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I can still remember the day I was introduced to the Twisted Metal series. My aunt took me to the store and let me pick out a game and I chose Twisted Metal III because I thought the box art looked cool. At that time, I had never heard of the series nor did I have any idea what to expect. Growing up, I never had a 64 and was eventually given a PlayStation and Twisted Metal III was one of my first games for it. I found out much later that many Twisted Metal fans hate Twisted Metal III, and even 4 for that matter, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Developed by SingleTrac, published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Twisted Metal was released for the PlayStation in November, 1995. The development team was lead by David Jaffe who you may know as the director of the first two God of War games. But before unleashing a very angry Kratos on the world, the Twisted Metal series was his baby and I believe it also brought the vehicular combat genre to mainstream attention. With a good variety of vehicles to select from, open arenas to drive around in, and plenty of weapons to use, Twisted Metal was the first in a series of many popular games that anybody who was around in the nineties should remember. Back when the car combat genre was all the rage. Before Grand Theft Auto came around, Twisted Metal was my action series of choice and the series has come quite a ways since the original game but how does the original still hold up is the real question.
Twisted Metal is an annual contest where drivers from all over come and battle it out for a grand prize of anything they wish. The contest is run by a mysterious man named Calypso who has hideous burnt face and dwells under the streets of Los Angeles. This is the tenth contest and is being held on Christmas Eve, 2005. You can read about the history of the contest from the options menu. Each driver has their own biography and motive for entering the contest so the story kind of depends on which driver you choose, I suppose. If you manage to battle through all six stages and beat the boss, the ending for each character will be different and is in rolling text form. There were actually videos for each ending but were cut before release. From what I’ve researched, it was because they were considered too offensive or just way too violent. These videos are included as extras in the Twisted Metal Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition for the PlayStation 2. If you love campy shit, the Twisted Metal series has you covered and these videos are no exception. If you’re already a fan of the series and haven’t seen these, you really should check them out. You’ll get to watch and laugh at porn-level acting, ridiculous dialogue, firefights, and low quality effects. In the actual game, other than maybe the screams of death during gameplay there’s no real voice acting. This game marks the start of the Twisted Metal series and here you will see the first iterations of some the most famous Twisted Metal characters like Sweet Tooth, Darkside, and Mr. Grimm among others. Their storylines, personalities, and even some of the drivers themselves here are drastically different than their counterparts in future games. The storylines are okay and the best ones have Calypso twisting the driver’s words around so their wish is used against them.
Twisted Metal contains two game modes – One Player Contest and Two Player Duel. Before you can jump into the action, you must choose one of several vehicles. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses and vary in stats which include Special Weapon Power, Speed, Handling, and Armor. Vehicles with excellent armor like Darkside and Warthog tend to move slower but can take a good amount of damage before blowing up. Vehicles like Mr. Grimm and Crimson Fury are more vulnerable to attacks but can move at high speeds. All of the vehicles are different. For example, Outlaw is a police officer that drives a police car and Sweet Tooth is an insane clown that drives an Ice Cream truck. You’ll want to play around with each vehicle to see what fits you best but this game in no way attempts to simulate any form of realistic driving.
All vehicles come with a limited amount of turbo that allows them drive at high speeds when activated and you can restore turbo by obtaining the turbo pickups scattered throughout the arenas. Each vehicle is equipped with two machine guns that do little damage. The machine guns have infinite ammo but they can overheat. To even have a chance at winning, you’ll want to use the many weapons you can acquire throughout the arenas. You can acquire weapons by driving over the weapon pickups and they are stored in your inventory. You can switch between weapons at any time. There’s multiple missiles, rear attacks, mines, tire spikes, and even oil slicks that can be used against your opponents. Additionally, each vehicle has its own unique special weapon that will regenerate over time after being depleted. Not only can you inflict damage with your machine guns or by utilizing the many weapons but also by slamming into other vehicles. Although if your vehicle has little to no armor you’re probably better off not doing that. After successfully destroying each opponent in an arena, you’re rewarded with a password for the next arena and you move on. There is no saving to the memory card. If your vehicle is destroyed, you lose a life. If you lose all your lives, you’ll have to restart from the beginning or enter the password for the arena you want to start from and proceed from there. The sixth and final arena ends in with a battle against the boss Minion which is a tank that has access to several special weapons used by the standard vehicles. Minion is easily the deadliest opponent in the game.
Twisted Metal can be extremely difficult, at least on the Medium difficulty mode. The AI opponents are relentless and can gun you down very easily if you’re not careful. Some enemies seem to have an unlimited amount of freeze missiles and they will fire them at you constantly, rendering you unable to move while you watch helplessly as they destroy you with attacks. Not only do you have to try to avoid getting killed by the other opponents but also the pedestrians firing projectiles at you. You can also take damage from crashing into shit. Needless to say, you can lose health very quickly. Dropping the difficulty down to Easy does help but the game is still challenging. Now most of the time I never really felt like I was in a contest because it appears that you’re only one going after and destroying opponents. I did witness a few opponents kill each other but I think they were aiming for me because more often than not, they just drive past each other. They also never seem to go for health when they actually need it. The moment you drive near an opponent, they start to gun for you and will often chase you down. This is the first game in the series so I can overlook some of the AI flaws but, unfortunately, the AI behavior was never improved in the sequels, minus Twisted Metal III and 4 where opponents will actually attack and kill each other and go for health intentionally. But those two games were created by a different developer. Aiming your shots can be a bitch because it’s not always easy get your vehicle positioned in just the right spot. Some missiles have homing abilities but any attacks that fire straight will require precise aim which can be frustrating sometimes.
