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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 3 because I thought the box art looked cool. I had never heard of the series up to that point 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 3 was one of my first games. I found out much later that most fans hate Twisted Metal 3, and 4 for that matter, but I actually enjoyed it. Cars, explosions, and heavy metal, what more does a young boy need? It wasn’t until a few years later that I obtained a copy of the original Twisted Metal, and even Twisted Metal 2, and I played those games religiously. 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. So as Christmas rolls in this year let’s take a look at the original Twisted Metal.
Twisted Metal was developed by SingleTrac, published by Sony Computer Entertainment, and released in November, 1995 for the Sony PlayStation. The development team was lead by David Jaffe, who you may know as the director of the God of War series. 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 wide array of vehicles, open arenas to drive around in, and plenty of weapons to destroy opponents, Twisted Metal was the first in a series of many popular games that anybody who was around in the 90s should remember. Back when the car combat genre was all the rage.
Twisted Metal is an annual contest where drivers from all over come and battle to the death for a grand prize of any wish they desire. 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. Each driver has their own biography and reason for entering the contest so the story kind of depends on which driver you choose, I suppose, but the story is far from being the focus. If you manage to battle through all six stages and beat the final 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 for being too violent and sexist apparently. Some of these videos are included as extras in Twisted Metal Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition for the PlayStation 2. I remember watching them for the first time and thinking they were strange, to say the least. Other than maybe the screams of death during gameplay there’s no voice acting here which is kind of a bummer. 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 what we’ve seen in future games. The storylines and endings for each character are all kind of campy and silly and for some drivers, Calypso likes to twist their words around so a driver’s wish may end up being used against them in the end. It’s all good stuff but not really the reason you’d play these games. I should also mention that according to the overarching story of the series there is actually a driver that’s considered the winner but I won’t spoil who it is.
The mid-90s were full of vehicular combat games, a genre I really wish would make a return. Twsited Metal, Vigilante 8, and Carmageddon were just some of the games in the genre that you may have heard of. Driving around and blowing shit up was all the rage back then and, yeah, it was fun. But other than the Twisted Metal games, no other car combat titles could really captivate me like this series did. I don’t know why, maybe it was the drivers and vehicles or maybe just the weapons and environments but there was just something special about the Twisted Metal series.
Twisted Metal contains two different modes to play through. Single Player Contest and Two Player Duel. The contest is the real meat of the game although I think the series is known for its excellent local multiplayer and even online multiplayer in future games. When playing through the contest you start out by choosing one of twelve drivers. Each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknesses which can be viewed in the driver’s bio. These stats include what their Special Weapon is, Special Weapon Power, Speed, Handling, and Armor. Vehicles with excellent armor tend to move slower like Darkside and Warthog for example while vehicles with great speed are more vulnerable to attacks like Mr. Grimm. The vehicles, themselves, vary in appearance and come in all different types. For example Outlaw is a police car that’s driven by police officer 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, that’s for sure.
Each vehicle is equipped with a limited amount of turbo and two machineguns with infinite ammo that do little damage. They can overheat if used constantly, a feature that, thankfully, never made a return in future games. The machineguns are the only offensive weapons attached to the vehicles and the rest can be obtained throughout the environments. Just by simply driving over a weapon you can obtain it and can store up to a maximum of thirty weapons total. There’s multiple missiles, rear attacks, mines, tire spikes, and even oil slicks that can be used against your opponents. It’s kind of silly to see standard vehicles like a taxi, lowrider, or motorcycle withstand missile attacks since I’m quite certain they would be destroyed almost instantly but this is a game after all. Additionally, each vehicle has it’s own unique special weapon which will regenerate over time if depleted. These attacks are unique to each character and are more powerful than the other standard weapons. Sweet Tooth can fire flaming ice cream cones, Thumper can unleash a devastating flamethrower, Warthog will unleash a trio of powerful missiles, stuff like that. Another form of attack is ramming opponents. Simply slamming into another vehicle will cause them damage and this happens a lot since clusterfucks are frequent. Although if your vehicle has little to no armor you’re probably better off with ranged attacks since you can lose health quickly. After successfully destroying each opponent, you acquire a password for the next arena and move on. Yes, there is no saving to the memory card but there’s nothing really to unlock, either. If you lose all your lives you have to restart from the beginning or can simply enter the password for the arena you want to start from and proceed from there. The sixth stage includes a final boss battle against Minion, a tank and the winner of the previous contest. He has a special weapon that seems to be a combination of others in one attack. For a tank, Minion is quick and he’s easily the deadliest opponent in the game. Funnily enough, if you destroy an opponent, they will most likely appear again in future arenas which seems kind of silly for a contest.
I think one of the aspects that attracted me to the Twisted Metal series, other than the action and gameplay, is the open environments. Within each arena you can drive anywhere you want. Yes, 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 vehicle. Sure, each arena is like a small box with walls to prevent you from leaving the box but it’s just the idea that I can drive wherever I want and destroy my opponents in any way that I can that really kept me coming back. You can battle in the same arenas multiple times and they would never play out the same. I guess you could say the Twisted Metal series was my precursor to open world games.
The six arenas themselves are all in Los Angeles and normally increase in size with more opponents as you progress. You’ll battle on freeways, in suburban areas, the warehouse district, what looks like downtown L.A., and even city rooftops. With the exception of the first arena, they all include health stations that you can drive onto to replenish a portion of your health. The health stations can be depleted so you’ll need to wait for them to recharge. How much health they replenish and the time it takes for them to recharge all depend on what difficulty mode you’re playing on. Each arena normally includes objects that can be blown up like parked cars, crates, and even environmental structures. Blowing them up will normally reveal weapon pickups. Pedestrians are also scattered throughout the environments. They’re pretty angry and carry what I’m guessing are rocket launchers and will attack you on sight, though they don’t do much damage. Pedestrians can be shot or run over but do seem to respawn and funnily enough, some pedestrians will fly around using what I think are jetpacks. If only that became a reality.
