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Valentine’s Day is usually reserved for make out sessions, gorging on chocolates and sappy romance movies, but not this year. Feb. 14 marked the return of one of Sony’s most famous and beloved exclusive franchises, Twisted Metal. Even though it didn’t ruin my day I’m sure relationships around the world were put on hiatus as drivers strapped themselves back into their machine gun-clad vehicles to re-enter the dark and demented minds of David Jaffe (Past Twisted Metal’s, God of War, Calling All Cars,) and Eat Sleep Play (ESP).
For those who aren’t familiar with Twisted Metal, a little history lesson if you will. Categorized as a vehicular combat game, a genre popularized in the mid-90s, it’s best described as a combination of Mad Max married with the remade version of Death Race (which blatantly took designs from Twisted Metal). Mix in rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and some of the most sadistic and unreal weapons you probably wouldn’t even think of and you have some metal worth twisting. In the TM Universe, a man named Calypso holds a contest where the winner of the Twisted Metal competition is granted a single wish. The wish could be revenge or being given the chance to right a wrong. Either way, contestants see the competition as a way to whet their murderous appetites and compete for a prize only Calypso can make reality. Check out the video below from Twisted Metal 2 before diving into the gameplay section.
As a disclaimer, I’ve been a fan of the franchise since the original came out in 1995. I’ve played the series online “competitively” with folks from the Twisted Metal Alliance (TMA) since 2001. I will keep the review as fair and unbiased as possible. Also, I will be calling the Playstation 3 version of Twisted Metal TMPS3 to reduce confusion with the original 1995 release of same title.
I really do love this game. It’s not my favourite Twisted Metal – it might be after spending some more time with it, but it’s definitely taking a step in a positive direction. Technically the game could have used some more tweaking and a beta test before launch, but overall we’re given a solid product with a lot of potential. After a few patches, I believe the game will really come into its own.
The core mechanics of Twisted Metal has always been the same. Pick a car, grab weapons and destroy your opponents. Since its first inception, the game has evolved into something more akin to Street Fighter with metal armored vehicles. Each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknesses, will handle differently and has a unique special attack you can blast through someone’s windshield. Some people may not agree with that comparison, but when you see two twisted titans going at it the game becomes a fast paced, back and forth dogfight across a collapsing cityscape.
It may sound simple and mindless at first, but the game can become pretty deep once you understand the basics. The hardest of the hardcore found past Twisted Metal’s to be so deep that despite playing them online for years they still discovered new ways of playing and improving their skill level years after release.
With that said, Jaffe wanted reinvent the franchise with this version and to make it more accessible for a wider audience, something he viewed as a barrier in his past games. This meant change was coming. I moaned and groaned when I heard that comment years ago. TMA moaned and groaned with me. I thought we would be getting the Call of Duty of Twisted Metal’s with all of its imbalanced gameplay and dumbed down skill threshold. Turns out I was only half wrong.
In past Twisted Metal’s, most weapons took a bit of forethought and knowledge to fire. You needed to physically aim certain weapons and lead shots like you would in reality. TMPS3 has simplified itself by giving most weapons the ability to home in on opponents more so than in past TM’s (TM:Head On not included). Although it still requires skill to launch a straight shooting missile, most of the weapons once fired will travel toward your targeted opponent without a need for accuracy. Because of this, the game lends itself to spamming the air with everything in your arsenal, something you couldn’t do to this degree previously. The second you see another driver, you can unload your weapon’s bay without putting much thought into where things are going. They will eventually hit something and a hit is all you need to get on the scoreboard.
TMPS3 definitely ranks the highest in terms of uncontrollable chaos within the series. The pace of the game has been quickened compared to past titles. There can be so much going on at once that it’s hard to tell what’s happening as you jump off cliffs, drift around traffic and try to fire a weapon off. These are things the franchise is known for, but the mix of speed, level design and violence feels slightly out of balance. To make matters worse, the targeting system feels unreliable at the best of times. There has been far too many times where I’ve fired a missile only to watch it zoom past the car that should have been targeted and hitting someone that wasn’t even involved in our dog fight. Usually targeting systems target the closest threat, something this game doesn’t seem to always do. There’s also an issue when trying to attack someone slightly below you. You can aim up, but not down. A little tweaking should fix this.
Something new to the franchise is the ability to manually aim into the air. At first you would think it strange and out of place, but it serves two purposes. For starters, for the first time in Twisted Metal history one of the selectable vehicles (Talon) can actually fly. Funny enough, the helicopter is probably the worst idea I’ve seen in any Twisted Metal game. You have a roster with 16 cars that are stuck on the ground against a helicopter that can fly in any direction and have a clear line of sight from pretty much any angle. At first it may sound extremely unfair, I make it sound that way at least, but the vehicle has low armor and can be brought down for a few seconds with an EMP blast. The real problem isn’t Talon. It’s from having to aim up at it to cause damage. While aiming you’re crashing into curbs, traffic and buildings. Maybe you’re even being attacked by someone you didn’t notice that’s directly in front of you. It forces you to take your eyes off threats just to attack something that’s taking potshots at you from the clouds.
