Regarded by many as the best example of the car combat genre, Twisted Metal spawned a host of clones, such as Vigilante 8 and the more recent, Blood Drive. The original PS1 release is hailed as a classic, alongside Twisted Metal 2 and Twisted Metal Black, which is considered by many to be the best in the series. So, the return of Sweet Tooth and Co. on the PS3 has a lot to live up to. Can it, like Calypso, make fan’s wishes come true?
Three’s a crowd
Unlike some of the previous games, Twisted Metal has streamlined its cast list, and the story behind the game focuses on three main protagonists, Sweet Tooth, Mr Grimm and Doll Face. Each has a (very) short campaign of matches to get through, book ended by intro and outro vids, with a half-time scene thrown in for good measure.
The stories themselves are okay, presented in a grindhouse-style manner, mixing live action with CG. The effect is cool enough, and the stories as dark as to be expected with the series, but it’s a shame there’s only three of these miniscule stories to go at. You have to play through them in order too, starting with Sweet Tooth, before moving on to Mr Grimm and Doll Face.
Stripped of their stories, these so-called campaigns are merely set matches played in a row, with a bit of waffle before each one. On the plus side, there are some large scale boss battles that make a pleasant change, so that’s something.
I can’t really fault Twisted Metal too much on this though. You hardly buy the game for a deep, rewarding story and campaign. You buy it because you want to race around blasting the ever-loving out of your foes with an array of powerful weapons and crazy abilities, and here the game doesn’t disappoint.
Although the actual characters of past iterations are gone, the range of vehicles remains for the most part, including the truck cab, Darkside (with a full trailer version called Juggernaut), Outlaw police truck, Mr Grimm’s motorcycle, tank-tracked Warthog and others. There’s even a small attack chopper. Each vehicle has varying stats, such as better armour or attack power, and they all have unique special abilities.
Before most matches you can choose three vehicles, including your main starting vehicle, and two support rides. In a match, should your current vehicle take too much damage, you can race to a garage and swap for your other, reserve choices. This also leads to some tactical play, and you can tailor your load out, of sorts, to match the mission’s requirements.
The variety of powers and abilities make the game’s various vehicles all stand out, and powers like Sweet Tooth’s robot mode, Meat Wagon’s guided, gurney missiles and Road Boat’s magnetic grabber ensure no one vehicle is too unbalanced. Even Talon, the chopper, which flies out of range of many weapons, can easily be brought down due to the lack of armour. So, there shouldn’t be much arguing of any cheap players. Well, not much.
During the campaign, and in the other game modes, there are a number of game types. The usual, kill all enemies is the most common, but there are variations on this. In some matches you have to stay within a defined area, or you’ll lose health, and in others you’ll need to deal with a Juggernaut (or more) that’s driving around the level spawning more opponents. There are also combat races and the aforementioned boss battles. Nuke is perhaps one of the most interesting modes, and sees teams try to destroy the opposing faction’s giant statue with nuclear missiles.
All of the modes are all well thought out and play well, and many are available online with free-for-all and team variants. There’s support for bot matches in some modes, so solo players can get more out of the game than the meagre campaign as well.
Just ‘cos you’re paranoid…
With a respectable amount of game modes, and a great selection of vehicles, Twisted Metal is sounding like a true classic already, isn’t it? Sadly, once you get to the game itself, this is where things start to go south for the winter.
Twisted Metal has always been a challenging game, it’s part of the title’s charm, but Twisted Metal on PS3 takes this challenge to a ridiculous, and sometimes downright unfair level. And, if you opt to try the game on anything above normal, be prepared to rage, and rage hard.
The AI here is absolutely brutal, and single minded. Make no mistake, you’re the marked man, at all times. Even when the other opponents are supposed to be fighting amongst themselves, they’ll all make a beeline for you instead. This results in some of the most irritating car combat you’re likely to play.
Often, you come under such a heavy and one-sided barrage of attacks that you genuinely can’t even see the screen due to the pyrotechnics covering the view. All the time your vehicle is being bounced around like a pinball, and for much of the time, you’ll have absolutely no idea what the Hell’s going on. It’s just crazy, and even on Normal, the game’s lowest level, many players may find the game off-putting.
This AI-bias comes into major effect during races, where cars will noticeably forgo any hope of winning simply to attack you, so stubborn and cheap is the enemy intelligence. It’s as if each is simply programmed to attack only you, and is tethered to you with a rope, much like the brainless foes in Serious Sam, to give you an idea of how bad it can be. It certainly doesn’t make for balanced play and an enjoyable bout of car combat in which you’re one competitor in a true free-for-all match, and many matches degenerate into frantic struggles just to get away so you can actually see what’s going on. Inevitably, you’ll spend a lot of the time trawling the map for health pickups, or visiting the garage to swap out your busted-ass ride.
This problematic AI can be beaten, and if you persevere, and once you become skilled enough with your chosen vehicle, things do pick up. In fact, the challenge, after a lot of time and effort can actually be welcome, but it’d be good if foes actually fought each other too, and would make for a more tournament-like feel.
Unfortunately, the AI isn’t the only issue here, and Twisted Metal‘s control scheme is almost as problematic. This has to be one of the most convoluted and contrived control setups I’ve ever seen for what is, essentially, a simplistic game. Despite having plenty of buttons and triggers available on the Dual Shock, TM requires all sorts of button combinations and unnatural analog stick uses. The default layout is mind-bogglingly alien, and includes such weirdness as using the right analog stick to reverse, pressing both sticks to detonate bombs, double-tapping accelerate to use turbo and shoulder buttons to scroll weapons. The d-pad (which really should control weapon selection) activates some generic power-ups such as a freeze bolt and shield.
You do get used to things after a while, but I wouldn’t say it ever becomes second nature, especially if you’re playing other games at the same time. No other game uses this type of setup, and even the alternate options don’t help all that much. I understand there’s more to Twisted Metal than a lot of competing games, including such tings as dual special abilities and the like, but the control scheme could, and should be better.
The game has other quirks too, such as some ugly visuals in places and occasional physics and graphical glitches, but otherwise it’s fine, and it’s the controls and AI that are of real concern.
Online is where Twisted Metal comes into its own, and whilst the issues with the controls are still a problem, the fact that you can do away with the AI and play against others instantly makes the game more appealing, and you can have true, balanced competitions.
Because of this, I’d highly recommend that anyone thinking of getting Twisted Metal consider how much they’re going to play online. Solo players may enjoy the game to some degree, but it’s online where this game pays out in spades.
I should also mention that the game also comes with a code to download a free copy of Twisted Metal Black. This will no doubt be reason enough for TM fans to shell out. The version included isn’t a HD remake, though, it’s simply an emulated port of the original PS2 title.
Twisted Metal for PS3 is a great game held back by some sloppy and badly implemented mechanics. With a more intelligent and well-rounded AI and tighter controls, this could well be the best of the series. As it is, if you invest time and effort, you’ll find a very enjoyable game, but the initial frustration and steep learning curve will stop many from reaching that point.