Twisted Metal is definitely dated and it shows in its visuals. Even for 1995 this game didn’t look too amazing but that might have been in favor of a relatively solid frame rate. To be honest, the visuals are just messy. Everything is kind of blocky, pixelated, and lacks significant detail. Pop-in is everywhere and and the frame rate will take a hit when things get hectic. One neat feature is the ability to switch the camera view to a behind the wheel perspective but if you’re epileptic you may not want to play like this. Whenever you get attacked the screen starts flashing red and it becomes annoying. You have the option to enable a rear view mirror so you can see behind you but the frame rate will dip and it’s noticeable so I usually just left it off. The radar works better anyway and is used to identify opponents and health stations nearby. Another cool little touch is that after losing a specific amount of health, your vehicle will display visible damage like a dented and deformed frame and even bullet holes.
The music is definitely worth mentioning and is one of my favorite things about this game. You’ve got all these heavy metal tracks with truly memorable riffs that are just excellent. Apparently, some reviewers criticized the music back in the day and that just boggles my mind. No, it doesn’t have any Slayer in it but I can let that go. Twisted Metal arguably has the best soundtrack 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 design isn’t really well balanced. If you use 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 the machineguns you can barely hear 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 everything sounds great. You got cars, guns, freedom, and explosions. But underneath it all are several problems that may just be due to the game’s age. A lot of mechanics have been improved in the sequels and that becomes very noticeable when you play this. One could say the series is repetitive, I mean it’s the same shit every time and that’s definitely true with Twisted Metal. You choose a vehicle and battle it out through multiple arenas in the same exact way. The gameplay never changes, there’s no different objectives, and only one boss. 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 even the AI opponents. There were even vehicles that could be unlocked with cheats. The original 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 but with five opponents instead of one. The series is repetitive by nature so it may not hold your interest long but the lack of any other modes is definitely disappointing. There’s no real secrets to find or anything to unlock so what you start out with is all there is. 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 under six hours. Nowadays you can just look up the passwords for each arena and beat it in a matter of minutes if you decide to skip to the final battle. If you want to beat it normally with every vehicle and see all the endings, that may take you some time and is the only thing that gives the game any form of length but also adds to the repetition. I think it’s safe to say Twisted Metal was designed around multiplayer and that becomes more evident the more you play it.
Twisted Metal can be extremely difficult, at least on the Normal difficulty mode. The AI opponents are relentless and can gun you down very quickly if you’re not careful. You could be driving down a road only for a freeze missile to stop you in your tracks just before getting raped by missiles and machinegun fire. You can lose health extremely quickly and the pedestrians constantly shooting you doesn’t help either. You can even take damage from crashing into shit. If you decide to play as a vehicle with little to no armor, like Mr. Grimm or even Spectre, you can expect a truly challenging experience. Most of the time it doesn’t really feel like a contest since you appear to be the only one destroying vehicles. The AI opponents never seem to attack each other, at least not intentionally, but the moment you drive by an opponent they begin an onslaught of attacks aimed directly at you. It’s ridiculous, really, and annoying when you notice it. I’ll let it slide because of the game’s age but keep in mind this AI behavior does carry over into the sequels, minus Twisted Metal 3 and 4 which people seem to hate for whatever reason. But because this game can be extremely difficult you may not care or even notice it, for that matter. This AI behavior is very noticeable in the Twisted Metal 2012 release and it’s also my biggest problem with the game which is a topic for another discussion. To make matters worse is that the movement controls can be way too sensitive. You need to use the dpad to turn and I frequently found myself oversteering. It becomes a problem when you try to aim your attacks but can’t get your vehicle pointed in just the right direction. Several missiles have homing abilities but any attacks that fire straight will require a bit more precise aiming which can become frustrating given the sensitivity of turning.
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, actually. I don’t know why it’s so hard for developers to create a demolition derby style game like Twisted Metal but I guess “if the game has vehicles, it has to have racing” is the mindset. 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 that’s a big reason as to why I can’t get into other games in this genre. It’s very disappointing to see a car combat game come to Steam only to discover that racing is a part of it. I just want to get in a car and blow stuff up and Twisted Metal offers exactly that. Maybe they feel that without some other form of gameplay, the games would end up repetitive which is the case with Twisted Metal, however, if you’re not a fan of racing games, that’s a big turn-off. Now let’s be clear, I don’t hate racing games, but when I think of car combat, I think of cars just gunning each other down in an open area, not driving on a linear track in an attempt to cross the finish line first. But that’s just me.
The Twisted Metal series has a serious dedicated following. The crazy characters, vehicles, arenas, and fast-paced gameplay is what the series is known for and it all started back in 1995 with the original Twisted Metal. The mechanics established here have been vastly improved over the years and the sequels even brought with them new stuff that really shows how far the series has come. 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 players that are new to the series because it really doesn’t represent the excellence and even more in-depth gameplay of the sequels. Twisted Metal is still a fun game but it’s the kind of game that you would check out now just to see how the series started maybe. For players that are serious about getting into the series I would definitely recommend Twisted Metal 2, Black, or Head-On, and then I would say try Twisted Metal 3 at the risk of being beheaded because some fans just have a bug up their ass.