The second reason for the addition is to accommodate a new game mode called Nuke. In Nuke gameplay, players must hunt down the opposing team’s faction leader, drag them to a sacrifice truck and once sacrificed, launch a nuclear missile at the opposing team’s gigantic statue to score a point. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. It needs to be seen to be believed (See video). Once the nuclear missile is airborne, players can shoot it down before it reaches its destination. Simply aim up, crash into a few walls and fire all your homing weapons at it. So once again, we have a reoccurring problem in having to aim skyward. It’s something players will have to get used to, but adding things that float in the air just doesn’t seem to work as well as it should.
Vehicle selection has always been a broad and exciting experience in Twisted Metal. In the past, vehicles always came equipped with a unique special weapon that would regenerate over time. However, in TMPS3, several cars have been given similar special weapons and play almost exactly the same. With a roster of 17 vehicles, maybe 11 of them are truly unique. Were there a lack of ideas or is there something I haven’t discovered yet? It’s a shame, but I can’t help but feel its wasted potential.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the game is the level design. There are several massive environments built for 16 player mayhem that breakdown into over 25 other smaller maps. Sunsprings, California is a suburban environment with a hospital, movie theatre, stadium and picket fenced houses to plow through. This massive level can be broken down so a smaller group of combatants can do battle in the tighter confines of the movie theatre or the stadium. Each smaller level has so much detail that it’s easy to miss them when you’re playing in its massive counterpart. The smaller maps really show you the level of care and detail that went into crafting each map.
Overall, the game itself plays great, especially offline. It’s as much fun to watch in action as it is to play. Although there are a few other minor issues I had with the game, like the remapping of the control schemes that have gone untouched in the previous years, all of the issues just take a bit of readjustment. There are some balancing issues between cars and specific weapons that need to be looked after for competitive play, but as I mentioned above they can be corrected in future patches.
Single player has been a staple of every Twisted Metal since the beginning. Everyone loves to watch the stories of their favourite characters unfold and to see Calypso misinterpret their wishes. This time things are a little different. Now you can bring a friend along for some split screen action. Instead of each character having a storyline, things have been boiled down into four gangs (Only three are playable) with a main character leading each. The iconic mass murdering clown Sweet Tooth makes his expected return along with Mr. Grimm and Dollface, who all play their respective roles in telling the competition’s narrative.
Even though it’s not a complete reinvention of Twisted Metal’s single player there have been some new additions to spice things up. Instead of playing eight events against an increasing number of opponents, players must fight their way through different scenarios and stipulations.
For example, Electric Cage forces players to fight inside a specified area. If they leave the area, a persistent countdown timer works its way down to zero. Once zero is reached, the player will slowly take damage when they’re outside of the fence. Every minute or so the fence will move to a different area of the map and the combatants must race across the level to get back into the safe zone. I actually found this stipulation to be the most entertaining of the bunch.
Juggernaut Deathmatches spawn a new opponent at set intervals on top of the opponents already on the battlefield. Players must take out the Juggernaut (also a playable vehicle), which spawns new opponents, before they become overwhelmed. At times, this mode can be extremely frustrating on the harder difficulties.
Battle Races are exactly that. Players must speed through a series of checkpoints to cross the finish line and activate a bomb detonation device. This mode lends itself to the faster cars and could do with some balancing to even out the playing field.
After each event, players receive a medal based on their performance and will unlock new cars and weapons to use in single player. Completion times are also posted to leaderboards where you can compete against friends and foes alike.
The game has three levels of difficulty. “Twisted”, being the hardest, is outright insane and pushes the skills of even the best of drivers. The computer controlled AI are programmed to cheat to make up for their lack of skill. Some of the things that happen will ruin your gaming experience and will force you to snap your controller like a Slim Jim. I’m all for a challenge, but it’s a delicate balance between stress and reward. If things become too stressful then it’s time to take a walk or punch a hole in the wall. There have been too many instances of that already and the game has only been out for three days. If you’re a casual gamer, stay away from the higher difficulties. If you’re like me and enjoy the abuse, don’t tell your girlfriend/wife. She might take it the wrong way.
Players no longer have lives; when they die its game over. In its place, players can choose three different vehicles to take with them into battle. The last two vehicles are stored in the garage for safe keeping. When you’re low on health during a match and can’t reach a health pickup in time, you can drive yourself to the garage and swap the car out for a different one. Cars stored in the garage slowly regain their health, but hold on to any weapons it was carrying. It’s a fresh way to add some strategy into a normally straight forward single player experience.
