Review: Twisted Metal (PS3)

Title: Twisted Metal
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (12.2 GB)
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Eat Sleep Play
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Twisted Metal is exclusive to the PlayStation 3.
The Blu-ray version was used for this review.

The PlayStation brand has experimented with its fair share of exclusive franchises since its inception.  Although the current gen arguably holds the title for best first party games with the debut of Uncharted, Infamous, and the upcoming Last Of Us, some exclusives have been around since day one.  The Twisted Metal games have transcended 3 Sony consoles, won the hearts of fans with their deranged characters’ story arcs, and single-handedly molded the genre of vehicular combat into what it is today.  Coming back from a long hiatus and recreating the magic of older titles on fresh technology has become a trend in gaming and Twisted Metal definitely follows suit.  Before you know it, you’ll be terrorizing towns with napalm, firing on opponents with homing missiles, and desperately dashing for the health pickups just like you’re used to.

Gameplay:
“Expert is the new easy”, “push forward to win”, and “interactive movie” are all phrases that reference the lack of challenge in modern video games.  None of these hold true with Twisted Metal as the single player story mode demands a skill level not possessed by the casual gamer.  Unlike the multiplayer modes, the variety is unique with larger than life boss fights, deathmatches, and even races with a Twisted Metal touch.  You experience the sadistic background stories of 3 of the franchise’s most popular characters and the plot twists are unexpected, done well, and shocking at times.

The vehicles themselves are the real characters in this iteration of Twisted Metal and players may be surprised that the drivers have become interchangeable.  When playing Sweet Tooth’s part of the story mode, it is not uncommon to see him riding on Mr. Grimm’s motorcycle or peeking out of Junkyard Dog’s truck.  Many of the story events ask players to choose more than one vehicle, storing them in an on-map garage where they regenerate health and wait to be swapped out.  It is important that the vehicles are chosen carefully as this is the only break the game will give you.  When your health is low, you will find yourself making a mad dash for the garage or for a health pickup.  The events with no garage quickly prove themselves to be the toughest obstacles in the game.

Twisted Metal has been under intense scrutiny because the complex controls are apparently limiting accessibility.  On the contrary, I feel that they can be a challenge to master, but in the right hands, they become flawless with practice.  Once the learning curve of the maneuvering is realized, everything else falls into place and a good gamer has full control with a cockpit of options at his/her fingertips.  Every button has a function and there are even some maneuvers that require the simultaneous pressing of two buttons.

The action is fast paced, the mayhem is disorienting, and the destruction is both fun and engaging.  The different weapon pickups are plentiful and vary in power, aim, and distance.  Each one can be a valuable asset to your arsenal in its own special way and in conjunction with the variety of sidearms, a number of different strategies and approaches can be used to your advantage.  Add the unique strengths and weaknesses of the individual vehicles and you have a recipe for custom disaster.

Every vehicle has 2 different specials that regenerate over time and a sidearm with infinite ammo.  Among the unlockable sidearms are a sniper rifle, revolver, machine gun and more.  All of these vary in power, distance, and reload speed.  They are an integral part of the fight as they are sometimes all you have to defend yourself when specials have been used up and pickups are scarce.

Visuals:
The PlayStation 3 allows for a level of visual detail that the Twisted Metal series has never seen before as this is obviously the most polished installment of the franchise.  The graphics are not groundbreaking by any means but I was impressed with the fact that I never experienced any slow down or frame skips during the single player or multiplayer modes.  There aren’t many games that confidently welcome as much on-screen action as Twisted Metal does, and even when there is a 10-car pileup with everyone’s guns blazing, the fluidity of the gameplay isn’t compromised.

During actual gameplay, there isn’t any glaringly obvious evidence of visual laziness or shortcuts but if you go out of your way to search for some low polygon portions of the backgrounds, you will find them.  I haven’t noticed any texture pop-in, even on very large maps with huge environmental objects in the distance.  Driving quickly towards a distant focal point will almost always result in smooth and natural occurrences of environmental transition.  The characters and vehicles display a significant amount of detail that adds a level of connection not easily achieved in the previous titles.

The low points of the visuals are shamelessly showcased during the story mode cutscenes.  Rather than using gameplay graphics or highly polished mini-movies, Eat Sleep Play decided to convey the story with a series of very slowly moving, still photographs, featuring real actors/actresses, slide shown over an audio track.  Perhaps this was done intentionally to stay true to the gritty realism of the Twisted Metal universe, but you can’t help but wonder about budgets or deadlines being the cause of such disappointing cinematics.

Audio:
Custom playlist support is always a great addition to any game with a lot of driving and kudos to Twisted Metal for incorporating the feature.  With that being said, you may find it unnecessary as the default songs are perfect for the gameplay.  Players who do not incorporate their own music will hear a mixture of rock and rap with some genre crossing songs that may lead fans to their new favorite artists.  There is no music so extreme that some listeners are outcasted as the inaudible screaming of some death metal songs is not part of the track listing.

The sound effects of engines, weapons, and despair create the twisted harmony that gamers expect.  The audio is in tune with the visuals with no explosion looking any less or any more devastating than it sounds.  Effects happen when they are supposed to and they are often seamlessly unnoticed, meaning that they are done correctly.  There is some talented voiceover work in the story mode with Sweet Tooth being the shining star.  He comes across as being very carefully cast and puts his heart and soul into his work.  Ever wonder what a psycho, serial killer, ice cream man with a clown mask and fire hair might sound like?  You don’t have to because this voiceover nails it!

Online/Multiplayer:
Perhaps the most coveted portions of the Twisted Metal series have been its competitive multiplayer modes.  Like a fighting game, characters with different strengths and weaknesses face off in a deathmatch.  Like a shooter, your weapon loadouts and selections can play a major role in your success or failure.  Like a racing game, finesse in handling and maneuvering is required for victory.  Meshing elements from all of those genres is what makes Twisted Metal’s multiplayer unique.

In the split screen multiplayer mode, up to 4 players can square off with numerous options that allow for gameplay customization.  In addition to many other choices, you can add or subtract AI enemies, change time restrictions, and opt for health trucks that fill your life bar if you can catch them.  A downside to the multiplayer mode in general, on or offline, is the lack of variety in game types.  Some of the awesome events from the single player mode cannot be recreated in multiplayer and I would have liked to see the addition of capture the flag or king of the hill in this Twisted Metal.

Even with a very good connection, joining and/or starting a game can be problematic and frustrating.  It often takes a long time to finally begin, diminishing the desire you had to play in the first place.  Repetition can become a problem for gamers who are not diehard fans of the series but I have to commend the game’s ability to consistently remain lag-free no matter how large the match.  At release, the online components were reported to be borderline broken but any problems have since been resolved.

Conclusion:
Twisted Metal is one of those games that thrive on multiplayer action but it is different in the sense that its roots grew from an era where online play wasn’t as popular as it is today.  This results in more satisfying single player and local multiplayer modes, but it also fosters a habitat for under perfected online gaming.  Twisted Metal is much deeper than some of the most popular online shooters and I prayed that it would skyrocket to “Call Of Duty On Wheels” stardom but that dream just hasn’t been realized.  Maybe it was the lack of fan support, the problems at the development house, or the one-console exclusivity that kept this game at bay.  Through all of this speculation, the fact remains that this is a good game with meticulous attention paid to the elements that matter.  Fans of the series will be taken aback by the evolution and first-timers will get a fresh take on a shooting game in a time of repetitive gun toting titles.

Score:
8.5

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