A new Twisted Metal – I used to wish for that as if such a thing were unthinkable. The name oozed with nostalgia that warmed me like a blanket. And then, without warning, a life-sized SweetTooth ice cream truck rode onto the stage at Sony’s E3 2011 press conference like a stallion delivering a message of hope to everyone who felt as I did.
Now that the game is out, it pains me to say that, though my wish was granted, it may have been granted by Calypso himself.
Right off the bat, the single player is something of a mixed bag which is comprised of the type of death-match-style fun that the franchise is known for and some twists on the formula that range from being miserable failures to interesting asides. Juggernaut, which requires you to kill off an 18-wheeler to stem the tide of spawning enemy combatants does not significantly change the game up except that it adds a thin layer of desperation until the truck is destroyed, at which point it goes back to being a regular death-match game. The electric cage mode manages to trump juggernaut in making the gameplay more frantic in a more consistent way by requiring the player to stay within the bounds of a segmented zone on the map. If the player leaves the boundaries a clock will tick down, and once that clock reaches zero the player’s health will drain away to nothingness over time. The cage is also on a timer, and when that timer expires the cage will move across the map to a new location.
Where the single player ceases to be fun and makes a sharp turn towards misery is the racing. Simply put, the game is not designed in such a way that racing can exist within it and still be a fair and enjoyable experience. On the surface it makes sense. After all, kart racing is, to put it simply, the marriage of racing and car combat. But kart racers are designed from the ground up to be kart racers. A developer does not simply sit down and shoehorn one of those elements into a game that revolves around the other element. That is exactly what Twisted Metal does, though. For starters, the AI is poorly tuned. The rubber banding becomes a sore point even during the first race which is especially bizarre given that the cars of the game are balanced based upon 3 criteria: speed, armor, and their special weapons. No excuse exists for the fact that the slowest car in the game can overcome a massive deficit and overtake the fastest car in the game with ease. Furthermore, the AI is not just aggressive – it is malicious and spiteful. It’s one thing to be singled out by the rest of the pack when you command the first place position, but to be grabbed by the magnetic special of the car in last place and subsequently run off the road when you are only spot ahead? That is infuriating. Freeze missiles also come standard on every car, so that is a shit-streak flourish to compliment an already disgusting offering.
It’s a shame that this twist on the core gameplay sullied the campaign so badly, because the rest of it is somewhere between inoffensive and enjoyable. Juggernaut and electric cage didn’t quite do it for me, but I didn’t hate them either. The death matches and boss fights still provide the blissful mayhem and deceptively tactical gameplay I was looking for all along. The decrepit aging controls of past iterations are replaced with ones modern gamers will find far more intuitive while not deviating in an offensive way from the game’s heritage.
Even the delightfully disturbing full motion video cutscenes, which feature the origins of the game’s main characters along with Calypso’s The Monkey’s Paw-style corrupted wish granting, are enjoyable. Sure, contrivances still manifest in the logic exercised by the wishers. SweetTooth could just wish for his prey to be brought to him. Mr. Grimm could just wish his father back to life, but the consequences wouldn’t be as macabre or darkly satisfying if that were the case.
Though I am offended by the single player, I am dismayed by the online component of the game. In this case, however, that has little to do with the gameplay itself. My chagrin, instead, derives from the infrastructure. During roughly eight hours spent online with the game I was only able to spend less than half of that actually playing multiplayer matches. Matchmaking errors haunted me. Even when joining a lobby manually I found it difficult to actually get into a match. When joining a lobby manually I would often time-out and experience a different error before being kicked back to the menu. One cannot join ranked games in progress, and some game modes can take 20-30 minutes to finish up. Even when I finally did manage to make it into a game in progress I found myself at the mercy of the hosts. Because there is no countdown timer in the lobby, an afk host can keep the rest of the lobby in limbo indefinitely. These issues alone would be damning to any game’s multiplayer, but they co-exist with other less egregious nuisances. For instance, while matchmaking was in progress I wasn’t given an option to quit out of the multiplayer to go do something else, or to try again. Also, you are only given a sampling of three cars from the game’s lineup to start off, and I was unable to unlock any other cars in my time with the multiplayer.
In stark contrast, the few times I was able to make it into a match the experience was sublime. The levels are unique, full of hazards, and mix verticality with openness in an impressive way. Of particular note is the Black Rock Stadium level which reconfigures its middle layer constantly.
Nuke, a twist on capture the flag, tasks players with defending or capturing a faction leader. For the offensive team, the leader must be escorted across the map and sacrificed. At that point, the player in charge of sacrificing the faction leader gains control a missile which they must pilot into an enemy statue in order to score. A game of nuke is comprised of three innings in which both teams play both offense and defense three times. Synergy is promoted in a simple and organic way in this mode; cars have far too much health for one person to be a sufficient defender or attacker. I have always thought of Twisted Metal as being a definitively death-match oriented game, but ‘nuke’ is a strong contender for the crown.
When the game works, it works beautifully, but those instances came few and far between. In fact, my experience with the high-points were so remarkable that it makes the game’s many failings all the more poignant. Twisted Metal‘s fundamentals are brilliant, but they are crippled by such a large chunk of the single player being poorly thought-out and the appalling online issues. Though I am positive the weightiest of my grievances will be patched, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this game in its current state.
4 / 10