Twisted Metal III Review

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This is it. This is the game that introduced me to the Twisted Metal series. The one that everyone hates. I think I’m one of the select few who really enjoy Twisted Metal III and I think it’s one of the best games in the series. It was developed and published by 989 Studios, released for the Sony PlayStation in October, 1998. Despite the negative feedback, it actually sold well enough to earn the “Greatest Hits” status later on. I don’t know what everybody’s fucking problem is but after playing this again for this review, I see no reason as to why this game is so reviled. There are far worse games and disgraceful sequels out there. I think SingleTrac had some kind of falling out with Sony so 989 Studios took over the series and needed to develop a new engine for Twisted Metal III. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a perfect game by any means, it does have problems, but it also does some things better than its predecessors, even if fans of the first two don’t want to admit it.

One of the problems with Twisted Metal III is that it’s pretty much a rehash of Twisted Metal 2. It doesn’t really do anything new. Calypso runs the Twisted Metal contest where drivers from all over come and battle to the death for a prize of anything they wish. You battle through eight stages set in different places around the world including Hollywood, Washington D.C., Hangar 18, the North Pole, London, Tokyo, Egypt, and Calypso’s Blimp. After defeating all of the opponents in one stage, you progress to the next and there’s still no saving to the memory card. Passwords are provided for each stage after the first and each password is unique to each vehicle and difficulty. When a driver wins the contest an ending movie plays showing Calypso twisting that driver’s words around resulting in the wish not working out well in the end. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Mel McMurrin returns to voice Calypso and he a does a great job, giving Calypso his iconic voice. Calypso will now give a brief voice-over introduction at the start of each stage in the Tournament mode, as well as introducing bosses. Calypso retains his somewhat charming personality but under the surface he’s still a sinister asshole.

The initial lineup consists of twelve vehicles with many returning from previous games. Outlaw, Thumper, Roadkill, and several others return although the drivers of returning vehicles may be completely different or have completely different motives for joining the contest, kind of making them feel disconnected from their previous iterations. For example at the end of Twisted Metal 2, Axel had ripped his arms out of the wheels but Twisted Metal III never goes into detail as to how exactly he got back in without some form of prosthetics. The developers decided to focus more on the clown aspect of Sweet Tooth and his ultimate wish is for candy and ice cream which is just stupid, really. That’s the problem with most of the drivers, their wishes are just dumb and not really in line with the previous games. Considering this game is not canon to the overarching Twisted Metal storyline I guess none of this matters anyway. Each driver will actually narrate their bio information giving this game some more voice acting but, honestly, most of the driver voice work is just awful. There are four new vehicles introduced here but they’re not that interesting. One of the new vehicles, Flower Power, is driven by a chick right out of a fifteen-year-old’s dream and there’s even a cheat to get an up close look at her camel toe so, yeah, there’s that.

My two favorite vehicles, Sweet Tooth and Minion, return and once again they can only be unlocked via passwords. Sweet Tooth will appear as an opponent randomly throughout the tournament and Minion retains his boss status. This is actually my favorite iteration of Minion. He’s still a demon from Hell but I think his new character design is just badass. There are now three bosses to battle. The first being Darkside, a vehicle from the first game, as the first boss in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, unless you have a cheat device like GameShark, Darkside is not a playable vehicle and he’s just not well represented here. It just feels like they threw him in here for no other reason than to taunt fans of the series. Minion is the boss of London and you’ll fight the final boss, Primeval, in Calypso’s Blimp. I have no idea who this driver is or what this vehicle is supposed to be and he, too, is a non-playable vehicle that can only be unlocked through a cheat device. Darkside is just a shame here and Primeval lacks any kind of interesting qualities and they’re only purpose is to kill you. The developers didn’t even attempt to give them backstories but considering they fucked up most of the other drivers in this game anyway, maybe it’s for the best.

As expected, each vehicle is still equipped with two machineguns with infinite ammo, a limited amount of turbo, and they each have a unique a special weapon that recharges after being depleted. All of the standard weapons found throughout the environments return from the previous game, including some new ones. Speed missiles can be collected in abundance, can be fired rapidly, but are very weak, doing little damage. Rain missiles are fired into the air and you can detonate them causing a shower of fire or napalm to drop below. And then there’s a mortar weapon which is just an arcing explosive projectile. Speed and rain missiles are really kind of useless but thankfully all of the other, more useful weapons, are still available. Environmental weapons are also new and only appear in specific stages and do massive damage. For example, the UFO in Hangar 18 will strike any opponents in the area with lightning. If you obtain the radar in Tokyo, you can fire extremely powerful lasers at an opponent from a massive satellite. And the Eye weapon in Egypt can be set down like a remote bomb and when detonated, the pyramid will fire a laser at that spot. It’s a great weapon for setting up traps. The environmental weapons are actually pretty cool and can be really fun to use.

