Twisted metal review

The story of Twisted Metal is very similar to the game itself. A handful of psychopaths make a deal with the diabolical corporate overlord (and Professor Snape) Calypso to grant them their deepest wish if they win his cruel tournament. Calypso only grants monkey-paw wishes, however, and the participants' wishes always backfire in strange and unpredictable ways.

This reflects the goal of David Jaffe and Eat Sleep Play to create the ultimate multiplayer car combat game. In many ways, however, the final product is marred by a steep learning curve, a questionable single-player campaign, and a host of online connectivity bugs. Be careful what you wish for.

At first, the game feels unfathomable, with a control scheme that pushes the humble Dual Shock to its limits. The basics like throttle, brake, and fire are reasonable enough, but offer options to switch between weapons, drop mines, raise a shield, launch an EMP blast, spin fast, boost, boost in reverse, and shoot in reverse, and Before you know it, seemingly simple actions like jumping and turbo dashing are relegated to pressing two buttons or motion controls at once. There is a lot to see.

This vertical learning curve is exasperated by the fact that each vehicle performs a unique special move, usually with an alternate firing mode. At times, it's unclear how they work at all. There is a training mode, but going through the basic maneuvers with each vehicle to get to the specials can be difficult. Hints for each vehicle are also available, but the best way to learn is to practice (and message boards – this is a game where you need all the help you can get).

Twisted metal review

It doesn't help that the single-player campaign is remarkably difficult even in its simplest setting. Sometimes it's just unfair, as enemies tend to target the player but not each other. The worst offenders are a handful of racing levels, where the chaotic action enforces Murphy's Law and nearly a dozen opponents try to keep you off course. Worse, these stages generally take place in open environments, making simply learning the route a tedious process of trial and error.

Another unnecessary difficulty comes from levels where you have to eliminate Juggernauts, monstrous trucks that spawn enemies. If you don't take them out quickly, they will populate the battlefield with an army of enemies. Juggernauts don't show up on the radar, so expect lots of frustrating restarts.

While these missions severely hinder the pace of the story mode, the campaign is otherwise filled with a decent amount of variety. Some levels are standard deathmatches, others are tasked with eliminating a certain number of enemies, and my favorites are cage matches where you have to try to stay in a sanctioned zone that resets its location every few minutes. Stay out too long. Your health will dwindle. This creates a strategic dilemma; risk venturing outside the safety of the cage to gather health and weapons, or try to challenge them in a small area with enemies and fewer resources?

Boss battles are also a highlight. These colossal machinations take different forms with different objectives for each stage of the fight. A giant flying robot doll can not be hurt immediately. So you've fought off their followers and pulled their drivers – attached to your bumper – to a truck where they're sacrificed and turned into a missile, which you then have to guide into the chief. I never said it made any sense at all.

Twisted metal review

This lack of logic is evident in the game's live-action cutscenes. Their grindhouse aesthetic of green screens, CGI, and fake scratches on the footage is reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez' work on Sin City and Planet Terror and is largely stupidly entertaining. Some of the stories are entertaining in a schlocky Twilight Zone sort of way, but think too hard (ie at all) about them and they fall apart at the seams.

While the cutscenes are all style and no substance, the core gameplay is just the opposite, with deep combat buried under the crude graphics. This becomes apparent in multiplayer when you can no longer blame the cheating AI for your mistakes. Suddenly you realize that the few cars you were relying on can be removed from a vehicle you previously wrote off. Sweet Tooth's ice cream truck's ability to transform into a flying mech isn't just for show, and the Talon helicopter isn't as deceptive against players who know what they're doing. The awkward handling and low armor can be thwarted by an experienced player as easily as King Kong hitting a biplane.

Unfortunately, there aren't many game modes, and most of what there is is bog standard. There is Deathmatch, Last Man Standing (ie Deathmatch with limited lives) and Hunted, where one person is hunted at a time, gets more points per kill and is invulnerable to EMPs. Then there are team variants of it. Confusingly, cage matches are not an option for multiplayer: an omission that makes even less sense than the narrative.

The only unique multiplayer mode is Nuke, a reef to capture the flag. Here, a team must capture their opponent's leader (an NPC sitting at a turret) and drag him to one of those gruesome human-to-missile conversion trucks before guiding a missile into a giant effigy of their mascot. However, if the missile can be shot down, leading to tense last-minute chases. It's fun if you have half an hour (the six innings are set at five minutes each), but as with anything Twisted Metal, don't expect to enjoy it right away. Leaders usually appear in out-of-the-way places like rooftops, which require a comprehensive understanding of the maps to be reached.

Twisted metal review

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, multiplayer brings with it a number of matchmaking issues. At least three quarters of the time, a network connection error occurs when trying to find a match. If you are in a "quick match" go, your probability of success increases, but the browser player becomes a beggar rather than the chosen one, depending on the game type and the map it was sent to. Breakups are also frequent, which can be very frustrating if you are doing well. This is a well-documented problem, and Jaffe assures us that a fix is in the works (and that it's a Sony issue out of Eat Sleep Play's hands). Hopefully this will be fixed in time for release in Europe. (The latest information can be found on Jaffe's blog.) Nevertheless, you can't ignore the botched start of such a multiplayer game.

Twisted Metal is an obvious afterthought, a limited multiplayer mode, poor graphics, and some online problems to solve. Twisted Metal can't hide its roots as the PlayStation Store title it was originally developed for. For all its flaws, it would be easy to write off this low-priced retail release as a polished jerk – but that's not fair.

It's more like a diamond in the rough. Take time to get to grips with the nitty gritty and the battle is exceptionally complex and balanced. Twisted metal can do everything in its power to take you out, but those who try hard will find it turns from a pile of junk to scrap metal.

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