Twisted Metal (2012) Review

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The Twisted Metal series has come a long way since 1995. I grew up with a PlayStation and I think I put more hours into Twisted Metal III than any other game on that console. As the years went by I obtained every game in the series but Twisted Metal 2 and III remained among my favorites for the longest time. Most dedicated fans of the series won’t even discuss Twisted Metal III or 4, for that matter, and I think I’m one of the select few who enjoy those games. Nevertheless, I put the Twisted Metal series right up there with the Mario and Grand Theft Auto games as one of my favorite franchises. I can remember when Twisted Metal was announced at E3 for the PlayStation 3 and my excitement was just through the roof. From that point on I followed its development right up to release and even took a week off work to play it. Developed by Eat Sleep Play and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Twisted Metal was released in February, 2012. The development team was once again directed by series creator, David Jaffe, so it had all the makings of another excellent entry in the series. But how did it turn out compared to its predecessors is the real question.

The Twisted Metal contest is actually a bit different this time around. From what I gather, Calypso is now the head of his corporation, Calypso Industries, which I believe is supposed to be a front for the contest. Drivers still compete for a grand prize of anything they wish and Calypso is still a sinister motherfucker. One disappointing aspect about the story mode is that there’s only three drivers. Granted, playing through the contest with twelve drivers to see their endings in past games was repetitive so this may have been the developer’s way of just eliminating the repetition. But it does suck if you were a fan of specific drivers from previous games or were looking forward to even more crazy characters. One upside to this is that the drivers are no longer tied to specific vehicles. Any driver can drive any of the vehicles and as you complete events in the story mode you’ll unlock more vehicles. Another difference with the story mode here is that you don’t actually choose the driver you want to play as. You just progress from one storyline to the next. Since there’s only three drivers I guess it’s not that big of a deal but it does kind of suck that the freedom of choice was removed. The story is actually pretty short and if you play on the Normal difficulty mode, you can probably beat it in under five hours.

The story lines go the Twisted Metal: Black route, taking a more realistic and dark approach. None of the characters, other than Calypso, have any real supernatural elements. The story mode starts with you playing as the series mascot, Sweet Tooth, and just like his appearance in Twisted Metal: Black, his head is on fire and he’s a sadistic serial killer that dresses like a clown. Without spoiling anything, he normally kills his victims without a problem but one girl in particular got away and his wish to hunt her down and kill her. Next you’ll play as Mr. Grimm, a criminal whose father was a stuntman that died during a performance years ago. Apparently, Grimm believes his father’s death to be the reason that his life turned to shit. He hopes to win the contest in order to prevent his father’s death. The last driver is Dollface, a model so obsessed with her appearance and being the most beautiful that she kills anyone who threatens her rise to the top. After her face was damaged in a car accident she had multiple surgeries that were actually able to restore her face back to the way it was, minus an almost invisible scar. She still sees herself as a hideous monster and ends up visiting some questionable doctor who places a mask on her face and locks it with some kind of magical binding. When she returns to have the mask removed, the doctor is nowhere to be found so she enters the Twisted Metal contest in hopes of having the mask removed if she wins. The cut scenes use live actors and contain voice-overs from the drivers to narrate what’s happening. If you were a fan of the dark story lines in Twisted Metal: Black then you’ll feel right at home here. Another character that returns from Black is Preacher but he’s not a playable driver in the story mode and I really don’t understand his seemingly random appearances in the cut scenes. He doesn’t really advance the story lines in any meaningful way as far as I can tell.

