A worthwhile romp through the wreckage
You know, if it weren’t for the original Twisted Metal, I might’ve sworn off games altogether. Somewhere amidst the 16-bit era, I succumbed to the typical pressures of high school, ditching my copy of Madden for real sports, Princess Peach for actual annoying girls who make things more difficult than they need to be, and high scores for scholarship-earning SAT results…and then along came Sweet Tooth, Calypso, and the rest of the gang, and I was right back where I started, helplessly addicted to our favorite pastime. The series has obviously undergone a host of changes since its 1995 debut, but few were more pleased than I to learn that Jaffe, Campbell, and co. were about to unleash another entry into this storied tale of fast cars, big guns, and shattered dreams.
But I’ve got to confess that after a decade-long drought, I couldn’t help but worry that time and tastes would have their way with Twisted Metal, evolving it into something I’d barely recognize, much less enjoy. I can confidently say that the folks at Eat Sleep Play didn’t quite sell out to the Man, but they didn’t exactly sell out to the fans, either. This is a new breed of Metal, and with it come much-needed upgrades and a few head-scratching changes that put it somewhere in between those aforementioned extremes.
Now, to be clear, there’s no mistaking core game’s make and model—Eat Sleep Play delivers a solid car-combat experience that (for the most part) looks and feels like the classic—but 2012’s Twisted Metal is a slightly different monster truck than the car-crushing monstrosity we remember.
Gone are the individual single-player storylines for each car, and in their place are three core tales for Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, and Dollface. They come complete with a series of slick, live-action cutscenes and a quick series of challenges that show off the game’s hefty list of new modes: classic “last man standing” deathmatch, endurance battles, boss fights, a Battle Royale–inspired mode focused on revolving hot zones, a racing hybrid, and more. And while most options add much-needed variety to the experience, I still don’t get why we traded individual stories per car for real-time movies and slight shifts in core gameplay. I really appreciate the variety and updated production values, but at the expense of a dozen or so drivers with their own Calypso-crafted fates?
A dicey trade, to say the least.
Thankfully, the basics are still so spot-on that you can’t help but forgive the change. The controls are reminiscent of the first two titles, and once you get familiar, everything works as you’d expect. Simply put, few games have offered up the perfect blend of control and intensity found in Twisted Metal, and this version’s no different. But with that sugared coating comes a bit of a bitter pill in that the broadness of the game’s overall balance seems juuuust a bit off this time around.
For my money, I’ve always considered this a strong suit of the series, fostering my insatiable desire to tackle the tourney with each of the game’s characters until I’d seen each ending and mastered every style—but aside from a few notable exceptions, you just don’t feel the same sense of connectivity here.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t have to beat the campaign with each car, but whether it’s the handling, the specials, or vehicle appearance, there’s an unshakable glut of individual “oomph” this time out. Moreover, the basic weapon pickups tend to fit in one of two categories: drastically underpowered single-shot items like the homing and fire missiles or technique-driven big boys like the remote bomb and sniper rifle, with little in between. This quickly leads to the basic freeze-and-ram combo translating into one of the most lethal things going, making heavily armored cars the easiest ones to use. What’s more, the “fast” car specials don’t have the sort of finishing power they used to, instead relying on a lot of dodging and recharging to get the job done, and it ends up being a bit too demanding.
This left me falling into “meh” patterns like selecting fast cars in battle races only because I had to, then snagging Sweet Tooth or JYD in everything else, taking a lot of the fun out of the revised story structure that seems heavily dependent on the open car selection and largely unnecessary “garage” feature.
Dragged down by this feeling and a heavily obscured unlocking structure, I was relieved to find the campaign lifted by level design that’s some of the best in the series. It doesn’t quite have the charm of, say, Paris in Twisted Metal 2, but the levels are massive, animated, highly destructible arenas that demand a lot from their contestants. Sure, you’ve got a few snoozers in there, but maps like Adventure Park, LA Skyline, and Blackrock are amazing accomplishments that help raise the bar in so many ways.
And then there’s multiplayer. I held off on this review until the day-one patch hit and I had plenty of time to dig into the online action, and after hours of head-to-head battles, I’m simultaneously annoyed and enamored with Twisted Metal’s online offerings. It’s great fun, but there are a lot of issues here. For starters, navigating the menus is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever endured in an online title. Offering no simple way to add friends, invite people to your clan, or even back out of the game, it’s one of the most inexplicably awkward experiences this side of an “online” Japanese title trying to emulate its Western counterparts.
The same could be said for accessing and updating game lists, viewing leaderboards (which seem to update at random—why not let us do this manually like we refresh the game list?), and the game’s failure to remember search settings and car selection. What’s more, there are more network errors and random disconnects than I can shake a shotgun at, often requiring 10 to 15 minutes to locate a game that actually lets you in, let alone one that works for more than two rounds. Given the polish present in the single-player campaign, this was a real shock to me as an avid multiplayer gamer.
That said, the game types (missing battle race and “hot zone” matches aside) are robust and amazing, the levels scale nicely into a ton of compelling battlegrounds, and once you’re in, the game plays as fast and furious as its solo counterpart. It’s so fun, in fact, that it was a genuine chore to tear myself away long enough to write this review, leaving me kind of annoyed at all the games shipping this month that’ll undoubtedly keep me from unlocking the full garage of pimped-out pain pods needed to establish dominance. There’s so much replay value here that it’s easy to overlook the sloppy execution surrounding the action itself, but it’s painfully obvious that the user interface would benefit from some tweaks, and the network code needed a few more weeks in the shop. I’ll still play it, and I’ll still have a blast, but there better be a serious dose of duct tape headed our way.
So, where does that leave us? Well, despite my gripes, I have to admit that I f***ing loved this game. I really wished they would’ve skipped the bulk of the major changes to the game’s narrative, but from a pure gameplay standpoint, it’s arguably my favorite Twisted Metal title to date. The controls are on point, the level design’s at or above anything else the series has produced, and (when it works) the multiplayer’s nonstop gameporn that’ll offer dozens of hours of replay value for anyone who gives it the time. It’s not as polished or as pure as I would’ve liked, but if you were hoping for a Metal game that lived up to the name, you’ll be in a near-constant state of demolition delight with the end result. Now, about that patch…
SUMMARY: A follow-up to everyone’s favorite car-combat clinic has been a long time coming, and Twisted Metal doesn’t disappoint, ending up as a game that’ll please diehard Toothies and newcomers alike with a strong core experience and a ton of replay value. It’s traveled a bit of a bumpy road to find its way home, but it still offers one helluva ride.
- THE GOOD: Series-leading gameplay, map design, and game mode offerings.
- THE BAD: Iffy weapon and car balance; new-school narrative structure.
- THE UGLY: Finding, connecting to, and staying in online matches.