Twisted Metal Review
Ah, Twisted Metal. There’s something about that name, isn’t there? There is. And because the name itself can have all sorts of reflective connotations, we have a double-edged sword: on the one hand, you harbor this old-school bias and give a new entry the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, you hold that name to such tremendous standards, which are often artificially inflated thanks to rose-tinged nostalgia glasses. So this wasn’t an easy review to write. But hey, it’s what I do. I figured it out.
The graphics may be a low point in the eyes of some, but I personally see an upgraded Twisted Metal: Black, which I assume was the developer’s goal. It’s dark, gritty, oh so sadistically violent, and loaded with plenty of great effects. It may not have the tremendous sharpness and clarity we’ve seen in other productions this generation, but it has a singular style that is synonymous with this stellar series. And the level design is absolutely spectacular; that stands out above all else.
The sound is just plain stellar, as it’s driven by a kick-ass soundtrack that keeps every level thumping from start to finish. The voice performances can be great but occasionally, I think they falter ever so slightly; perhaps overdoing a certain dark emotion. The effects can also seem a little muddled amidst the in-your-face music, especially when things get really hectic. But your entertainment will always be supplemented by astonishingly fitting and invigorating audio. Plain and simple.
Within five minutes of picking up the controller, I said out loud— “Yep, this is Twisted Metal." It looks like the TM I remember, it plays like the TM I remember, and it has that unparalleled atmosphere I remember. That’s what’s so damn great about this production; Eat Sleep Play and David Jaffe understand their followers; they knew all along what those fans wanted. They wanted a next-gen version of the games they fell in love with over the past few generations, and in most ways, the designers delivered.
As mentioned above, the level design is excellent. It starts off relatively simple, as the first landscape is basically just a sleepy little town (albeit one that’s almost completely destructible). But you’ll soon find all sorts of inspired areas and locations; some force you to stay inside a certain zone (a countdown starts if you’re caught outside it), while others boast environment-specific features, like swinging spiked iron balls and electrical fields. And the bosses…well, no spoilers here, but let’s just say that the story mode doesn’t feel repetitive at all.
The controls are quintessential Twisted Metal; it feels much like it always did in past installments, although I think this is faster. The only downside – for some players – might involve the button layout on the controller. I’m a veteran of this series and I couldn’t quite find a setup I was completely happy with; the Racing one (where the acceleration is mapped to the triggers) seemed to fit best, even though it was seriously at odds with what I used in older titles. There are just a few more commands this time around, and I’m still growing accustomed to it.
Now, let me address a potential sore spot for the fans: in the past, a character has always been tied to his vehicle. It was a staple and a given. But this time around, as some of you may know, a character can drive any unlocked vehicle. The story centers on one particular character but during the course of the plot, that character can drive any available vehicle. Plus, you can select three vehicles for any given level. When you’re low on health, you can make your way to a garage, park your current ride, and select one of the other two fresh vehicles.
At first, I wasn’t sure I liked this. And to be perfectly honest, I’m still not. This feels a little like leaving some of that patented flair behind; in the eyes of many, Sweet Tooth should drive nothing but that ice cream truck, you know? And with this new system, you can’t die or the level is over. There’s obvious leniency due to the three available vehicles but it somehow feels a little more restrictive, in that the punishment is just much greater. Having a number of lives to deal with felt like “proper TM,” if there is such a thing. Just my two cents.
On the plus side, the Normal difficulty isn’t crazy tough and not anywhere near as hard as Twisted Metal: Black (which I remember very well). The pacing and balance is actually quite good throughout. There are three endings and while it’ll be a challenge to see them all, you’ll definitely want to give it a shot. And when you’re done, you’ll have to jump online to challenge human players for the first time in franchise history. There’s even more depth and diversity here, so that’s great news, right?
Besides the basic Deatmatch and Team Deathmatch options, there are various modes that will test your dexterity and strategic ability. Hunted and Team Hunted is particularly insane as one player is marked and everyone is out to nail him first. Last Man Standing is exactly what it sounds like, and Nuke is just a blast…yeah, pun intended. If you’re on defense, you just have to play defense (which is fun) but if you’re on offense, you have to grab the enemy boss, drag him to a missile launcher, and sacrifice him to gain access to a homing missile, which is aimed at the opposing team’s mammoth statue. Completely and totally nuts.
The only downside is that the online component isn’t completely up to snuff just yet. As you may have heard from other sources, problems like connection errors, freezes and other little mishaps are indeed common. The bad news is I have to take this into consideration when doing this analysis; the good news is there’s nothing here that can’t be fixed, which means that in due time, this should be a fantastic and hopefully reliable online experience. It’s absolutely worth trying.
Twisted Metal isn’t quite the masterpiece I had hoped for but beyond all the minor drawbacks and annoyances, one fact shines through the oddly appealing fog that only this series can create: it’s Twisted Metal. I know I’ve said this several times but in a generation where so many of our beloved franchises have shifted in theme, style, and worst of all, gameplay, this is one that has remained blessedly free of change. The one significant change that does exist (characters not tied to vehicles), I don’t particularly like. So sue me for being “stuck in my old ways.”
The button-mapping can take some getting used to, the story isn’t particularly thrilling (although it is gross and oddly engaging), and the online issues are real. But the level design is awesome, the music is great (love Rob Zombie!), the action is ceaseless and well implemented, and the potential for addictive online multiplayer is there. Heck, it’s darn close as is. And lastly, this really is…oh all right, I won’t say it again.
The Good: Style and atmosphere is top-notch. Bad-ass soundtrack. Good control. Inspired environmental interaction and fantastic level design. Pacing and challenge feels just about right. Online multiplayer is erratic but still frequently amazing.
The Bad: Graphics aren’t quite as refined as one might’ve hoped. Button-mapping can take some getting used to. Online issues.
The Ugly: “Oh man…so much is so ugly…which makes it so right.”
2/15/2012 Ben Dutka