Along with Pandemonium, I spent the most gaming time with the PS1 in the company of Twisted Metal, a beautifully addictive ballet of autovehicular carnage that was one of the single most fun experiences I have ever had with a controller in my hands. So perhaps I was a little biased heading into this review, but that doesn't mean that the latest game from David Jaffe's Eat Sleep Play isn't wonderful on its own terms. It is ludicrously bonkers, recklessly fun and poetically violent: re-announcing the car violence sub-genre as a viable concern for gamers. Like it should ever
have been taken away! No matter how lowly a form of art you might consider Twisted Metal, with its blend of bonkers characters and hyper-action, it shouldn't be cast aside as simply a colourful curio, or an immature guilty pleasure. Because Twisted Metal is something of a rarity in that regard: like Saints Row, the franchise never takes itself too seriously, but there is no reserved execution in gameplay and the result is a surprisingly deep, utterly charming game. As usual, this new Twisted Metal follows a globe-spanning hyper-violent tournament of the same name, run by the dreaded Calypso and featuring some of the iconic names of the series - Sweet Tooth, Doll Face, Mr Grimm, they're all here. Only this time the character choices have been limited to just those three as playable character, in a case of Eat Sleep Play playing to their strengths to re-establish and reinvigorate the brand. Indeed, one of the most enduring successes of Twisted Metal, especially for fans, is that it feels exactly as you would expect a Twisted Metal game to feel. Each character has their own backstory, and their own intention for entering Calypso's twisted tournament, and it is especially hard to resist the tingle of excitement that comes with seeing Sweet Tooth stalk his own family, no matter how wrong it feels to be forced to empathise with a murderous psychopath. Despite the restricted playable characters, who are played in succession, players can still choose from a full range of vehicles, most of which will be familiar to fans of the series: each tournament event allows the player to choose three such vehicles each time, and as experience comes into it, that will allow decisions based on the unique requirements of each environment.
The cars, of course all have their own signature moves, which recharge rather than requiring collection (as with all other weapons), and though it would seem immediately more attractive to chose Sweet Tooth's heavily armoured ice cream truck, or Outlaw's heavy-duty police patrol car over lighter vehicles, each car has its own appeals, with certain special moves landing more damage and smaller cars enjoying better maneuverability. With a good number of cars to choose from, including unlockables as the single player campaign advances, there is enough diversity to allow players to pick a roster of cars to suit their style and in-game needs. The control system is good, if a little complex - what with combat controls and driving, as well as armory cycling and shields, there's a lot to learn from one little controller, especially when you throw each car's special move into the mix, but the steep learning curve is rewarded in the gameplay, which is delightfully more-ish and fiendishly competitive. The simple blend of beefed up vehicles and massive explosive destruction appeals on an almost visceral level, and indeed there are few joys left in this cynical old world of ours than driving through and obliterating someone's house while firing heavy artillery and machine guns towards an ice cream van to the bone-jarring heavy metal of Rob Zombie's "Dragula". There is the option to switch the traditional Twisted Metal style controls to Racing Controls, which shifts accelerating and braking to the trigger buttons (for the current generation of race gamers who will feel more comfortable with that set-up), but even with that added comfort, it is all too easy to find yourself pressing entirely the wrong button in the heat of early battles. Time and experience deals with that, but the expended health lost as you scroll through weapon types rather than shooting them will no doubt frustrate an element of players. Like Unreal Tournament and even the Modern Warfare series, the real appeal of Twisted Metal, and key to any longevity it will enjoy is the multiplayer side of things. There are a variety of online modes to keep you diverted with the free for all deathmatch holding the greatest appeal, but for all of its attempts to transfer the franchise into the next generation, Twisted Metal still feels at its best during offline, split-screen multiplayer, like in the good old days. And that is perhaps how it should be - Twisted Metal is a nostalgic affair, and will appeal to the old fans (as well as new ones), and there is certainly something to be said of how it harks back to an older phase of the gaming world. Now all I need is for Eat Sleep Play to release a DLC pack containing some truly classic famous cars, like a souped-up Delorean, or the Ghostbuster hearse, and I'll be a happy man.
Twisted Metal is available to buy for the PS3 now