Turbo and standard weapons are still scattered throughout the environments and can be acquired by just driving over them but this time around they seem to respawn much more frequently. I think this is fantastic because it can really help ramp up the action and I rarely found myself driving around with no weapons to use. Health pickups now come in two forms, standard, which refills a portion of your health and full health which will replenish all of your health. Turbo is still used for driving at super speed and putting out flames if your vehicle is caught on fire. Only a few advanced attacks return including temporary invisibility, rear attack, freeze burst, and jump. You still need to press a specific sequence of dpad buttons to perform advanced attacks but at least this time the game doesn’t have a problem registering your button presses. Using advanced attacks will drain your energy meter but it will refill over time. I’m not sure why the developers decided to exclude the other advanced attacks from the previous game, but it kind of sucks. Maybe it’s because this game isn’t quite as difficult as Twisted Metal 2 but I still wish the temporary shield made a return.

The basic structure of the tournament is relatively unchanged than that of previous games but Twisted Metal III does include some new elements. Starting with the North Pole, after killing a specific amount of opponents, the game will spawn in more. The amount of opponents that spawn in increases as you progress through the stages. I don’t really have a problem with it but I just don’t understand the reason for this. Maybe it was to help keep a solid frame rate but it just seems odd and unexpected when it first happens. In Calypso’s Blimp you need to destroy all of these switches or opponents will constantly spawn in to make up for the dead ones and you’ll never be able to battle the final boss, Primeval. This whole opponents spawning in thing really seems random but at least it adds something new even if it only mixes things up a tiny bit.

The Challenge Match mode from Twisted Metal 2 also returns but is renamed Deathmatch for whatever reason. However, the deathmatch mode is one of the best parts of the game. You still select the stage you want to battle in, your vehicle, and AI opponents but now you’re given much more customization options. There’s even a secret stage available for deathmatch if you know the password. Instead of having a set number of opponents dependent on the stage, you can select up to a max of seven opponents total. Instead of always being forced to choose opponents yourself you now have the option to let the game choose opponents for you and you can even choose if you want to keep battling in the same stage or move on to the next. There’s also options like how many matches you want to play and if you want to be assisted by a CPU ally which is also an option for the tournament mode. The best part is now you can choose Sweet Tooth and Minion as opponents after unlocking them and you can even choose duplicate opponents. There’s absolutely nothing negative about the deathmatch mode and I really wish these kinds of options returned in future games when David Jaffe was directing the series again.

Apparently a lot of people criticized the stages as being boring and uninteresting and I really don’t know why. Most of them feel a bit more confined than those in Twisted Metal 2 but overall I thought they were well laid out. You can still blow up parts of the environments like structures and walls to reveal secret areas. Teleporters return and perform the same function of letting you teleport to different areas of a stage. For some reason, pedestrians are no longer included which does kind of suck because there’s just something comical about killing them. One could also say that pedestrians give more life to the environments but it is what it is. In this game, London has always been my favorite stage and I can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing deathmatch against the AI. Easily over two hundred. I would play in other stages every now and then, usually Washington D.C. or Egypt, but I don’t know, I just loved London. I can still remember just sitting on my bed as a kid just playing this game non-stop. Before the internet, passwords weren’t so easy to obtain but once I obtained the password to unlock Minion, man was I in Heaven. I would launch a deathmatch mode with London as the stage, make sure the stage repeats, select Minion as my vehicle, choose my seven opponents and just play for hours. I would even keep track of what opponents I selected and how many wins and losses I had. There was just something about this game that really drew me in. Yes, the series is repetitive, including this game, but this game is how I discovered that I’m a fan of the vehicular combat genre and there’s just a great amount of replay value here. Like I said in my review of the original Twisted Metal, I firmly believe this series was my precursor to open world games and Twisted Metal III was the first game in the series that I played and I really got hooked. I could drive anywhere I wanted, destroy my opponents in any way possible, and I just loved the freedom and destruction the game offered. Without Twisted Metal III and I guess even its deathmatch mode, I may not have fell in love with the series or even been as eager to try the other games.

