Maybe I’m mistaken, but what I remember of Twisted Metal during its PSOne heyday was a game of brutal simplicity. Get a bunch of blood-thirsty freaks together, allow them to kit themselves out with vehicular weapons of death that make US military equipment look like the work of Mother Theresa and have them fight to the death in a tournament hosted by a mad (but very rich) crack-pot of an entrepreneur.
This latest ride around the Twisted Metal meat grinder is as brutal as it ever was, but it’s not so simple.
There’s a lot to learn here and, given the aggression of the single player A.I., teaching yourself the basics can be an experience fraught with many a pre-mature death at the hands of demonic clowns, psychopathic supermodels and/or a dude strapped between two giant tyres. Hardly a Gran Turismo competitor then.
In order to overcome their onslaught, you’ll need to (deep breathe): master the art of the boost, perfect the timing of your shield activation, memorise each vehicles special weapon set, understand what each power-up is capable of, work out how to jump on the spot, learn to shoot and boost backwards, quickly alter your selected weapon, gets to grips with a wide range of game types and even learn to fly. And that’s not the whole of it.
Anyone looking for a simple jump-in, jump-out arcade experience should think in again. This is arcade alright, but to get the full experience you’re going to have to jump-in and stay in. Here’s the good thing, though… the initial painful steps of your education is worth it for what lays in wait beyond those first baby steps.
With complex controls, a ton of weapons, special moves unique to each vehicle and a wide range of locations and game types in which to strut your stuff, Twisted Metal offers significant depth and tactical choice. Despite that, though, it manages to avoid giving the impression that it takes itself too seriously.
The campaign is split into three parts, each focused on a different character and their quest to win the tournament and the prize of “anything they desire” from organiser Calyspo. Narrative elements are told via live-action sequences that ooze the gritty, grimy feel associated with ‘grindhouse’ movies and perfectly complements the brutal nature of the gameplay and concept. While not quite on par with the likes of Hobo with a Shotgun or Planet Terror, these moments are more than worthy of their front and centre billing in the game’s narrative.
As far as campaign’s go, this one is in the upper limits of what most would define as difficult. On ‘Normal’ enemies attack with aggression levels akin to a cold-turkey Charlie Sheen and some of the events seem tailored made to give you lowest possible odds of winning. Part of the reason for the difficultly is that other vehicles have a tendency to concentrate on you only, sometimes entirely ignoring the other competitors despite the supposedly ‘free-for-all’ set-up.
However, while this can at times be frustrating, it’s the only conceivable way to balance the game in such a way so as to keep the action flowing. Twisted Metal is at its worst when you find yourself in an area by yourself and looking for someone to beat the crap out of, if enemies didn’t focus on you as often as do then those moments would be much more common.
Besides, to get angry at the game for being slightly skewed against you is to miss the point somewhat. The whole idea here is to be provide an outlet for you to wreak as much destruction as possible, and having enemies come after is the best way to facilitate that.
Throughout the campaign you’ll come across standard death matches, as well as battle races, juggernaught events, cage matches and boss fights. In battle races each vehicle is planted with a bomb, be the first past the line and everybody else’s bombs will explode. Juggernaught events play out in a similar way to death matches with the added element of an 18-wheeler truck that periodically drops a new contestant on the battle field – you need to defeat the Juggernaught and then dispatch of the remaining enemies to win.
Juggernaught battles are among the game’s most difficult events. Beware.
Boss fights are simultaneously the most interesting and conflicting part of the formula. Their set-up is pure, wonderful ridiculousness that will at times make you question the sanity and credentials of the game’s designers… but that’s what makes them so interesting.
These occur at the end of each of the campaign’s chapters and act as a final, high-concept blast of a goodbye before you move onto the next character and the next story. Easily the most memorable, and the one that has been getting most pre-release attention, is the battle against the giant Dollface robot set against the background of a desert canyon.
Split into a number of segments, your initial goal is to avoid the mecha-bitch as you try to destroy the limousines that appear out of nowhere and try to knock you off the canyon’s edge. Blow up one of the red ‘leader’ limousines and you can then drag the screaming driver to a missile launcher; throw them into the trigger and you guide a missile to the robot’s face. Farmville this ain’t.
Without wanting to spoil what comes next, that’s followed up by segments in which the mech gets rather angry and… well, you’ll see.
These boss fights stand in contrast to the rest of the game in terms of set-up and in the kind of techniques you’ll need to use to complete them. For that reason they can sometimes feel as though they exist in isolation to the rest of the game, which is both a good and a bad thing. The good is that they nicely break up the action by offering something fresh and different, the bad is that no amount of practice can prepare you; so they often devolve into a grind of trial and error, but the crazy-factor is enough to keep you motivated.
Capping things off is multiplayer which, although missing some of single players better modes, offers all the fun and carnage that series veterans will remember. In this arena skilled players can truly strut their stuff, unshackled from the domineering aggression of the enemy AI towards you in single player.
Each of the vehicles demonstrate an excellent degree of balance, which further differentiates from the good players from the bad as it’s not possible to gain an advantage by making use of specific weapons or character. As it should be, this is about pure in-game skill and not about how effectively you can pre-plan your battle gadgets. Call of Duty this ain’t.
So, it’s pretty much Twisted Metal as we know it – albeit with added complexity. The focus is still very much on providing a constant stream of action and shying away from anything that doesn’t present an image of outlandish carnage and over-the-top stylisation.
Frankly, it’s good to play a videogame again that embraces the ‘game’.