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.
Given how crammed full of different match types the single-player campaign is, we were expecting to see something similar from multiplayer. So it was disappointing to find that multiplayer matches are constrained to just seven basic match types: deathmatch; Last Man Standing (like deathmatch, but with limited lives); Hunted (one player is the target, and his/her killer then becomes the next target); team variations of those three; and Nuke, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Don’t get us wrong: the basic match types are a lot of fun. The action, as always, is superfast and almost hilarious violent, with death coming swiftly and repeatedly (thankfully, a new vehicle and a fresh respawn are usually just a few seconds away). And while the match types are “simple,” the maps – eight in all, if you don’t count the smaller, sectioned-off versions of the larger ones – are just as huge, fun to explore and filled with hidden secrets and strategic opportunities as they are in single-player.
Even so, given how much potential the single-player campaign hinted at, we were hoping to be able to set up our own death races or electric-cage matches. No such luck. Again, that’s a surprise in a series that’s traditionally been very multiplayer-focused.
On the other hand, single-player doesn’t have Nuke. An exclusively team-based game mode, Nuke makes players take turns playing offense and defense. Offensive players have to find and capture the opposing team’s “leaders” (who aren’t player-controlled and hang out in stationary turrets), then drag them over to the nearest missile truck. Once they’re in range, they’ll need to stick close to the truck until a meter fills up, at which point they can “sacrifice” the leader to the truck.
Pull that off, and the real fun begins. The truck will fire off a missile, which you’ll be placed in full control of, and which you’ll need to guide into the opposing team’s statue, a massive neon effigy of their leader (i.e. Sweet Tooth, Dollface, etc.). This is actually tougher than it sounds; the missile moves fairly slowly and can’t climb too high, so the opposing team actually has a pretty good chance of shooting it down. Get it past them, however, and you’ll score a point and be one step closer to destroying the statue.
Like anything else that’s this elaborate, Nuke can be frustrating if you fail at the last second, but otherwise it’s a uniquely fun and involving departure from the other, more straightforward multiplayer modes.
Whether you’re playing solo or multiplayer, though, Twisted Metal is a pretty compelling package. The carnage is uniquely fun, the cutscenes straddle a line between slickly produced and cheesy, and the stories are surprisingly involving. And the soundtrack – which combines ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s metal with occasional gangsta-rap tracks – always manages to complement the action perfectly (and if you find that it doesn’t, you can edit the playlist). It’s got a few warts, sure, but there’s a lot to love here.
Twisted Metal: Black? Yes. Not only is 2001’s gritty, fantastic-for-its-time reboot showing its age, but the action in the 2011 version is a lot smoother and more packed with interesting things to do. Sadly, some of TM:B’s most brilliant touches – like being able to crash an airliner or unleash a destructive Ferris wheel – are absent from the new game, but the abundance of game types and cool secrets (not to mention working online play) more than make up for them. In any case, Twisted Metal comes with a free download voucher for Twisted Metal: Black, so you can grab it and judge for yourself.
Rage’s “Road Rage” multiplayer? Yes. Rage may look considerably prettier than Twisted Metal, but its car-combat multiplayer feels slow and dull by comparison, even ignoring the fact that it supports only four players. Comparing a shooter’s car-combat multiplayer to a game devoted entirely to the vehicular manslaughter might be a little unfair, but the fact that we’re doing it at all is a testament to how scarce decent car-combat games have become.
ModNation Racers? Depends on what you’re looking for; obviously, ModNation has it all over Twisted Metal when it comes to designing your own tracks and racing – something that, while new in TM, is still rare and not part of multiplayer. If you’re looking for the pure thrill of shooting missiles at other cars, though, Twisted Metal’s demolition matches are where you want to be, with action that’s freer, faster and far more violent than anything ModNation’s got under its hood.
While its character roster is smaller than previous games, and its multiplayer seems disappointingly basic next to its single-player campaign, Twisted Metal is nevertheless a compellingly badass game filled with fun things to discover and unlock. This isn’t a perfect Twisted Metal, but as comebacks go, it’s pretty strong.