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Twisted Metal (PlayStation 3) artwork

Twisted Metal (PlayStation 3) review

"Twisted Metal: PS3 is the kind of game that you'll know whether you'll like long before you play it. In fact, right now, you probably already have an idea of whether or not it's the game for you. The reasons for this are simple: Twisted Metal knows what it's about and it focuses on doing that one thing really well. Therefore, if you like vehicular arena battles, you'll like- or quite possibly love- Twisted Metal."

Twisted Metal: PS3 is the kind of game that you'll know whether you'll like long before you play it. In fact, right now, you probably already have an idea of whether or not it's the game for you. The reasons for this are simple: Twisted Metal knows what it's about and it focuses on doing that one thing really well. Therefore, if you like vehicular arena battles, you'll like- or quite possibly love- Twisted Metal. If not, then there's not going to be much reason for you to pick it up.

For those who haven't played this series before, the premise is that a guy named Calypso has the power to grant wishes, for some reason, and decides to hold a tournament, for some other reason, where the winner will get to have one wish granted. To win, they have to blow up cars. Yeah, it doesn't really make a lot of sense and would be downright silly if not for the fact that the plots have a history of being incredibly violent and generally disturbing.

This one starts off with a dead girl being dead in the road and Sweet Tooth nearby being... well, Sweet Tooth. Sweet Tooth is what The Joker would be like if he forgot to take his pills one morning. He spends much of the story brutally murdering people because he is good at it, usually while ice cream truck music plays in the background. His opening cutscene seems to channel equal part John Carpenter and Stephen King and is impressive for being subtle even while some pretty horrendous things are going on. A lot of the worst atrocities are implied rather than shown, or shown just enough to get your imagination screaming. Whoever directed these scenes knew what he was about, cinematically. It's also surprisingly effective that the majority of the scenes are acted out by live actors and touched up with animation. This hasn't been done much since the early days of the CDRom, but Twisted Metal makes a strong case for its return.

There's not a lot of it, unfortunately. There are three cutscenes for each character and only three characters in total. While each story is engaging, there just isn't enough of it here to use that as a compelling reason to recommend a purchase, not to mention that you'll undoubtedly be able to access all of the cutscenes on youtube one day (if you can't already). I do recommend doing that, though. They're quite enjoyable.

The cutdown on characters may ring some alarm bells for old fans of the series, who are used to having a wide multitude of vehicles to control. That actually hasn't changed; indeed, the vehicle roster is larger than ever, even if the characters have been cut down. To flesh out the game, each story mode now is completely different from the one before it. Instead of using the usual set up for a battle game, where different characters play the same game but with different sets of moves (think Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat), here each of the three characters can ride in any vehicle, switching the vehicles each stage or sometimes even multiple times within a single stage. None of them go through the same game, though, and each fights a completely unique boss.

Most of the classic vehicles are back, from Sweet Tooth's ice cream truck and the Reaper motorcycle to the Darkside semi-truck and the Warthog armoured tank. All said, there's somewhere around a dozen vehicles to choose from including a, uh, a helicopter. Actually, the selection can be a little intimidating at first. Each vehicle comes with two unique special weapons and Sweet Tooth's truck can transform into a robot with an entirely different set of controls. Then you throw flying in the mix and a couple special weapons which charge, a couple which switch to first-person view, one which changes when you pop a wheelie on the motorcycle, a seemingly useless ability to turn your headlights on and off and OH MY GOD let me go back to Mario Kart.

Fortunately, the game is easy to control and even intuitive once you get past the initial feeling of being overwhelmed. I could waste a lot of space trying to succinctly describe the controls. Suffice it to say that you'll never get stuck on a wall or corner or miss a critical shot because you couldn't remember what the fire button was. Doing a 180 spin around to start launching your full repository of weapons at a foe is easier than ever, and so is drifting around a corner to dodge incoming fire. It only took me a few plays before I nailed my first opponent with the Reaper's instant-kill chainsaw throw. Whipping that chainsaw over your biker's head and aiming it just right to tear through the metal of your target still takes skill, but you won't have to wrestle with your controller to pull it off. What would normally be considered advanced tactics for experts are made accessible to everyone here by smooth controls. This results in a very polished experience, where you can focus on tactics rather than trying to get your vehicle to do what you want it to.

