Developer: Eat Sleep Play
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
There's always the danger, with games that have spent a little bit too long in development, that one of a few things may have happened. Perhaps the world has moved on just that little bit too much by the time you finally release your game. Perhaps the extra time has served only to complicate and obfuscate what was originally a fairly simple missions statement.
Sadly, both appear to be true of Twisted Metal. The first hour or so is likely to be met with a blue cloud of steaming profanity as you attempt to make head or tail of the control system. Destruction derbies, all but dead in 2012, were once relatively simple, arcade affairs. Aside from the basics, Twisted Metal has a fiddly interface that would give mech-fans a headache.
It's not that the options that are open to you - mines, adhesive grenades, rockets, shields, several boost variants, not to mention a little evasive hop - aren't impressive. It's just that in the heat of the moment, everything happens rather too fast to be able to take much advantage of anything. By hour twenty you'll have gotten the hang of things, and things become much, much better once you finally scale that steep difficulty incline, but that's not really the point. Bizarrely, for a game of this type, Twisted Metal almost goes out of its way to punish the newcomer.
Not that this is particularly new for the series. In fact, you really won't find much that's new to the series with this one.
Built upon a relatively simple premise, Twisted Metal largely involves racing around areas, attempting to upf**k everyone else on wheels. There are basically the same kind of modes that you'd find in a shooter, with the only real difference being that now you're in a car. Deathmatch is fairly self-explanatory, Last Man Standing is just Deathmatch with limited lives, and there's Hunted - where the role of "prey" gets cycled amongst players, with the titular Hunted racking up more points per kill when in the role, and becoming immune to EMPs.
Nuke is probably the most fun, which sees two teams essentially playing Capture the Flag. Each team has an NPC leader, and to win a team must capture the opposition's leader, stuff them in a human-to-missile conversion truck, and then fire the man-missile at the opposing team's giant mascot. The missile can be shot down, though, so there's plenty of opportunity for last-ditch defensive scrambles, pant-shreddingly tense moments, and skin-of-the-teeth victories. Nuke serves up the closest thing to depth that this game can offer. at least in terms of game modes.
The slippery, unsubstantial physics haven't really been altered, but while that might have worked several years ago, we're used to our arcade racers feeling pretty weighty today. Being undone by the awful physics, having your car tossed about like that dancing bag in American Beauty, is an exercise in frustration. To begin with, it's as if there's no real strategy to speak off, aside from stockpiling as many weapons as possible, finding an enemy, and unloading everything you possibly can. Damage feedback is minimal, the combat balancing is somewhat dubious, and the introduction of the helicopter can be almost gamebreaking. If there's an even moderately skilled pilot in the game, everyone else is toast.
Jaffe noted well in advance of release that this wouldn't really be a game made for singleplayer fans, and he's right. So right to the extent that you wonder why Eat Sleep Play even bothered with a Campaign mode in the first place. For starters, there are only four playable characters, focusing most of the action on series mascot Sweet Tooth. The notion is that the mysterious demon Calypso has rounded up this bunch of psychotic miscreants, pitting them against one another in a death race, the winner of which will have one wish granted. There are cutscenes now, rather than stills, and Sweet Tooth's tale is deliciously macabre, but you probably won't spend much time here.
The AI is pretty punitive, with the new Races quickly turning into a 10 vs. 1 scenario that sees everyone pretty much gang up on you. Painstakingly learning every course is an absolute must, predominantly because the cars handle so very badly that the likelihood of being bounced around and off of buildings like a pinball is high. Checkpoint races are an utter nightmare, with the smallest mistake leading to constant restarts as the AI never slips up.
So why the hell do I keep coming back for more? Part of the reason is that actually, with a friend sat next to you, or warbling into your ear via headset, Twisted Metal manages to capture some of the fun that made the series great in the first place. It hasn't evolved very much, and the prolonged development means that it doesn't stack up terribly well next to its peers, but these games are so rare that the novelty factor alone can account for a lot.
It's a great way to burn off a shitty day as well, and firing up the multiplayer for an hour or two of an evening can be gloriously cathartic. Moreover, when you finally get the hang of the controls, have unlocked a few special weapons, and have chosen to ignore all of the checkpoint races, the combat reveals itself to be more satisfying than you previously thought possible. Incinerating other people's rubber suddenly becomes a lot more fun. The vast array of weapons and vehicle choices provide more matches with variety, particularly if you're indulging skilled players.
But does that warrant a full price? That rather depends. This is a Twisted Metal for the fans, harking back to the old games, but little has been done to even attempt to update the game, or look to expand its audience. Crucially, for a game that's so perfectly suited to a modern online audience, the time it takes to jump online and into a game is borderline criminal. EDIT: Although it has improved quite a bit in the last few weeks.
However, there's not really anything else like it out there at the moment. We can argue that it might have been better as a digital download, and it could do with more invention in the modes themselves. When the game does try to do new things - such as with Nuke - it provides glimmers of a truly exceptional, madcap, tense experience. But that forward thinking is in short supply. In the end Twisted Metal may entertain for a few hours at a time, but the effort you'll have to put in to get there may well turn some people away.
- Thoroughly destructible arenas.
- Large variety of vehicles and weapons
- Nuke is great fun
- Controls as complex as ever - steep learning curve
- Singleplayer component a frustrating afterthought
- Has barely evolved at all
The Short Version: It's good to see vehicular combat return, but though that goodwill may blind fans to this game's many issues (and rightfully so as there's lots to enjoy here), those same flaws may well scratch Twisted Metal's chances of expanding its audience. There's heaps of online potential here, with some deliciously darkly violent treats; but be aware that it comes with some severe caveats.