Twisted Metal: The glorious return of car combat?

February 23, 2012

After remaining dormant for a few years, Twisted Metal makes its debut on the PS3 and it brings the full force of the late ’90s with it. The original Twisted Metal games combined completely chaotic car combat with a story and presentation that represented that era in video games rather well. With series creator David Jaffe back at the helm, Twisted Metal looks to reclaim that once-staggering level of popularity in a genre that has remained absolutely stagnant for the past five years.

The core of Twisted Metal remains as frantic as ever. You control one of 16 different vehicles (including, for the first time in the series, a helicopter) and take on up to 16 opponents in a variety of game modes. You drive around one of eight different locations, each one complete with several individual maps, size depending on the game type and number of players. Your goal? Collect weapons, health and power-ups, trying to destroy your opponents using whatever means necessary. It’s pretty standard stuff for the series and, for better or worse, this revival remains fairly faithful to the formula.

Let’s talk about the controls first. The default control scheme sticks pretty close to the controls from games past, which can be overwhelming at first for new players. Using the square button to accelerate and the shoulder buttons to switch between and use your different weapons is a bit odd when you’re so accustomed to how control schemes in driving games have changed since then. Thankfully, the default control setup works fine, and if you really can’t get used to it, there are other options available. Once you get used to the many tools at your fingertips, you will be able to keep up with the game’s sometimes-ludicrous speeds.

The actual car physics are fantastic. The handling is unrealistic, sure, but it’s quick enough to allow you to turn on a dime and keep up with the other drivers as you attempt to take them out or complete other objectives. As expected, each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknesses and they all handle differently, so you’re bound to find a favorite relatively quickly. The helicopter, Talon, is a nice addition and can be key during certain game modes.

The weapons remain largely the same as before. You’ll pick up the basics such as homing missiles, remote bombs and napalm blasts. You also have the basic machine gun, which can be changed for other weapons as you unlock them, including a sub-machine gun (which fires in bursts instead of continually) and the magnum. Other popular weapons, including mines and freeze missiles, have become standard weapons for all vehicles.

By pressing the D-pad up, you launch a freeze missile. Left will drop a mine, and right will bring up a shield for a brief period of time. All of these functions use the same meter and recharge over time, so freeze missile spam is nonexistent. This gives you three significant abilities to use whenever you want, which is a nice change. Also, as in previous Twisted Metal games, each vehicle has its own special, which now simply recharges instead of being a pick-up.

The game is split into two main modes: the single-player story mode and the multiplayer arena. The story mode is about what you would expect from the series. Instead of including a large cast of characters to play as, the narrative is more focused, centering on one of three characters: Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm and Dollface. As in previous games, each character is attempting to win the Twisted Metal contest in order for Calypso, the runner of the contest, to grant them each a wish. It’s done in a cheesy, FMV-style that feels like it came straight out of the ’90s, but considering the series’ past, it fits like a glove.

The single-player is a fun diversion, and it also gives you plenty of opportunities to familiarize yourself with the game’s controls and maps. It’s not perfect, though. The big drawback is the difficulty: even on normal, you might find yourself struggling to tackle some of the harder levels. The problem lies with the AI, as it will purposefully go after you and only you, occasionally attacking the other bots that get in their way.

For example, during race events (new to the Twisted Metal series), they will specifically target you to make sure you don’t come in first. They won’t even attempt to win; they will just try to drive you off the course or use their specials on you specifically. This, on top of some of the poorly-designed boss battles, makes the single-player simply frustrating at times. It’s far from terrible, but it’s not why you come to the series.

And then there’s the multiplayer, which is the core of any good Twisted Metal game. You can play both online and off, and the split-screen gameplay works as well as it ever did, with not a technical issue in sight. If you have three friends who are itching to dive back into some car combat, I would recommend it. Even better, there is even an online split-screen function, allowing you to play online with someone locally.

I did run into a major hiccup during the launch week. The online matchmaking rarely worked for me, and when it did, a lot of the time it would just drop me out before the match even began. Hopefully this will be addressed quickly, because the online itself is exceptional with plenty of game modes and options. The seven main game types are what you would expect from the series, including Deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Hunted, each coming in both the solo and team varieties. They are all your standard kill-or-be-killed modes with slightly different rule sets depending on which specific one you choose.

The big new addition to the series is nuke mode, which is Twisted Metal’s take on the standard capture-the-flag game type. In it, you attempt to capture or defend a group’s leaders (all manning turrets), depending on the side you are on. The ones on offense need to take the leaders to a missile launcher in order to send them off to destroy a piece of the enemy’s statue that looms over the battlefield. With enough hits, the statue will crumble. It’s the most hectic mode available, and because of that, it’s online only, meant for eight players minimum. It’s a welcome addition that breaks up the standard deathmatch-type game modes we’ve all been playing for years, and shows that the formula still has a lot of life left in it.

While it’s not without its flaws, Twisted Metal manages to recapture that feeling the original games inspired way back during the PS1’s early life. It is a perfectly-preserved slice of the late ’90s that manages to appeal to established fans of the franchise, while still making the necessary changes to bring in a new audience. No matter what category you fall under, if you’re looking for a multiplayer experience that is different from the norm, you owe it to yourself to give Twisted Metal a try.

Pros: Well-rounded selection of vehicles, plenty of game modes and content, fantastic handling and sense of control, robust and addictive multiplayer
Cons: Opponent AI is cheap, online matchmaking is wonky

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.