Twisted Metal Hands-On Preview

We charge up our chainsaws and sacrifice the leader in our first hands-on look at Twisted Metal's multiplayer modes.

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Twisted Metal is Sony's longest running PlayStation franchise and spans more than 15 years, appearing on four different platforms. This year, the series makes the jump onto the PlayStation 3 for the first time. We were at an event to finally put the controller in our hands and take three of the game's multiplayer modes for a spin.

For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Twisted Metal is vehicular-based combat that puts warped caricatures behind the wheel as part of a carnage tournament, though director David Jaffe likens it more to Street Fighter and other finely tuned cat-and-mouse games than simply strapping machine guns to cars. Our presentation included looks at old faces and some new ones, such as the introduction of Juggernaut, a huge truck featuring both cab and trailer, as well as the first airborne ride in helicopter, Talon.

Juggernaut's entrance marks a proud moment for Jaffe because he wanted to include a complete truck from the very beginning but never quite made the hurdle until now. The unit acts like a combination of Optimus Prime and the Spy Hunter vehicle, capable of ramming through smaller cars with ease, as well as able to play safe haven to other friendly players by dropping its rear ramp and driving inside. It does have its trade-offs, though. While inside, players will have their choice of one of two heavy mounted guns on the roof to use as turrets. The larger of the two has a limited amount of aiming mobility, needing the shooter to communicate with the driver to let him know he needs to steer the truck in certain directions to hit targets. Likewise, if a player using Juggernaut is kind enough to play host to others, the truck's defenses are lowered significantly while the ramp is down and drivers are entering and exiting. This allows the opposing team a window where Juggernaut takes two or three times more damage.

Axel "the human Oreo" makes a return in Twisted Metal, reprising his role as the guy wedged between two giant wheels with guns at the ready. His unique ability gives him the chance to scrunch together and makes him potent as a melee damage dealer, rolling over rival cars like a monster truck and crushing the inhabitants.

Talon is Twisted Metal's first attempt at a flying vehicle. While we didn't have a chance to try it out ourselves, it seems to add some interesting new dynamics to gameplay. Its abilities include a giant magnet fitted to a chain dangling from the underside of the cockpit that can lift other cars, both friendly and foe, off the ground. Adversaries will want to be dropped from a great height to kill them instantly, while cooperative uses in modes like Nuke allow you to quickly evacuate a teammate carrying the human flag and capture points from the air or take control of an advantageous raised platform.

Environmental destruction is a hallmark of the brand, and it manifests itself in different ways. Our multiplayer demo kicked off with an innocuous-looking suburban setting that was quickly destroyed with the mayhem of more than a dozen people shooting up the place in Team Deathmatch. This relatively flat and open space was made all the more simple by our option to simply plough through houses, making holes where we wanted them. We opted for Meat Wagon, a retro ambulance with mounted guns and a special ability that fires patients strapped to metal stretchers and holds bombs toward other unsuspecting drivers. It's equal parts sight gag and function, and by using the alternate fire mode, you can manually maneuver your munitions into opponents to gain a damage bonus.

Black Rock Stadium played host to our second match and offered us a look at Team Last Man Standing mode, which focused on making lives count. Each team begins the game with a set number of respawns; once one of the teams has depleted its rival's pool and wiped it out, it is game over. Loosely based on a previous Twisted Metal track, Black Rock Stadium is a huge multistory open playground. Features include a lava pit that damages but doesn't destroy your vehicle on contact; giant wrecking balls that swing like pendulums across roadways; a falling spike room with scattered safe spots (you'll need to learn the pattern to avoid being crushed); electrified zones that drain away your health if you stay inside them; and our favorite part, dynamic walls. The latter means that the level layout changes frequently, stopping players camping power-ups, and it's exciting trying to avoid floors that become walls as you run from another player. Because of its larger size and its ramps, line of sight played a much larger role in this arena, making it tougher to land hits with guided weapons than on flat, open-plan locales like suburbia.

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We went with Reaper, the motorcycle-riding, chainsaw-wielding clown for Black Rock Stadium. His steering response and acceleration made him zippy and responsive enough to get out of most jams. Pulling back on the left analog stick pops a wheelie, dragging your blade against the ground to power it up and deal more damage when thrown. It's unguided, but we were assured that's more than countered in its ability to slice through car doors and into skulls.

Harbour City was our third and final map, and it gave us a look at Nuke, a multiplayer mode we heard about at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Essentially, it's Twisted Metal's version of Capture the Flag but (surprise) with a quirk. Rather than grab a flag, your job is to capture and hold human hostages, return them to your team's mobile or stationary missile launcher site, and survive long enough to sacrifice them. Doing so kicks them into a manually guided rocket that is then aimed at the opposing team's giant doll or clown statue. Modeled on America's favorite pastime, baseball, teams will alternate between offensive and defensive rounds for three innings. The team with the greatest number of hits wins.

The layout of Harbour City is a busy commercial grid, filled with oil refineries, tanks, and a huge underground canal that runs the length of the map and has ramps back up to street level. Up to three capture targets can be set by the host. Though we only had two in play, it became a frantic fight as our team rushed the targets and scooped them up while the rest of the group attempted to provide cover. Kills earn slightly fewer points than rocket launches, so you may not always be the first one to the abduction scene, but you can stay competitive on the scoreboard by taking out those chasing your leaders. Vehicle speed and strength directly correlates with the time it takes you to sacrifice your victim back at base. While fast, light roadsters can speed along, their relatively weaker shells make them sitting ducks as the try to capture the flag. It's also worth noting that because some of Twisted Metal's cast have ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons, once a nuke is up in the air, it doesn't mean it is game over. These can be shot down while in flight, securing the base and forcing a reset.

While the team isn't yet talking about it, we did spy a glimpse of what appeared to be a leveling system tied to multiplayer progression, though at this stage, it remains unclear what gaining rank will unlock.

We walked away from our first play happy with the way things are coming together. Each character has its own distinct feel to drive, from slow and heavy but bursting with power to lighter and more agile rides. Steering feels great and is nice and loose like an arcade racer, but it can quickly tighten up with a well-timed hand brake tap to take a corner at speed. Most importantly, no single vehicle felt like it was the "I win!" option, and with rumors of a potential beta in the works before release, things will only continue to be balanced. There is no shortage of online multiplayer games available for PlayStation 3 owners, but if developer Eat Sleep Play can build and foster clan play, we can see these turf wars raging late into the night. The game is targeted for an October 2011 global release date. Keep it locked to GameSpot for more info.

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