The PlayStation brand is closely tied to a lot of big-name games, but it hasn’t been tied to many of them for quite as long as Twisted Metal. The gritty car-combat series – which stars a bunch of crazies in heavily armed vehicles who massacre each other for a chance at a wish from a dark trickster god – has been with Sony’s consoles since their earliest days. In fact, every PlayStation console except the PS3 was accompanied by one within months of its launch, so it’s kind of a surprise that it took more than five years for the current-gen Twisted Metal to finally arrive.
Still, the time off seems to have done the franchise good. Another blood-caked reboot, the new Twisted Metal packs in lavish production values, a ton of variety, an old-school metal soundtrack and all the explosive high-speed craziness its fans expect. It’s not perfect, but considering how sparse the car-combat genre is right now, it’s pretty fantastic.
Twisted Metal’s basic action is more or less the same as it’s always been: you drive around at high speeds in big, mostly urban arenas, picking up whatever glowing weapon powerups are laying around and using them to hammer your opponents until they explode. Your rides are ridiculous jalopies with aftermarket armor panels, giant guns and significantly different abilities, including a special weapon (now with an alternate fire) unique to each ride.
Police SUV Outlaw, for example, has an auto-aiming turret that fires bullets and grenades, while the Shadow hearse carries a coffin (complete with live occupant) that spins out of control once fired. The Reaper motorbike lets riders carry a chainsaw (which can be dragged along the ground to ignite it, thereby making it ultra-powerful) and an RPG launcher, and the Talon chopper – the only flying vehicle – packs a side-mounted, manually aimed minigun turret and a magnet that can pick up and drop other cars. And that’s just a little sample of what’s available.
Also, regardless of which ride you pick, you’ll have access to a handful of “secret” abilities activated by hitting the d-pad. These include the freeze shot (which stalls enemy motors until they either mash buttons or get hit, and which is a pain in the ass to get hit by), the ability to drop landmines and a brief protective shield. As you progress through the game, you’ll also unlock “super” versions of these, enabling you to absorb and use your enemies’ weapons and drop super-destructive mines when you’re out of ammo.
There’s so much at your disposal, in fact, that getting the hang of it all can be a little tough. However, while there’s a quick, optional training mode you can dive into (which we recommend, as the deceptively simple controls hide a ton of not-so-obvious functionality), there’s no real tutorial in Twisted Metal; once you start, any learning you do will be through experimentation in the heat of battle.
It’s an approach that fits in perfectly with the game’s old-school, tough-as-nails mentality; while the visuals might be a little more colorful than previous Twisted Metals, the action is just as unrelenting and the difficulty is even more unforgiving. Especially when you’re on your own.
For a series that built its reputation largely on multiplayer, the new Twisted Metal seems oddly focused on providing a solitary, story-driven experience. That’s not to say the game doesn’t have serious multiplayer chops – it does, offering not only 16-player online but four-player split-screen versus and two-player split-screen co-op. But unlocking the game’s coolest vehicles and weapons means playing through the campaign (which, again, is something you can do with a friend).
The campaign’s also structured a lot differently than previous games. Where earlier Twisted Metals were built like fighting games – pick a character, run through their story and then do it again a dozen or so more times – Twisted Metal narrows its roster of protagonists to three, and puts players through each story in turn. Another reboot of the series’ plot, this time presented with live-action cutscenes, the campaign begins with homicidal clown Sweet Tooth, continues from the perspective of death-obsessed motorcyclist Mr. Grimm, and culminates with the crazed ambitions of supermodel-turned-psychopath Dollface, all of them competing for a single wish from strangely omnipotent industrialist Calypso.
While the story’s confined to just three characters, they’re not restricted to any one vehicle, which keeps things from getting monotonous. Mr. Grimm can drive Sweet Tooth’s transforming van, for example, and Dollface can ride Grimm’s motorcycle. Sweet Tooth can slam around in Dollface’s Darkside semi – or in any of the game’s other numerous, weird rides, for that matter.
In fact, most story events begin with you picking out three vehicles. Unlike in previous Metals, you don’t get multiple lives; instead, dying during an event results in complete failure. If you can make it to a garage before your ride blows up, though, you can trade it for a fresh one and leave it for repairs.
Each storyline is divided into six events, which – given the game’s brutal difficulty even on the “normal” (read: easiest) setting – can take a lot longer to get through than you’d think. These start out as relatively familiar vehicular deathmatches, but quickly spiral into crazed dogfights with enemy-spawning 18-wheelers; matches in which an “electric cage” teleports around the map and drains your health while you’re not fighting inside it; and high-speed races that tend to end with all the losers exploding in unison.
Oh, and then there are the boss fights, each one tailored to the protagonist you’re playing as, and each one more ridiculous and seemingly impossible than the last. To reveal more would spoil some of the best moments in the game, but be prepared to face off against some genuinely colossal machinery before the game is through.