Apparently each of the drivers have amassed a group of loyal followers so each driver is associated with a faction – The Clowns, The Skulls, and The Dolls. When playing online or in the single player Challenge mode, you can also select The Holy Men faction. Outside of the story, choosing your faction is basically just choosing your driver. But now one of your followers will be in the passenger seat and act as a gunner, firing weapons at opponents. Along with choosing your faction you get to choose your sidearm, an alternative to the mounted machine guns which are also still an option. You can also select a custom paint job and if I remember correctly you could create custom skins and have them downloaded into your game but the feature doesn’t seem to work anymore and the game will endlessly load when I enter the custom paint job menu. Because of this whole faction thing, it kind of changes up the contest in some ways. Each driver competes in a series of six events, with the final event being a boss battle. Previous contests were all about drivers battling to the death and theoretically the last man standing would be the winner. Considering drivers and vehicles you blew up would return in later stages, the contest never really made sense in that regard. With only three drivers here one would imagine it would get very boring only battling two other vehicles all the time. Well thankfully it’s not like that but each event isn’t just your typical deathmatch that we’re all so accustomed to. The events mix things up and I think this was another attempt at eliminating repetition. Most events in the story mode allow you to choose multiple vehicles. Your main vehicle and backup vehicles that will be stored in a garage that you can visit in the battlegrounds. If you run low on health you can switch out vehicles and any vehicles stored in the garage will slowly replenish health. Some events include massive semi trucks called Juggernauts that will keep spawning in enemies until you can blow them up to stop them. There are also endurance events where enemies will keep spawning in as you kill them and you need to destroy a specific number of vehicles to win. The fight for your life event is all about every enemy attacking you at once. Looking back at the AI behavior in most previous games in this series, this isn’t really something new to say the least. Cage matches require you to remain in the caged area and the cage will frequently change locations. If you’re outside the cage the grace period timer starts counting down and when the grace period runs out, you’ll slowly take damage when outside the cage. Then there’s races. Yes, races in a Twisted Metal game. Frankly, these are awful and I don’t like them. I hate them. One of the reasons I love the Twisted Metal series is because it doesn’t include racing so I really don’t welcome these racing events and they’re easily the worst part of the story mode.

Each event is timed and completing events normally rewards you with new sidearm weapons, advanced attacks, or new vehicles. You’re also rewarded with a bronze, silver, or gold medal which depends on how long it takes you to complete the event. Take an extremely long time and you won’t even receive a medal. If you manage to earn gold medals in each event on the hardest difficulty mode, Twisted, you’ll unlock Warthog, and I just didn’t have the patience to do this. The medals do add a form of replay value but considering the difficulty in the story mode really seems to spike during Dollface’s story, even on Normal and Hard, and just knowing I have to play through the dreadful races again, I really didn’t even want to try. Each driver will battle a boss so there’s only three bosses total. Sweet Tooth battles The Brothers Grimm which are these two massive monster trucks. Mr. Grimm battles this massive Dollface mech thing that flies around. You need to capture the faction leader and use it to launch these rockets at the mech and then in the final phases you’ll just need to shoot it down with standard weapons. And last but not least, Dollface battles through Sweet Tooth’s Carnival of Carnage. You battle through four phases – the underbelly of the travelling carnival, a pinball chamber environment where you need to launch bombers at the target, a dangerous obstacle course, and the final phase has you flying Talon, a helicopter, and dropping these Sweet Tooth minions into a giant mechanical Sweet Tooth head. The Brothers Grimm is easily my favorite out of all of them and that’s because the other two boss battles can really drag on a bit too long.

The events and bosses are somewhat of a refreshing change compared to previous games and I appreciate the developer’s attempt at trying to mix up the gameplay but some of these new additions are more tedious than anything. The medals are a nice incentive to replay but locking a vehicle behind the medals seems like a poor decision. I get it, unlocking Warthog is supposed to be like a badge of honor but if I’m going to unlock vehicles I’d rather do it in the traditional Twisted Metal fashion of standard deathmatch gameplay. Even finding secret items in the environments to unlock things, like the black cubes in Twisted Metal: Black, would have been a better option. It really bothers me that racing is even included in this game and it’s the biggest reason as to why I don’t want to replay through the story mode. The faction element is really what makes the gameplay traditional because the contest isn’t really about everybody competing at once, so it seems. It’s more about you just surviving each event. With only three drivers, the vehicles you battle against are driven by enemy faction members so the contest isn’t really like is used to be. I love the fact that drivers are no longer tied to vehicles but I think I prefer the multitude of crazy drivers and I will gladly take the repetitive deathmatch battles over racing any day.

