February 17, 2012

Review – Twisted Metal

Review Twisted Metal
Calypso’s apocalyptic tournament of car carnage returns, bringing one of Sony’s legacy franchises to the PlayStation 3 with an emphasis on multiplayer as the primary reason for investment and potential longevity. With a franchise that has seen successful releases on every piece of Sony gaming hardware to date, sans the new Vita, Twisted Metal has a strong list of accomplishments to draw on when it comes to maintaining its title as the King of vehicular combat. Mind you, that genre is far from crowded, particularly today.

It’s also worth noting another long-standing Sony franchise, the Wipeout series, as one that hit the PlayStation 3 with a digital release to deliver the core experience of its anti-gravity racing without unnecessary trappings to round out retail expectations. Under the watchful eye of David Jaffe, Twisted Metal stretches for retail justification with a single-player campaign again accompanying the multiplayer priority, see-sawing while struggling to beat familiar expectations for a story mode in addition to bringing the old war horse out for another round of competitive action that has certainly been wanting on the console.

Review Twisted Metal
Contestants enter the Twisted Metal competition for a chance to win the ultimate prize from Calypso, who has the power to grant their deepest wish. Much like a genie from some gag comic, Calypso always finds a way to twist these wishes to leave the winner with gruesome egg on their face. If you can imagine wishing that a genie would make you a sandwich and suddenly finding that you’ve been transformed into ham and mustard on rye, then you’ve got a pretty good handle on what the narrative of Twisted Metal offers.

Traditionally, a wealth of selectable characters with unique vehicles would be available from the start of the campaign, each with their own back story and reasons for entering the contest. As players smashed their way to the top of the heap, the reward would be watching wishes get twisted with less subtlety than a Tales from the Crypt episode.

This time however, only three characters have their story told through the single-player campaign, which tells the bleak tales of series staple Sweet Tooth, the crazed model Dollface, and Mr. Grimm. Rather than picking one of these characters from the start of the campaign, or even being able to switch between their individual stories at will, Twisted Metal forces players to go through these stories in order via a series of mission stages.

Review Twisted Metal
Where previous releases presented campaign stages that provided open spaces to fight the other contestants repeatedly, peppered with boss encounters, this new approach uses the forced direction to present a series of more objective based missions. Players will start off simply annihilating the competition, but soon face challenges such as defeating a semi-truck that deploys more enemies onto the playing field, or trying to stay within the boundaries of a moving cage of play that penalizes anyone who strays outside those borders for too long. I’d mention the point at which racing gets involved, but I’m still a little sore about suddenly shifting gears on such a well established style of play.

Presenting only one flow of events within the campaign allows for a more focused series of objectives that quickly raises the challenge of the single-player mode. It can also be infuriating at first, trying to learn the controls for vehicles as well as contending with other opponents while working with the demands of each subsequent stage – staying within the moving cage threw me for a severe loop at first after simply reducing opponents to wreckage with no other concerns during the first two stages.

This approach also lessens the significance of vehicular ownership, with players able to choose which vehicle they want for each stage from those unlocked and available. Players will actually choose three vehicles, which can be swapped by finding the garage within each stage. Those with the patience and desire to make use of the garage will have a chance to change strategies during the action, which is an interesting move that allows for shifting between speed and armor depending on the situation. But for the most part it’s just as quick to stick with your preferred ride and find health scattered around with pickups, running over defeated opponents, and mobile semi-trucks.

Review Twisted Metal
Twisted Metal’s single-player direction makes it hard to accuse the game of dragging out the same old tricks, so it’s awkward feeling that this is entirely the source of contention that weighs the experience down. Simply spitting out open areas and only asking players to annihilate the same vehicles repeatedly is a tired approach, but also one that offered plenty of space to learn and master the perks of each ride in any order the player desired – not unlike any competitive fighting game.

There was a lot of longevity to that approach, leaving the invitation open to return to the previous games to grind through the campaign with other characters. As it stands here, single-player mode feels a lot like a grind that offers little reason to not simply take a crash course with the training mode and then jump into an online fray where players are empowered with more options to feed their competitive bloodlust. It’s also a bit disappointing that while two players can tackle the campaign locally, there is no option to do so online. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?