Boss battles have always been a part of the TM Universe. I think Jaffe brought a little God of War into this one because the battles have been supersized to epic proportions. I don’t want to spoil too much, so I won’t give too many details, but long gone are the days where you fought Minion in his little tank or the relentless Dark Tooth in Hong Kong. The battles are fun, although one of them is a bit of a pain. I’ll let you discover that one out for yourself.
I’ve always loved the stories in Twisted Metal, so I was excited to see that live action movies were making a comeback to the series. Each movie is highly stylized and filled with CG, almost comparable to the movie ‘300’ in a way. Costuming is pretty good too, but for some reason Calypso looks like Severus Snape this time around and Preacher’s hair looks like a cheap wig from Party Packagers. Other than that they’re a welcome addition. Jaffe has always loved cinematography and film making, so I’m sure he loved every minute he was on set.
In the original 1995 release of Twisted Metal, Jaffe filmed victory movies for each of the characters with actors dressed up as the drivers. The movies ended up being removed from the game in the end. They were cheesy, but so much fun to watch. Below is a video of the original Sweet Tooth winning the competition, before his head was set aflame.
When the game eventually came to a close, I ended up asking myself “Is that it?” It’s a short romp that’s for sure. It takes a few hours to beat and even less when you finally catch your bearings. There are other difficulties to run through and even a prize for those that can earn gold on all the Twisted difficulty levels, but once you’re done it’s time to move online.
Multiplayer is the bread and butter of Twisted Metal. Single player can only sustain your interest for so long before you need someone real to cap. The game even goes four player split screen for when your friends come over. But as usual, the game turns into a muddy mess as the resolution and texture quality are lowered to handle all the action. “Was that a car?” “I don’t know. Shoot it anyway.”
Team modes make their way back into the game, which happens to be a first for a console-based Twisted Metal. Players can form their own teams and not have to worry about friendly fire. This was always an issue in the past and definitely an always welcome feature. If you’re someone like me that has moved on from “kill everyone in sight” deathmatches, team play is where you want to be. Sure, it’s more like “kill everyone else but me in sight” deathmatches, but you will now have the satisfaction of being a part of something greater. Organizing strategies with someone instead of swearing at them isn’t all that bad either.
The newest game mode, Nuke, breathes fresh air into multiplayer. This “twisted” take on the classic capture the flag style gameplay is an interesting break from repeatedly blowing your opponents to pieces for points. Last Man Standing and Hunted (known as Manhunt in the past) also make their return, both with team based modes as well. When making a game, hosts are given a bunch of options to mix the games up a little bit, but nothing on the scale of Gears of War or the Halo series.
The game has a lot to offer multiplayer wise and when you get bored of one mode you can move on to another. Essentially it’s all the same, but you can trick yourself into thinking otherwise. If you’ve been playing Twisted Metal for years you will find this offering to be to your liking. Just have some friends over, order a pizza and plant yourself on the couch for an evening.
I have to say this before anything else. What a mess. I’ve played lots of games at launch, but this title has had the worst launch I’ve seen. It’s not the game’s or ESP’s fault – it’s Sony’s. You literally can’t join any games and when you do there’s a chance you will either be booted out or the game will freeze. I won’t even detail how bad the online voice chat function is either. Speaking from inside a fish tank is preferable to this.
A few days ago a Sony spokesperson said players have a 90 per cent success rate of joining a game. Only ten per cent were having issues. Everyone I’ve spoken with laughs and feels those numbers should be reversed. Yes, right now it’s that bad and this will hurt sales. I have spent more time waiting to get in a game than actually playing in one. I’ve seen a few videos with Jaffe explaining the issues Sony is having and you can see how frustrated and worn out the man is. It’s written all over his face (See video). This catastrophe shouldn’t define what Twisted Metal is, but you can bet a lot of players will be moving on unless this is corrected promptly.
Okay, enough of that. Online won’t be broken forever and from what I’ve seen it’s great. It needs a few tweaks here and there, but overall it’s giving fans things they’ve wanted for years. Team modes, a chat room that doesn’t require a secret code (TMBO anyone?) and little things like statistics and custom car skins.
For the players into competitive gaming, a ladder system has been put into place. When you first start playing in ranked games, you will be forced to choose from a small selection of three cars. Competing in ranked games will give the player experience points they can use to level up and buy new cars and equipment to use in the game. Anything unlocked in ranked matches carry over to other modes as well making ranked matches the place to be. Unfortunately, leveling up seems rather slow for a set of rewards that are integral to the game’s enjoyment. Having only three cars to choose from for hours is only fun for so long.