Undoubtedly some people are still wondering about that cut down character roster and the removal of a unique car for each character. Let me address this fear in a little more detail. Sure, there are only three characters, but at six levels per character, that adds up to a pretty varied experience. For my money, I would rather play eighteen different levels than the same six levels ten times. Even when stages make repeat appearances, it is never in the manner that they previously did and invariably you'll get to explore those stages in new ways. My favorite example of this took place in The Metro. The first time you play this snowy New York City stage, you're constricted to boxes that keep changing location around the city. For each second that you aren't in a box, you take damage, so the game mode leaves no time for exploration. As you're dashing around the city, though, you'll catch glimpses of areas which beg to be explored. You may crash through a mall entrance in your desperate rush to the next box, but you won't have time to check out the second and third floor. You may catch sight of the subway tunnel leading to what looks like an underground maze, but there's no box down there. Skyrail tracks rise high above the city, providing quick access to weapons and a high vantage point from which to rain down destruction, but sit up there and you'll be outside of the box. Levels are huge and these are great teases of them, leaving something to be excited about the next time you fight there and get to explore them fully. I see the shortened roster trade-off as a great way to legitimately stretch out the single player experience.

I'll tell you that my least favorite missions are the checkpoint races. There's only a trio of these but, ugh, are they terrible. The idea is to make it through all the checkpoints on a linear course through a level. The first couple of times this race pops up, you can miss a few checkpoints and be fine and that barely excuses it. But for the last time, the game is completely unyielding. You have to hit every single one or the next point won't appear. Oftentimes the checkpoints are strung together on top of buildings and over tough jumps that take forever to make your way back to after a fall. Oh, and you have to win the race in first place. Yeah, it's one of those stupid miss-one-checkpoint-and-reset-your-game races. I'm not against the challenge, necessarily, but Twisted Metal was not designed to be a racing game. There's nothing close to what you could call “physics” involved in the controls of Twisted Metal. This is a game where cars stop on a dime, drift so much they can almost strafe, and where a motorcycle can ping-pong off walls and other vehicles without losing speed or dumping its rider. This is all well-designed to keep the action moving in an arena shoot-out but it's terrible for trying to steer around sharp corners in a tight race. It's the one time when the game over-extends itself and tries to be something it's not and it really hurts the experience.

Thankfully, there's nothing like that in multiplayer. Here they kept focused on pure carnage. It's loud, it's chaotic, you die often and you kill often. Whether you like it as much as the single player depends on what you're looking for. The single player offers a little more opportunity to revel in your wins, since it often calls on the player to demonstrate precision, knowledge of the maps, and good tactical use of weapons. The multiplayer is a cluster-bomb- more like a cluster of cluster-bombs- waiting to go off in your face. The action is fast and furious. You don't have time to plan out strategies or be overly precise. You have to keep moving and keep shooting and try to race to the next weapon and health pack faster than the guy shoving bullets up your exhaust pipe. It's fun, but it's almost a little too hectic for me. I have trouble paying attention to the score amidst all the mayhem. When I win I'm often more surprised than satisfied.

The one exception to this is nuke mode, but that mode is so complex I can't think of a good way to do it justice on print. The basics involve sacrificing someone to a giant rocket which shoots a missile which you then have to protect while the other team is trying to blow it up, all while racing around picking up weapons and destroying opponents like usual. It sounds interesting in theory, but we've seen these sort of complicated takes on Capture the Flag and King of the Hill before and invariably everyone just ends up treating it like an extended deathmatch. Eventually someone fires the missile out of boredom and the match ends. I suspect nuke mode will fade into the private LAN rooms of the Twisted Metal servers and we'll never hear from it again. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is, I believe, irrelevant.

Aside from that oddity, the Twisted Metal experience is almost completely intact from the original series. In fact, it's barely changed. In a certain light, this is not a good thing. On one hand, innovation has been tossed out a window with a lit stick of dynamite strapped to its back. I don't know how that will sit with the modern gamer, whom I think has been led by the current generation of games to expect more breadth out of their gaming experience than Twisted Metal can offer. On the other hand, this is a tighter version of the car-crunching classic than has ever been released before. Put another way, Twisted Metal probably won't be winning any new fans this release, but it sure will please the old ones.

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (February 28, 2012)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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pickhut posted March 10, 2012:

Just got a chance to read this review today. Even though, to me, it more or less sounds like a typical Twisted Metal game, the energy in your writing still made the game sound enjoyable to play with its controls, environments, and multiplayer. Too bad I don't own a PS3, because I probably would have picked this up in the following weeks. Good review.
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zippdementia posted March 10, 2012:

Thanks, Pickhut. So you played the older Twisted Metal games, too, then?
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pickhut posted March 10, 2012:

Not to a great extent, but I've read and seen enough footage to understand the series as a whole, which is why I guess I like and get the review.
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zippdementia posted March 10, 2012:

It is a surprisingly unique series, considering how popular the concept was back when it was introduced and how many people played Mario Kart 64's battle mode more religiously than the race mode. There really hasn't been an equivalent delivery of the concept on the market, not that I can think of, at least.

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