Sunday, February 19, 2012

Twisted Metal (2012) - Car Combat Returns With A Bang

If you've never played a car combat game in your life, that's understandable. For as long as the genre has been around there have barely been any games to support it, leading to a point where even now the gaming landscape is practically devoid of any titles. One franchise however has managed to remain popular since its inception, and that would be the one known as Twisted Metal. While I haven't played every single game, I am familiar enough with its concepts, gameplay, and history. When first released in 1995, the game proved to be a runaway success and helped the PS1 succeed in standing out and forging its own identity. When series creator David Jaffe left the series after Twisted Metal 2, Sony's in-house 989 Studios took over production, but the two games they created suffered poor critical reception and led to Jaffe taking control back with the development of the highly regarded Twisted Metal: Black. Now about a decade later, Twisted Metal has returned to consoles with the PS3. The question now is, how does it hold up in a modern world?

Thankfully, the series seems to be here to stay. The gameplay is very well polished and is perhaps the best in the entire series so far. In a demolition derby where several cars are dropped into massive maps for total mayhem, it's a very important thing to have. The myriad weapon pickups available, like napalms and homing missiles, are mostly from all of the previous games, with some tweaks in place. Each vehicle now has two dedicated specials that can be switched through on the fly, remote bombs can be shot forward and stalker and swarmer missiles depend on a simple charge mechanic that creates better damage or accuracy depending on the timing. Being able to pick a sidearm such as a revolver or shotgun, as opposed to depending on the vehicles mounted guns all the time, also helps to mix thing up, as does the ability to turbo in reverse. Being able to remotely detonate weapons like the ricochet, which is now a toy car whose explosive range can be charged, is a good move too as it only fuels the ensuing chaos.

The controls for Twisted Metal are very well tuned, with a setup that I found much easier to use than previous games which employed a dual stick control method. This method, along with a racing layout, can be accessed in the options, but I never felt any need to do so. While the controls may seem difficult to the uninitiated, believe me when I say that within just a few minutes they'll feel like second nature. Every button is placed for convenience and makes every action actually even simpler to use. A good example of this would be the special actions; normally trying to freeze an enemy, raising a temporary shield, or placing a remote bomb on the ground would require specific button combinations to pull off, but they now each have their own dedicated button on the D-Pad. Even being able to rear fire your weapons is now the Down button, making creating a ever changing strategy even easier to accomplish. Scrolling through weapons and firing them on command is simplicity itself, and I couldn't be happier.

As this game is a complete reboot of the franchise, I looked forward to seeing what series creator David Jaffe could do as far as developing a brand new story continuity. For those who don't know, the concept of the franchise is that a man named Calypso holds a contest called Twisted Metal, where the winner, the one who survives the contest, will be granted a single wish from him no matter the size or reality. In every other game we would be seeing every character have their own story mode and unique ending to stand out. Instead we are presented with a single linear story connecting only three characters together while employing the story telling style established in Black, which is to have an introductory scene followed by a story break to flesh out the character and their motivations and an ending to conclude their arc. This lack of playable characters is understandably disappointing, especially since the story seems to leave room for more characters to step in, but I was still able to enjoy the yarn they spun. The live action cutscenes are actually quite good to look at and the stylized feel helps keep a consistently dark atmosphere throughout, with the acting form the cast helping to give Sweet Tooth, Grimm, and Dollface more depth than still or somewhat animated images might have.

The objectives during each character's part of the story are something else entirely. Deathmatch and Endurance rounds feel right at home and I instantly felt powerful during other similar types of matches. The bosses at the end of each portion of the story are also very inventive and challenging in a way that keeps the feel of Twisted Metal alive and well. Attempts at variety however have very mixed results once they inject checkpoint racing missions or objectives that involve eliminating various incarnations of a particular miniboss. While sometimes they work, there is a specific checkpoint race where falling once from a high place makes winning absolutely impossible, as well as another where the strategy to beat it is too specific, and a couple of rounds with the miniboss that became increasingly frustrating due to their admittedly poor design.

On the other side of the coin, this game also has a large focus on multiplayer that I was actually very excited to check out. Everything is surprisingly balanced and the madness on the battlefield is delightfully chaotic and frantic no matter what mode I played, both online and off. Those who have played games like Call of Duty and are frustrated by the fact that they can die as soon as they spawn may be pleased by the longevity of the matches and the endurance of the cars during the chases that are sure to develop, which can involve up to 16 cars at once. At the same time though, players used to more robust leveling systems might find this title's ranking system disappointing, especially considering that what you can unlock is already what's available in story mode.

Now, while I would have loved to be able to potentially spend entire days doing nothing but blowing up cars, some current issues with the network have prevented me from doing so. As of this review the servers are acting up, giving players annoying errors and drops like crazy. Sticking with a room solved this problem for the most part, but I won't be able to fully enjoy my progression through the game until this problem gets a permanent fix.

To finish things off here, I'd like to offer praise to the more technical side of things. The game is very well detailed, with impressive designs for the cars and highly destructible environments that give this game its own identity. The explosion effects are also very flashy and the unique sounds of the special weapons are also chosen well so as to not be obnoxious. The realistic lighting for each level is also good since I could still make out everything in sight with ease no matter the time of day. But what I enjoyed most of all was the perfect soundtrack that makes every battle more exciting than ever, featuring artists like Rob Zombie, Sepultura, N.W.A., and Sammy Hagar.

If there's anything to say about Twisted Metal, it would be that it's a very enjoyable title despite the times when it gets to be hit or miss. Previous fans and newcomers alike should all pick up this title immediately, since they are bound to have a good time. I really enjoyed my experience with Twisted Metal and I hope to continue doing so in the future.

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