Perhaps my biggest issue with having to play in ranked games are the sheer lack of control you have over what you’re playing. You simply pick what game mode you want (Deathmatch, Team LMS, Nuke, etc) and you’re thrown into a room. You can’t pick your team, any custom settings, nothing. What if you want to play on the same team as your friends or clan? Too bad. The way the system stands now makes no sense. It’s said the game will automatically balance teams based on skill. In my experience, no matter what type of system you have in place teams will never be balanced, so why not let the players decide instead?
For those less competitive and would like more control, unranked games are where you’re probably going to spend most of your time. Most of the cars are available off the top and you can organize teams, pick your map and add some custom rules to the mix. Unfortunately players don’t earn experience points and have no way of unlocking new cars. It seems counter-intuitive and has me scratching my head. Why would I spend hours grinding experience points to unlock stuff in game rooms I don’t want to be in? I’m not in the habit of torturing myself. I would rather play with my friends and have clan battles with settings we enjoy.
Two features new to the online portion of the series are the clan management and party formation platforms. Both are fairly basic but useful tools. The party system works the same way it does on Xbox Live. You invite your friends in, voice chat and follow the party leader into games. Easy enough and it works. Clan management on the other hand is pretty bare. You simply create a clan and invite people to join. There are no clan statistics or advanced options. You simply have a clan tag posted beside your name in the lobby. Right now I don’t see the purpose of clans when you can’t organize ranked team matches.
The barebones are here, but online is off to a really rough start. Sony needs to get its act together and fix the issues as soon as possible (This isn’t the first time this has happened either. When will they learn?). While that’s happening, ESP needs to seriously tinker with some of the game’s online features and expand upon them. Hint: Listen to the fans.
Graphics and Sound
Twisted Metal isn’t going to win any awards for best graphics. It’s the best looking TM, but it should be since it’s the first TM of this generation. Plenty of detail has been crammed into its levels and the vehicles, which is why we’re here, look better than ever. In motion, the game looks great. Slow it down and it’s rather bland. Frame rates don’t seem to be a problem regardless of how chaotic battles become thankfully. I have seen them drop significantly online though, but that could be attributed to lag or synchronization issues. Does it need to look any better anyway? Not really. The game moves so fast that you don’t have time to stop and check out every detail on a blade of grass.
To be honest, I think too much detail in a game like TM would be doing it a disservice. The speed of the game mixed with the amount of detail often confuses me. My brain is taking in too much. You’re driving around at 150 mph, pulling 180 degree turns, crashing through store front windows into shelves with items on them, missiles are flying in every direction and flames are licking up around your car. It’s a lot of fun to be sure, but sometimes my eyes get lost with what I’m supposed to be focused on. This is something I never had a problem with in past Twisted Metal games because the level of detail was significantly lower. You had a dirt plain with an empty factory on it and maybe a highway I can drive on, that’s it. Some people won’t agree with me here, but I’ve found this problem across our current generation of games. I guess that’s the evolution of video games.
Now the sound is just as chaotic as the visuals. I’ve always loved the sound design in the Twisted Metal series though. You’re surrounded by explosions, drive by screamings, whistling rockets and all the other unique sounds each car makes. It’s a very immersive experience, so I have no complaints there.
The soundtrack however, that’s a completely different story. I always enjoyed the original pieces that were written for the games. TMPS3 does have a few original songs, but this time around we’re treated to a slew of licensed music. Personally, I’ve never liked licensed music. It’s too easy to grab a handful of tracks and dropping them in. I will give ESP credit though because the songs they picked fit the game, like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” which plays during Sweet Tooth’s introduction movie. But there are only so many times I can hear Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” before I start to wonder why it’s in another Twisted Metal game. I find licensed music breaks immersion because it brings something from reality, something you might have memories connected with, into a world that’s trying to create a totally different atmosphere. Why N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” is in this game, especially since Thumper is missing from the roster, is anyone’s guess.
Twisted Metal has and will always have a special place in my heart. I love this new offering, I really do. It’s not what I was expecting, to be honest, but change is good. When Twisted Metal Black was released in 2001, a lot people were in an uproar over the changes the series underwent after Twisted Metal 2. Not everyone will be pleased, but you get used to it and learn to accept it for what it is.
TMPS3 is largely different from its predecessors in some aspects. I will say that I personally like the direction it’s moving in even if things aren’t working out as they were intended out of the gate. I think after a couple of patches the game will really start to show its true colours and become the deranged butterfly it was meant to be. I only hope in the future developers will learn from this experience and beta test their products before launch. However, I understand things aren’t always so black and white.
If you’re a Twisted Metal fan or just want something different to help ease your twitchy fingers, TMPS3 is a solid package. The only thing the game is missing is an exorbitant amount of cleavage which would make this game every boy’s fantasy. Give Sony some time to fix their servers and I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other on the battlefield real soon. Good luck, driver.
Below are the first two campaign videos for Sweet Tooth’s single player. They contain spoilers and are not safe for work. You’ve been warned.