Even though the story mode was somewhat disappointing, the gameplay is absolutely phenomenal. It’s exactly what I expected from a modern Twisted Metal game, at least back in 2012. It’s fast-paced, action packed, and retains the single player Challenge mode found in previous games. As dark as the story lines are, I’m just happy the environments aren’t shrouded in a dark atmosphere. The environments are diverse and I think this is the first Twisted Metal game where I actually love all of the battlegrounds. All of them shine in their own way. The environments are more destructible than ever and they contain a great amount of detail. The texture work is great, there’s great lighting, pedestrians will be running all over the place, and traffic will fill the roads. Driving through a building and watching it crumble to the ground in a cloud of smoke never gets old. Watching vehicles animate and transform to equip specific weapons is a nice touch and seeing your passenger lean out the window to shoot at opponents is really cool. With the game running at a mostly solid sixty frames, the gameplay can get really intense. The frame rate dips here and there when shit just fills the screen but it doesn’t happen often. Health pickups are scattered throughout the environments as are health semis that will drive around and if you manage drive off the back of these trucks, you’re health will be fully replenished. Destroying opponents will cause that vehicle’s driver and passenger to run around on fire. Kill the driver and you’re rewarded with some health. Kill the passenger and you’re rewarded with a random weapon.

Classic vehicles from previous games return but, sadly, Minion did not make the cut. Sweet Tooth, Darkside, Outlaw, Roadkill, Warthog, and Shadow are all here and the motorcycle in this game, usually associated with Mr. Grimm in previous games, has been renamed Reaper. Axel also returns and was originally a pre-order bonus. Several new vehicles are introduced with Talon being the stand out. Talon is a helicopter that can fly around and this can really change how you play. Controlling it is a bit different than the vehicles but once you master the controls, it really has an edge by being in the air. Each vehicle still has a unique special weapon that recharges when depleted and each special weapon also has an alternate firing mode. For example, Sweet Tooth’s standard special is a laughing ghost attack which is like Sweet Tooth’s head in explosive form. The alternate special transforms the truck into a mech that can throw these laughing ghost explosives at opponents. Darkside’s standard special is a ramming attack but you can also drop powerful mines from the truck’s rear. Switch to the alternate special and a tri-gun turret will fire from the top of the truck. Now each special is unique but not as varied as previous games. I say that because several vehicles have rapid firing turrets or machine guns as special weapons. This is kind of disappointing but because the weapons are so satisfying to use, I tend not to notice it after a while. In fact, I love using these specials because they’re just so much fun. When using Talon’s turret, you’ll fire from a first-person perspective and it just feels badass.

Many of the classic weapons return including fire, homing, and power missiles along with some excellent new additions. You can now acquire a shotgun and sniper rifle, with the shotgun being my favorite. Both of these weapons have your passenger leaning out of the vehicle and landing a point blank shot on an opponent with a shotgun is extremely satisfying. Each vehicle is still equipped with machine guns with infinite ammo but as you play through the story you will unlock alternatives to these which are called side arms. These include a sub-machine gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, revolver, and even a swarmer weapon which will fire multiple missiles at opponents. It’s basically a missile launcher. None of these really do extensive damage but they’re really fun to use. Advanced attacks also return and instead of having to press a specific sequence of buttons, each attack is assigned to one dpad button. The EMP shot is like your freeze blast, you can lay down mines, fire rear attacks, and activate a temporary shield. Beating specific story events will reward you with alternate versions of these including a rear freeze, super mines, and an absorption shield that, when activated, will steal an opponents weapon if it hits you. These attacks to drain energy from an energy meter and the meter itself will replenish over time. You can still jump but it doesn’t drain any energy so that’s nice.

It is blatantly obvious that multiplayer was the focus of this game. The moment you launch the game, you will be greeted by a window that indicates it’s trying to establish a connection to the server. This is actually really annoying and sometimes it takes what feels like forever and there’s no way to way to really skip it. I would imagine taking your PS3 offline would do it but I haven’t tried that. I’m not really a multiplayer guy so I didn’t even attempt to try any multiplayer matches but I think some dedicated fans still get games going. The only mode I was really concerned about was the single player Challenge mode and I was so happy to see it return. There are several modes of play in Challenge including Kill all Bots where you need to kill all of the AI opponents. Max. Cars Endurance lets you battle it out against a max number of AI opponents and each time you destroy an opponent, another will spawn in. And finally there’s the One vs One endurance match where you battle one AI opponent at a time. The endurance matches are really all about how long you can survive and can go on forever if you’re really good at the game. Luckily you can adjust the difficulty and toggle health semis on or off before starting a match. None of these matches, including Kill all Bots, let you choose your AI opponents so that kind of sucks. Kill All Bots does let you choose how many opponents, up to a maximum of ten, but that’s it. There are other customization options like being able to toggle on or off pedestrians and traffic and you’re even given more options when choosing the battleground. You can select an entire map in full or different variations. For example, you may want play a One vs One endurance match but the battlegrounds may seem way too big for this. You can easily choose a different variant of a battleground which is normally smaller sections of it. This is actually really cool since you’re not always forced to play in massive environments where the action can sometimes feel sparse. The smaller areas can keep the action going for the entire match.