I think one of the biggest problems players had with this game is the new physics and vehicle handling. Personally, I think the redesigned vehicle handing is a very welcome addition. You can make sharp turns now without much of a problem and you won’t always be crashing into shit. Using the brake to slide around corners doesn’t always result in sliding into a wall and navigating through the environments is just more enjoyable here. It does have some drawbacks however, like moving at high speeds makes it easy to lose control of your vehicle and it’s now possible for vehicles to flip over and this does happen often. Whether you lose control and crash or just get rammed by an opponent, your vehicle will frequently topple over. Flipping over does become annoying but I will gladly take the new physics and refined handling over the very stiff handling of vehicles in the previous games.

All of the Twisted Metal games are rather short when it comes to the single player. Twisted Metal III is no exception. Just like before, beating the game with each vehicle adds the only form of length and I can see that becoming tedious and repetitive for many players. Of course there’s multiplayer and even a cooperative tournament mode but it doesn’t really eliminate the repetition. One of the bigger problems I had with the first two games was the AI. AI opponents only seemed to go after you and would never kill each other intentionally. It’s supposed to be a contest and you’re the only one blowing up vehicles. It really doesn’t make much sense. However, Twisted Metal III has improved AI and it’s really noticeable and also one of the best aspects about the game. The AI opponents will go for health when they need it and I would frequently race opponents to a health pickup to either get it for myself or to stop them from getting it. Even though the AI focuses much of their attention on you, they will actually attack and kill each other, especially if you’re not nearby. Twisted Metal III is also not as challenging as the previous games, at least on the normal difficulty mode but it can become a bit difficult in the later stages. It feels nice to actually progress through the tournament rather than get annihilated all the time and you can always crank up the difficulty to Pure Lunacy if you want.

Twisted Metal III definitely looks better than it’s predecessors. This is still an original PlayStation game so things still look blocky and pixelated however everything is more detailed. You’ll notice the tires on vehicles actually turn now which is nice compared to the static vehicle models of previous games. It doesn’t really have the same cartoony style as Twisted Metal 2, which you may or may not like, but there’s no denying that this is still a better looking game. Instead of a rear view mirror you can now press a button to look behind you. The frame rate will drop when there’s a lot of action happening on screen and adding six or more opponents to a stage in the deathmatch mode also seems to cause the frame rate to dip. On the audio side, the music is full of licensed tracks from Rob Zombie, White Zombie, Pitchshifter, and some original music by Lance Lenhart. Anyone who was around in the nineties should have heard a Rob Zombie song at some point, and for me, it was Twisted Metal III. He’s not too bad, I like his stuff. This is where I first heard Meet the Creeper, which is actually one of my favorite Rob Zombie songs. I’m not a fan of industrial rock or metal or whatever genre of music Pitchshifter plays but some of their stuff in here is catchy. Lance Lenhart’s original music is pretty good and even though I do like Rob Zombie, I think I would have preferred original music similar to the previous games with their excellent heavy metal songs. Sadly, even though the developers included licensed music, there’s no Slayer songs to be heard which we all know would improve any game’s soundtrack but I’m not going to hold that against the game. I only have one minor gripe with the sound in this game and that’s the fact that all of the death screams sound male no matter what gender the driver. If you decide to play this on the PlayStation 3 I should warn you that there’s some odd distortions with the sound effects.

In the end, I really don’t know what everybody’s fucking problem is. Twisted Metal III is not as bad as people make it out to be. Yes, it has problems but so does every other game and dare I say even the first two. I will be the first to agree with fans that the developers really messed up the storylines for the drivers but to protest against the game seems a bit extreme. Yes, this is basically a rehash of Twisted Metal 2 with uninteresting characters but despite what everyone seems to think there are improvements here that are truly welcome. And those improvements are with the gameplay which is honestly the most important part of any game, at least for me. You may not like the new physics system but to tell me that flipping over just ruins the gameplay is utter bullshit. The hate fans have for this game reaches ridiculous levels to the point of dismissing it entirely whenever it’s name is mentioned. Twisted Metal III contains the same core gameplay as previous titles and implements significant improvements including better vehicle handling, better AI, better visuals, and an excellent deathmatch mode complete with customization options. Maybe it’s because of nostalgia or maybe it’s because I played this before playing the first two games but whatever it is, Twisted Metal III is still one of my favorite games in the series and in the genre. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone.

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