February 19, 2012 by Paul Curtin
It’s been over a decade since we’ve last seen Sweet Tooth and the rest of the Twisted gang on a major console. After releasing one of the best and most mature games on the PlayStation 2, the Eat Sleep Play team behind the best games of the Twisted franchise has finally returned, and they’re serving up a sequel with everyone’s favorite killer clown taking the spotlight.
Twisted Metal is officially back and better than ever on the PlayStation 3 with new modes and features that revive the car combat genre and make gameplay feel fresh when competing against today’s new generation of games. But does the latest title’s new car selection system and story that only focuses on three of the main characters hurt the storytelling and character development format that fans have come to know and love from previous games in the series?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s crazy to think that Twisted Metal has been around for 17 years. From licensing issues and new developers to back and forth changes between young and older, more mature target demographics, the series has always seemed to have some sort of problem despite constantly bringing in new fans. In 2001, after the trifling third and fourth games by 989 Studios, the series seemed to finally be back on the right track when the original developers, Scott Campbell and David Jaffe, released Twisted Metal: Black back on the PlayStation 2 with amazing graphics and a much darker and more serious theme. Just when everything seemed perfect in the Twisted universe, the series would disappear again from the console scene, only to be released on handheld devices and once again targeted towards a young audience. Thankfully, after eleven years and a development cycle where it was still unclear what demographic the developers were going to target, Twisted Metal is back on the PlayStation 3, catering to a sicker and more twisted mature audience.
The return of the beloved franchise on the PS3 introduces a massive new concept to the way in which the single-player campaign stories are told that is sure to upset fans of the original. Unlike the original, which featured a full roster of unique characters driving their own signature cars and having their own individual stories, the new Twisted Metal only focuses on three of the previous games’ most popular psychopaths: Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, and Dollface. Each of the three has his or her own interesting story that uses the same Tales from the Crypt “Be careful what you wish for” format and is presented in scenes made up of a beautiful combination of live-action and CGI effects.
While the individual stories are far better produced than any of the previous games’, the acting can be hit or miss and sometimes looks a little too low budget. Sweet Tooth’s actor absolutely kills his role, but Calypso’s new, more serious tone is boring and while the actor looks the part, he wasn’t the right fit. More importantly, the game unfortunately feels way too short with only three stories clocking in at around 5-6 hours of playtime and will have you wishing there was more. The multiple extra scenes after the credits perfectly set up more games to come, but with David Jaffe leaving Eat Sleep Play, massive layoffs, and the studio shifting its focus back to handheld and mobile games, it’s unlikely that we’ll get another Twisted Metal anytime soon.
What’s worse is the game’s new vehicle selection twist, which allows players to pick from any of the previous characters’ signature cars, no matter what character they’re playing as. Instead of each character being locked into driving their own vehicle, before deathmatches players can pick three different vehicles and visit garages to swap out cars when low on health during combat. This is where the game takes a turn for the worse and can be upsetting to a fan of the original games. The best thing about the originals were the characters, each unique and each giving you a reason to replay the game in order to find out how the game’s evil wish master, Calypso, was going to screw them over once winning the Twisted Metal tournament.
The new car format takes away from the character development and makes gameplay weird when all of a sudden Mr. Grimm is driving Sweet Tooth’s ice cream truck or Sweet Tooth is driving Grimm’s motorcycle. It especially doesn’t make sense when Sweet Tooth and Dollface are driving each other’s cars when they’re supposed to be warring factions. In previous games, each character and car complemented each other perfectly and everybody had their favorites. Now when you see an enemy car and don’t know who’s behind the wheel, it doesn’t seem as meaningful because you’re just fighting some random, unknown driver from Sweet Tooth’s or Dollface’s gang. Sure, now you can customize cars with user generated paint jobs, which is pretty cool, but you can do that in any game with cars nowadays; I’d much rather have set cars with set drivers who have personalities and stories behind each one.
Once you get past the lack of returning characters, you’re left with the definitive and best Twisted Metal experience yet. The graphics aren’t going to win any awards, but they still look impressive and stay true to the original look and feel of the series. Along with the much improved visuals come bigger and more advanced levels with destructible environments that make the gameplay fit in perfectly with today’s modern games. The controls are tight and by default use the classic configuration of the square button to accelerate (rather than the triggers, which are used to fire weapons), X to turn, and circle to brake — a move that at first will feel dated when compared to other driving games but then quickly feel intuitive and have you loving it when pulling off unrealistic maneuvers.