Once again the AI is a problem. It’s more obvious in this game than any of its predecessors that the AI opponents will always gun for you and only you. Considering the contest in this game is more about survival, it makes sense for the story I guess, but when playing in the Challenge mode in traditional Twisted Metal matches, this AI behavior still rears its ugly head. Believe it or not the AI opponents will actually go for health in this game but that seems to be sporadic and not always when they need it. If you play a Kill all Bots match I guarantee you that if you win you will be the only vehicle on the scoreboard with any kills. If you die, there will be only one other vehicle with any kills and that’s obviously the opponent that killed you. This basically means that if AI opponents aren’t near you they’re either driving around aimlessly or slowly gravitating towards you. The AI is still relentless and sometimes they just don’t let up. There could be a group of vehicles somewhere on the other side of the battleground but the moment you drive to that location they all gang up on you. I could forgive the AI behavior in past games but this is now ridiculous and it’s extremely disappointing. There’s always going to be a missile or EMP shot coming your way and getting hit with an EMP shot is really aggravating. Once hit, the vehicle stops and the engine needs to restart and you need to mash buttons to restart the engine faster. The AI would freeze you all the time in previous games but getting hit with an EMP shot here is just more annoying to the point of frustration since it seems to be the AI’s favorite attack. I know some of you are probably saying “It’s all about the multiplayer, dude. Who cares about single player or AI?”. Well I do. And I just don’t understand why it’s so hard for the developers to implement AI behavior like attacking each other. You may be thinking it would make the game too easy but I don’t think so. Not if it’s done right. Twisted Metal III had decent AI. They would go for health and even kill each other but it wasn’t like they never focused on you. In fact, most of their attention was on you but they would actually attack each other, making it seem like you’re not the only target. The AI has been a problem with the entire series and for some reason David Jaffe and his teams of developers just don’t improve it or even make an attempt to. It really is disappointing.

The sound effects in Twisted Metal are exceptional. All weapons sound deadly and the sounds of impacts really pack a punch. There’s now some kind of announcer guy that will warn you when your health is low, when your special weapon is recharged, how many opponents are left, shit like that. The music, on the other hand… let’s just say music is subjective. It’s got some good stuff from Judas Priest, Sammy Hagar, Sepultura, and White Zombie. Then there’s the other music. As soon as I heard hip-hop, well that’s when I turned the music off. However, Twisted Metal does allow for custom music so I immediately loaded up my PS3 with classic Twisted Metal music, most of which I obtained from the Twisted Metal Symphony soundtrack. This soundtrack could only be downloaded via a code that came with the Twisted Metal Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition for PS2. Listening to those classic heavy metal tunes from previous Twisted Metal games is both nostalgic and awesome and really helped amplify the action, at least for me.

Shortly after Twisted Metal was released, David Jaffe left Eat Sleep Play but assured fans that support for the game will continue. I think multiplayer was a disaster at launch but I can’t really confirm since I don’t play online. But it kind of feels like he released the game and then just abandoned it. The Twisted Metal series has always been his baby and I love Jaffe’s work in video games so when I found out he left I was both shocked and upset. I think some DLC would have been welcome but, sadly, we never got any and I think it turned into just another game with a mostly dead online community. Personally, I’m just happy we got single player at all and I was ecstatic to see the Challenge mode return. The gameplay is just phenomenal and it’s pretty much how I envision Twisted Metal to be. It’s a shame the AI hasn’t really improved all that much from previous games and from a single player standpoint, that really brings the game down in some ways. The three drivers and their story lines here are wacky in their own way but the lack of other drivers is still disappointing. The races can fuck right off but overall I think this is my favorite game in the series, gameplay wise. I guess you could say that Twisted Metal is an aging series now and I don’t think we’re going to see another entry for quite some time. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone, especially if you enjoy the vehicular combat genre and even to this day I don’t think any game in the genre has even come close to the satisfying combat found in this release of Twisted Metal.

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