Where most split-screen experiences feel cramped, Twisted Metal is roomy and open.
The game’s controls fit well with its cartoonish approach to violence and action. Each vehicle can perform ultra-smooth tight turns, making whipping around to face your pursuing enemies easy and really, really fun. Even still, the controls aren’t perfect. Since driving, racing, shooting, and surviving is a tall order in one game, no button on the controller goes unused—which could be a drawback or an advantage, depending on your perspective. To me, it seems as though the controls—though smooth and pretty tight—are inelegant and a bit too complicated. There are buttons for primary weapons and secondary weapons, while the D-pad has a few more weapons mapped onto it, and another button toggles through standard and alternate weapons, a distinction I still haven’t quite figured out. And that’s not even getting into the impracticality of double-tapping the gas to use turbo, double tapping the brake button to go in reverse and jamming both bumpers to jump…in all, it seemed like my fingers needed a couple extra joints to get things done.
On the other hand, Twisted Metal is a destruction derby death racer, crossing genres with no regard for your feelings. Considering how much it tackles and succeeds in terms of gameplay styles, it’s nice to know you’ve got a controller full of options.
The story is completely bonkers. As you play, you learn the back stories of three characters: Dollface (a murderous model-wannabe out for revenge), Mr. Grimm (the murderous son of a stuntman who was killed in action), and the game’s ever-present mascot, Sweet Tooth (a murderous demonic ice cream truck driver whose head is inexplicably on fire). Each character’s story is predictable and clichéd to the point of being painful. Fans of movies like Hobo with a Shotgun or Grindhouse would probably enjoy the over-the-top horror movie tropes and total schlock.
But the game takes itself so seriously. For instance, at one point, Calypso, the game’s main villain, taunts Mr. Grimm before starting a level in an amusement park, saying, “this is the kind of place your dad would’ve loved…if he were still alive.” Mr. Grimm’s witty rejoinder? “Fuck. You.” And that’s it—level start. It was the kind of exchange that begged for a little creativity, maybe even a threat from Mr. Grimm. But—nothing.
You’d think a game featuring an ice cream truck that can transform into a robot and throw its own exploding head at enemies would have a sense of humor, but no. Twisted Metal isn’t tongue-in-cheek—it’s tongue-ripped-out-of-your-face-and-thrown-into-a-meat-grinder. Angrily thrown, and with much seriousness. The game could’ve easily left all semblance of a story out and just gotten to the killing with cars. But it’d be even better if it could crack a joke once in a while. I’m all for darkness and depravity when done right, but Twisted Metal’s devotion to darkness is so over-the-top it’s laughable… only without any laughs at all.
The visuals are really impressive, flexing graphical muscle no matter what’s happening. Environments and vehicles are daubed with superb detail, and the framerate is ridiculously smooth. The game also ably handles the massive amounts of action that frequently bursts onto the screen. Rubble flies everywhere as you crash through buildings, while blood splatters onto the screen after running over unfortunate civilians; all this, while many, many gun-firing cars shoot the living hell out of each other. I caught a blip of slow-down once or twice, but it was gone an instant after it appeared. The framerate is similarly smooth during four player split-screen multiplayer another nice surprise.
Your speakers will fill with the sounds of screams, bullets, and explosions, not to mention the roars of engines. All the while, the game’s soundtrack blasts songs from testosterone-heavy bands like AC/DC and Rob Zombie. For the most part, the music is drowned out by the sounds of destruction, but when you hear Mr. Zombie singing “Dragula,” it’s hard not to feel a little thrill of adrenaline, as well as nostalgia for the ‘90s, when the original Twisted Metal reigned. What’s all the more impressive is the fact that the sound never clips or distorts despite the on-screen mayhem.
This is a stupid game. It’s about cars that shoot each other until they die. If you’re looking for a game that will suck you in with a compelling narrative and deep, strategic gameplay, look elsewhere. But if you’re a fan of dumb, loud, addictive fun, you could do a lot worse than Twisted Metal. After all, you can’t spell “carnage” without “car.” Yup.