David Jaffe and Eat Sleep Play’s long gestating, Twisted Metal series finally sees the PS3 release that fans have been clamouring for since the console’s launch and, while the hardcore will probably be happy with the experience delivered, the long development cycle and move from a multiplayer-only PSN title to a full retail release has certainly had an adverse effect on the quality of the final product. Don’t get me wrong, the extended development time has resulted in a game with highly balanced combat and incomparable depth, but it has also given rise to a game that looks pretty shabby by today’s standards, a learning curve as steep as a mountain and a single player campaign that takes a little too much pleasure in kicking your ass.
Still, at its core, Twisted Metal is all about competitive online vehicular combat, and in that respect, Eat Sleep Play have certainly done a great job of creating a game with the potential to amass a dedicated long-term online community. I have no doubt that those who truly submit to Twisted Metal’s charms and are willing to put in the colossal effort required to master its surprisingly complex mechanics and courses will fall in love with it, but for many, the lack of polish and steep learning curve might well put them off long before it has a chance to reveal its true underlying quality.
Even so, despite some current connectivity issues (issues that Sony have promised to iron out in an upcoming patch), the online aspect of Twisted Metal really is certainly the star attraction. With a full quota of players, it’s extremely easy to forgive the vaguely disappointing visuals and lack of available game modes. Team Deathmatch alone will offer hours upon hours of play for those eager to master this most unforgiving of online experiences while the wholly unique Nuke Mode that delivers an extremely intriguing twist on the Capture the Flag template offers up an entertaining alternative for those looking to try something new. Other than that, there is a Last Man Standing and a Hunted mode (one vs. all) to round off the package, but neither of these are likely to eat up nearly as much of your time as team deathmatch or Nuke mode. It’s a shame that more game modes weren’t included (the omission of the single player only Cage matches seems particularly bizarre), but with a wide selection of hugely unique vehicles to choose from and an almost overwhelming selection of weapons and moves to swot up on, this is a game screaming to be mastered rather than casually enjoyed.
This, of course, proves simultaneously, one of the games’ greatest strengths and one of its most blatant weaknesses. While the depth on offer does naturally encourage repeat play and commitment to mastery, if you’re not playing with like-minded, equally skilled players, playing online can prove an extremely daunting and often hugely frustrating experience. While I appreciate that getting your ass handed to you is part of any competitive online experience, in the case of Twisted Metal, you really have to be willing to take a pretty serious beating.
Yes, you can head over to story mode to help get yourself acquainted with the skills required before jumping into the online arena, but honestly, it’s just as unforgiving as the online aspect of the package and will again see many gamers throw in the towel long before the curtain falls on this uneven, but admittedly varied, campaign. I know, it probably sounds like I’m being a bit of a skirt, but honestly, I really do enjoy a challenge. Here though, well, it just feels frustrating and, dare I say, a tad unfair at times. Take deathmatches for instance – it often feels like everyone is out to get you, taking little to no interest in the other combatants around them. The same goes for, the cool, but again, often hair-pullingly frustrating juggernaut battles. These behemoths drop enemies like Skittles and if you don’t take them out quickly, can soon leave you overwhelmed and with no chance of victory. In fairness though, as vexing as the campaign can be, it does a great job of injecting the premise with variety at just about every turn. From standard deathmatches to epic boss battles and the aforementioned cage battles (stay in the constantly changing highlighted area lest your health drains), the single player campaign can feel occasionally unfair and overly reliant upon luck rather than skill, but the challenges themselves presented here are rarely anything less than interesting.
Speaking of interesting; one of the more successful aspects of the single player campaign is the consistently ludicrous, but always entertainingly told story. Presented via a strange mix of CGI and real world actors, Twisted Metal’s presentation falls somewhere between the cheesy cutscenes of Alan Wake and the gritty grindhouse violence of a Robert Rodriguez’s movie. It’s all nonsense of course, but Twisted Metal’s truly warped tale will prove consistently entertaining for those willing to leave their brain behind. Some will inevitably criticize it for its lack of tack and media-baiting tone, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the presentational high point of this otherwise visually disappointing package.
The single player campaign is frustrating, the visuals dated and the online experience both limited and extremely unforgiving, but despite these faults, I found it hard not to enjoy Twisted Metal’s über violent take on car vs. car carnage. The simple premise belies a game of great depth and near perfect balance. The list of abilities and tactical options is certainly daunting at first, but take the time to learn them and Twisted Metal will reward your efforts tenfold.
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