Combat is balanced with the majority of previous power-ups and weapons returning and the addition of passengers who help attack with shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, and other sidearms. New additions like a map-roaming semi-truck with a ramp that players can drive onto in exchange for health restoration, a player-driven helicopter that can fly around the map attacking and extracting players, and Sweet Tooth’s ability to transform into a mech are all welcome additions that make combat even more hectic. The craziness and amount of action that can take place while sixteen players are fighting is about as good as it gets if you’re looking for something that’s pure fun and full of WTF moments. Chasing enemies through multiple levels of buildings, while other foes come crashing through walls, leveling entire suburban neighborhoods, all while one of the best gaming soundtracks ever featuring Rob/White Zombie, Sammy Hagar, N.W.A. and more plays unedited in the background is an experience you’ll only find in Twisted Metal and at times will have you singing along during the heat of battle.
To add to the craziness and keep things fresh, there are eight different gameplay modes ranging from classic deathmatch to racing with checkpoints to a capture-the-flag-style mode called “Nuke.” While all the modes are enjoyable, Nuke is by far the most ambitious and interesting. Described as “a twisted take on capture the flag”, Nuke pits two teams against each other in a fight to capture the opposite team’s leader. After capturing a leader, said leader must be “sacrificed” by loading them into a missile launcher, which then shoots a player-guided missile with the goal of hitting the enemy’s massive leader statue in an effort to destroy it after multiple hits.
Modes like Nuke fit perfectly into the Twisted Metal concept; however, I found myself ready to throw my controller through my TV when trying to race in the game’s story mode on the easiest “Normal” difficulty setting. The game’s difficulty setting lacks an “Easy” and instead only offers Normal, Hard, and Twisted. At first I thought this was just the developers trying to be cute, but after setting the game on Hard and getting my ass kicked just three levels in, I quickly swallowed my pride and switched to Normal for the sake of getting this review done. Boss battles have also been greatly improved and require the use of strategic targeting and completing multi-stage levels consisting of objectives like taking out a semi that’s unloading combatants every minute or planting a bomb on a monster truck to take out its heavy armor rather than just fighting one big boss car that acts as a bullet sponge.
But Twisted Metal‘s difficulty settings aren’t just to induce rage and troll players; it’s an obvious throwback to an older generation of games that didn’t hold your hand and play the game for you. There are tons of levels (especially the races) which will have you losing and restarting over and over again in order to learn and adapt in order to win. Sure, the developers could have made it so that you couldn’t fall off the rooftops of buildings during a race, but then it’d be like most the other generic racing games out today. Twisted Metal‘s steep learning curve during the campaign’s gameplay is more like preparation for the real world of 16-player online battles where you will get punished by players better than you when you first start out. While on its surface it seems like a simple game where everyone drives around and shoots one another, Twisted Metal‘s gameplay is deep and filled with advanced mechanics, combos, and counters that you must learn if you wish to dominate the online scene.
There’s no question that Twisted Metal on the PlayStation 3 is better than anything else in the franchise that has come before it. Everything works how it should and comes together to deliver the quintessential car combat experience that fans first enjoyed many years ago. The only problem with the latest in the series is its short story that lacks as many individual driver tales as previous games. With how good the story is, you’ll be left wanting more, especially with the surprise extra scenes after the credits. With a short campaign, the focus this time was clearly on creating a balanced multiplayer experience at launch which Jaffe, Campbell, and the rest of the Eat Sleep Play team have successfully accomplished. Twisted Metal isn’t perfect, but it’s the best car combat ever and manages to revive the car combat genre after over a decade, and for that we’re thankful for once again being able to play. Twisted Metal gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great).
- Gritty live-action cutscenes with the same dark tone as Twisted Metal: Black
- Upgraded version of the classic controls works flawlessly for hectic driving
- Advanced level design and boss battles to keep up with today’s standards
- More diverse than previous games in the series
- Online multiplayer works great with tons of unlockable extras
- Amazing soundtrack makes battles far more exciting
- Lots of fan-favorites from the originals missing from the roster
- New car selection system limits story and hurts character development
- Some level designs can be frustrating when playing new objective modes
- Calypso’s new, more serious voice actor comes off as bland and boring