The trade off is a series of character videos that present the most glorious and horribly beautiful cinematics, with Sin City styled cut-scenes featuring real actors that tell at least two gruesome tales. Starting with the bloodier quest of Sweet Tooth to kill the only survivor of his own family, the narrative tends to slide into cheese by the time it reaches Mr.Grimm, who has a story so slim that part of his cinematic time is actually given to the Preacher to fill the void. The depraved flow of these narrative sequences offer a level of ultra-violence that presents some legitimate shock and maintains the dark tones the series is known for. As pretty as these sequences are, it’s hard to ignore the likelihood that this level of presentation helped narrow the playable character options for the single-player campaign.

Review Twisted Metal
When it comes to driving, Twisted Metal offers an immense amount of options that will seem overwhelming at first. There are so many buttons to keep in mind that your first real world driving test may seem less stressful in comparison, and it’s hard not to forget half of the options available when first settling in for a night of combat.

The controls offer quick access to abilities that have proved complicated in past entries, and key to this is assigning the gauge based powers like shield and EMP to a single d-pad button. The L1 and R1 buttons cycle weapon pickups and a vehicle’s primary weapon, which often has a secondary fire option to boot. Sidearms like machine guns are present as well, as is the ability to boost and even turbo-boost by flicking the six-axis controller forward quickly. The right analog stick throws the car into reverse, which can also be accomplished by double tapping the circle button. The X button allows you to tightly turn the car to face pursuers head on, and I haven’t even mentioned that pressing L1 and R1 at the same time allows the car to make a short jump.

Twisted Metal is crammed with control options, and though I found myself using the basic features heavily at first, that crutch didn’t carry me very far before I took the time to dig around under the hood more. There’s plenty of reward in that pursuit with a game that offers the most comprehensive controls the series has known to date. I won’t suggest that this creates a car ballet however. Twisted Metal is still a gritty and sloppy affair that can find you being bashed around by opponents and flung through the air. But there’s an art beneath the surface that isn’t hard to discover and will serve you well in the main event.

Review Twisted Metal
The multiplayer options of Twisted Metal offer plenty of the safe and familiar, with Deathmatch and Last Man Standing modes that can be played as dog eat dog or with teams. Hunted introduces a fresher challenge by making the first player to score a kill the hunted, then fighting to stay alive and earn more kills before someone else claims the title. Additionally, drivers looking for more complexity can take a spin with Nuke mode, which introduces a strategy team event where two sides take turns defending and attacking the other team’s statue with missile strikes.

The game also offers standard challenge modes that can be used to setup the typical Twisted Metal free for all and allow players on their own to test their skills against waves of computer controlled opponents.

Playing with others is always the emphasis, from the time I first brought the game home on the original PlayStation, and that hasn’t changed here. Whether you go online or stay home with your favorite second player, it’s not hard to lose hours by simply smashing other vehicles across the game’s maps.

Environments include large urban settings where it’s possible to get lost at times, as well as more intimate areas with direct environmental hazards. Many areas are so large that sections of maps are used for certain multiplayer scenarios, and many of these environments offer buildings and walls to smash through to reveal still more areas and pickups.

Review Twisted Metal
For the most part, the visuals offer plenty of details, but some muddy instances can cause confusion – I didn’t realize I was driving on ice at first and thought my car was inexplicably dying. The game is subject to occasional hiccups as cars get tossed around as well, with camera readjustments sometimes breaking the view to try and get fixed back on the action. There’s certainly some junk in the trunk, including some occasional connectivity issues Sony still needs to resolve this week, which caused my multiplayer games to hang twice so far and require a reset.

Nostalgia helps keep the experience warm and fuzzy, though Twisted Metal does deliver the PlayStation 3 upgrade I’ve been longing for. There’s just no escaping the fact that players are being asked to pay more for the addition of a single-player campaign that adds very little to the package, neither with the reward of grinding through it or the short amount of content it brings to the disc. Fans will find the online offering familiar and inviting, but the strange attempt at polishing this classic ride confuses and underwhelms enough to noticeably tarnish what the game achieves there.

Eat Sleep Play

Sony Computer Entertainment

PlayStation 3

Singleplayer, Local Co-op, Multiplayer

Release Date
February 14, 2012

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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