The Twisted Metal series has been around since the days of the PS1, but does Eat Sleep Play’s mix of violent car(nage) and gory cutscenes make for a faithful and relevant reimagining in today’s gaming market?
Enigmatic man with a devilish sense for violence Calypso opens the doors to yet another competition in which three individuals are granted their wishes if they succeed and survive in various battle arenas with their cars.
Three psychos tell their stories
For a racing game, the storytelling is pretty elaborated and unique: Three plotlines of individual psychopaths who all have their own agendas come together in more or less subtle ways. The illustrious cast of characters is just as imaginatively sick as what is going on in each chapter: Clown-mask wearing and machete-wielding Sweet Tooth wants nothing more than kill a victim who got away, undead stunt-bike racer Mr. Grimm wants to travel back in time to save his father from a fatal car crash, while wanna-be star model Dollface craves a life of bright spotlight and wants to get her beauty back after a motorcycle accident destroyed her face.
If these storylines sound as if they’re straight out of trash comics or horror B-movies, this isn’t far from the truth. Cheesy lines, overacting and gratuitous violence and gore are common, while the overall story has a nice mix of unexpected and often nasty twists and turns. Actually, the presentation of these episodes, how one introduces the other and how they all come together at the end, is remarkable and one of the strongest and most motivating part of the game. But it also becomes quite obvious that without further knowledge of the series, this reboot isn’t always that accessible due to some characters appearing sporadically with no explanation whatsoever. The ending is a mind-baffling mix of various cliffhangers and references, deviating from a cohesive storyline. Still, how every character’s chapter is ended and how they all weave together is more than enough to keep the player going, something which the gameplay doesn’t always achieve.
Race, shoot and survive
The gameplay is a mix of racing and shooting, but not of the kid-friendly Nintendo type. There’s not as much blood and gore as in the controversial Carmageddon, as running over pedestrians doesn’t give bonus points. But killing drivers after destroying their cars is more than just a gimmick, as it rewards the player with a health boost or additional weapons. The weapons come in various over-the-top forms like flamethrowers, missiles or others which unleash devastating attacks. The cars one chooses do not only have different armor and speed attributes. They also have their own unique weapon systems which can then again be customized depending on where they are mounted. In some levels, it’s also possible to have an additional car in a garage which demands some strategy from the player when he’s running low on energy and the garage serves as a replacement/regenerating pool.
If this sounds all rather complicated for an arcade game, that’s because it is to a certain degree. The button setup isn’t that easy to get to grips with at first because of jumping, boost, special attack and other actions to perform in quick succession. But after getting through the tutorial and acclimatizing oneself with the control scheme and the various fighting tactics, the game turns into tremendous even if often unfair fun due to its steep learning curve. Granted, there are only three characters to choose from, but unlocking cars, bikes and even more surprising (air) vehicles add to the longevity and replayability.
Many modes to choose from and nasties to defeat with
The levels are structured around multiplayer-based modes and vary in quality. The most convential ones are (Classic) Death Match (defeating all enemies and being the last one standing/driving) and Endurance Battle (surviving a wave of enemies for a limited time). Electric Cage is a bit more interesting, as the area one fights in constantly changes places and gets smaller, resulting in energy losses when being outside the grid. Much more interesting are the races in which one has to go from one end of the track to the other in order to activate the detonator in each car and then back again. It’s an exciting double finish-first mode which is as chaotic as it is fun. The most frustrating parts are when trucks (so-called Juggernauts) unleash a wave of mines and have to be defeated before they spawn more and more enemy cars. Finally, the most engaging levels are where the boss battles happen.
These are dangerous encounters of the gigantic kind, each one at the end of a chapter requiring quick reflexes and also thinking outside the box. Not taking away any of the surprises, suffice it to say that they’re highly imaginative and often turn the standard game modes upside down. As with most boss battles in arcade games, they usually have different forms or stages until they finally give up their car ghost. Unfortunately they’re also the most difficult and frustrating parts of the game. Despite checkpoints, restarts can’t be avoided and it’s often not clear how to progress, while the controls in the last battle can’t quite keep up with the mix of various gameplay styles.
As it can be seen when looking at the different game modes, it’s actually a multiplayer game, so obviously there is a strong emphasis on competitive gaming, which also explains why the chapters only have variations on a few gameplay modes, making it a bit repetitive. However, it’s also possible to play through the campaign with a friend. Unfortunately, if one fails, it’s game over, which is a bit harsh, considering how hard it is to stay alive in the chaotic battles. I couldn’t try out the whole online aspect which offers various other fun modes, but split-screen Death Match is satisfying enough as you might expect from it.
A violent comic with a rocking soundtrack
Graphically, the game can’t compete with later PS3 titles, but it usually runs rather smoothly and some of the environments are actually pretty imaginative, while the car design, explosions and special effects of the weapons are excellent as well and add to the hectic experience. Special mention has to go to the cutscenes which are a highly stylized mix of real-life actors/actresses and a distinctive comic look with CGI and bluescreen backgrounds. It’s different from the in-game graphics, sure, but it evokes a great atmosphere which wouldn’t have been achieved otherwise. The soundtrack is also pretty cool and fitting with modern metalcore tracks from Avenged Sevenfold or White Zombie, but also featuring classics from Judas Priest or Rob Zombie among others.
Violence pays off in this fun and dark racer
As it stands, for a game which has many modes more suitable for multiplayer-only titles, Eat Sleep Play’s Twisted Metal delivers a pretty cool story and presentation. While the boss battles are memorable and imaginative, the gameplay suffers a bit from repetitiveness, although for the most part, it’s quite a lot of fun racing through a postapocalyptic world and trying out new vehicles. While the multiplayer modes are obviously more fun, the storytelling and comic look of the story mode are not simply an afterthought, either. But be aware, the high difficulty curve and (at first) complicated controls don’t make this an easy-to-learn experience, although in the end it pays off to invest the time.
Unfortunately, a few things have to be said about the European version. The 18+ rating seems not to be enough to “protect” the gaming community from uber-violence. Just making sure how the US version differs after playing the German one, I was quite shocked to read that not only are the cutscenes censored with dialogues and whole scenes missing. There are also some weapons which can’t be found in the EU versions. So if you want to experience the whole thing as the developer intended, tracking down the US import might be a good idea.
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