One of the aspects that attracted me to the Twisted Metal series, other than the action and gameplay, is the open environments. You can freely drive around each arena and go anywhere want. The progression through the contest is linear, however during gameplay you’re never forced down a specific path or required to do anything other than blow up every other opponent. My favorite arena has always been River Park Rumble which is an urban environment set at night. Each arena is small by today’s standards but when I was a kid, it was just the idea that I can drive wherever I want and destroy my opponents in any way that I can that always kept me coming back. You can battle in the same arena multiple times and the battles will never play out the same.
The six arenas themselves are all set in Los Angeles. You’ll battle on freeways, in suburban areas, the warehouse district, what looks like downtown L.A., and city rooftops. Most arenas include health stations that will replenish some of your health and you will need to wait for them to recharge before you can use them again. Scattered throughout the arenas are ramps you can drive off of and objects that can be destroyed like parked cars and crates among other things. Destroying these will normally reveal weapon pickups. Pedestrians are scattered throughout the arenas and most of them are hostile. They’ll fire projectiles at your vehicle and some of them even fly around using what I think are jetpacks. They will attack you on sight but don’t do much damage and you can shoot them or run them over to kill them. It’s a good idea to learn the layout of each arena so you know where the weapon pickups and health stations are. One neat feature is the ability to switch the camera view to a behind-the-wheel perspective which adds a bit to the immersion.
Twisted Metal’s visuals are definitely dated and even in 1995 this game didn’t look amazing. Everything is blocky and pixelated, there’s a lot of pop-in, and the frame rate will take a hit when things get hectic or if the rear view mirror is enabled. One thing I always thought was neat is that after losing enough health, vehicles will display visible damage like being dented and deformed. The music is awesome and is one of my favorite things about this game. There’s not a ton of songs but the soundtrack is full of kickass heavy metal tracks. In my opinion, Twisted Metal has one of the best soundtracks in the series and I even obtained a copy of the soundtrack from a code that came with the Twisted Metal Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition. Unfortunately, the audio in the game isn’t really well balanced. If you stick with the default audio settings, the sound effects kind of drown out the music. Whenever a vehicle uses their special weapon, you can hear it from a mile away but you can barely hear the machine guns at all. If you raise the volume of the music, the sound effects will be lowered and vice versa. It kind of sucks because the music is so great and can really get you into the action but I also want to hear what’s going on.
On the surface Twisted Metal sounds great. You got cars, guns, freedom, and explosions. But underneath it all are some problems and outdated gameplay. A lot of the mechanics were improved in the sequels. Other than the contest and the two player mode, there’s nothing else to really do. Starting with Twisted Metal 2 was the Challenge Match where you could choose your battleground, vehicle, and AI opponents. There’s also vehicles that can be unlocked with cheats. The first game has nothing like this so you’re pretty much forced to play through the contest or against a friend. There is a cheat to unlock a secret arena but it’s just the first arena with five opponents instead of one. I found a GameShark cheat for Minion but with the cheat active, selecting “Car Info” or “Begin Battle” seems to freeze the game. So if there is a way to play as Minion, I’m not sure how to do it. The lack of any other single player modes is definitely disappointing. There’s no real secrets to find or anything to unlock so what you see is what you get. With only six arenas, the contest can be rather short. If you decide to just beat it with one vehicle and call it a day then you may be disappointed. You can probably beat it in a couple of hours. Nowadays you can just look up the passwords for each arena so you don’t really have to work your way to the end if you don’t want to. Plus, if playing solo, the passwords are the only way to play in arenas of your choosing instead of progressing through the contest. If you want to beat it normally with every vehicle and see all the endings, that will take you some time. Don’t get me wrong, the game still has its moments and I had fun but the outdated gameplay and mechanics and lack of content are very noticeable if you’ve played the sequels.
The mid-nineties were full of vehicular combat games, a genre I really wish would make a big comeback. Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8, and Carmageddon are just some of the classics. Driving around and blowing shit up was all the rage back then because it was fun and still is. But no other car combat titles could really captivate me like this series did. Sure, I’ve played a lot of other games in the genre but I always ended up coming back to Twisted Metal. There’s just something special about the series. It’s a shame that good vehicular combat games are hard to come by nowadays and a lot of them include racing as a major focus which kind of sucks in my opinion. But I guess I’m in the minority. I want to see more demolition derby style games with projectile-based weaponry like Twisted Metal. No racing. Fuck racing. If I wanted to race, I’d play a racing game. Think about it; Carmageddon, Gas Guzzlers, Road Rash, all titles off the top of my head that can be considered vehicular combat games and all include racing. Granted, in Carmageddon racing is optional but I think the racing a big reason as to why I can’t get into other games in this genre. I just want to drive around and blow stuff up and Twisted Metal offers exactly that.
The Twisted Metal series has a serious dedicated following. The crazy characters, vehicles, diverse arenas, and frantic gameplay is what the series is known for and it all started back in 1995. The mechanics established here have been vastly improved over the years in the sequels, most of which are better games in my opinion. I think my love for the original game lies more with nostalgia because it really hasn’t aged well in many respects but it definitely holds historic value. It was the first game in the series and planted the roots of what would become a beloved franchise. I don’t think I would recommend this to anyone looking to get into the series for the first time because it really doesn’t reflect the excellence of the gameplay in the sequels. If you’re serious about getting into the series I would recommend any of the other games over this one except maybe Small Brawl which I still say is the worst in the series. I would even say give Twisted Metal III and 4 a shot, too, because those games are not as bad as some people make them out to be. Twisted Metal is a kickass car combat game that shows its age. If you’re a fan of the genre and have yet to play this then check it out but just know there are better games in the series.