One day from now, Twisted Metal will be releasing. I have been waiting for this game for over a decade, and I must say this is a rare case where my anticipation for a game has risen to a level of hype (which is saying something since I essentially never "hype" over a game). As a huge fan of the series, which one of my all-time favourite games (Twisted Metal 2) comes from, I naturally have had very high hopes for what the latest installment in the series would bring, and have been following it closely. And at the beginning of February, an online demo was put up on PSN that lasted a week before it expired. It was a late announcement, and I really wasn't expecting a demo to come out before the February 14th release since it had been previously stated that there wouldn't be one. So this was beyond a pleasant surprise, considering not only was there the ability to play a match against AI, but it even included two online multiplayer modes, being Deathmatch and Nuke, to give a sampling of what the full version will be like.
To quickly summarize Twisted Metal for a possible ignorant few (to whom I bow my head in shame), it's a series of car combat games which is Sony's longest running exclusive series. Essentially, you're placed in a car loaded with machine guns, missiles, napalms, and all of that, and sent to kill others who in turn are trying to do the same. Throughout the environments there are weapon pick-ups, health, and lots of things with which you can interact with (typically interacting means destroying) to alter the battlefield, reveal new pick-ups, etc.. There is a wide cast of characters who enter the Twisted Metal contest in hopes to come out the victor, and win a single wish for anything they could possibly desire from Calypso, who runs the tournament. Each character has their own backstory and reason for entering the contest, varying from the heartfelt, to the insane, and totally wacky. The characters also come with their own unique vehicles, which have various attributes and capabilities, from semi trucks that have loads of armour, but are essentially sitting ducks, to motorcycles and sports cars that have agility and speed, but leave little margin for error because of their vulnerability. Each vehicle is further balanced by a regenerating special, for example, the ability for a front loader to pick up opponents directly in front and slam them about.
The main mode in the games is tournament mode, battling progressively harder and more numerous enemies through the game's battlefields, in order to learn each character's unique story. The series has also been well known or its split screen multiplayer, allowing multiple players play Co-Op in a tournament, or duke it out in a deathmatch. Many famous characters have come from the Twisted Metal series, most notably Sweet Tooth, who made it to the third round of GameSpot's All Time Game Greatest Villain contest a couple of years back. The first four games in the series were on the original PlayStation, though development shifted to a different team for the third and fourth installments, where the series took a nosedive in the opinion of most avid Twisted Metal fans, to the point they refuse to recognize any game not made by the original development team as a Twisted Metal game. Thankfully, for the game's first appearance on the PS2, development once again shifted back to the original team, and Twisted Metal: Black is still one of the highest rated games on Metacritic to this date at a 91, and was given a score of 9.5 by GameSpot. The next title was to be Twisted Metal: Harbour City, but the game was cancelled after many crucial members of the development team tragically died in a plane crash during development. The series went on hiatus for about ten years, and after all of this time, the series is finally returning to be played on modern consoles.
Now for the topic of this blog, which is the demo itself. It was mainly focused around the online components, though as previously stated, you were also given an option to play against bots, and also had a short tutorial to learn the basic controls. Now, I am someone who rarely buys new games at full price, so most games I do buy these days has a strong online component to it for added value. But I do not enjoy sampling a variety of online games; I enjoy much more having a small handful of games which I have completely mastered than playing a wider variety and having mediocre skills in all of them. For example, the previous year essentially the only two games I played publicly are Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and Driver: San Francisco, both of which I've sunk hundreds of hours into, and rarely ever lose in. Twisted Metal is the next game I plan to make a long term commitment to, and when you are looking to possibly sink hundreds of hours into a game's online components, you bet you'll be anxious to try them out as soon as possible. Overall, the demo gave a strong impression of what the full version, despite the fact the demo itself was fairly limited, with only one map to play on and eight car cIasses to choose from, the overall essence of the gameplay was totally intact. I have always thought Twisted Metal was one of the top series that could benefit most from today's hardware capabilities, with larger map sizes, more detailed and interactive environments, smarter AI opponents, and enhanced multiplayer capabilities. The new Twisted Metal is, indeed, putting the advancements to good use.
First of all, the "feel" of the vehicles is spot on for a car combat game. The vehicles are well balanced as far as speed and handling are concerned, and motorcycles like Reaper have the control and agility a motorcycle should have, while Darkside the semi drives like... a semi, quite bluntly. Across all vehicles, the controls are very responsive, and work very well. Since there was only one battlefield, it's hard to determine how much each map will vary, and if their size will be consistent. But there's no doubt that the map in the demo was the largest battlefield I've ever played in a Twisted Metal game, which only makes sense since online modes will support up to sixteen players on a single map. The most vehicles on a single map before was ten, including yourself, in Twisted Metal 2 in the tiny stage of Holland, which was undoubtedly the hardest battle in the game. The large battlefield has a lot of room to navigate to get weapons, but I will say that even with a full lobby, the map does feel a little too large. If you spawn near the edge of the map, it can take thirty second or more to find any action, not including time you may spend finding pick-ups along the way. This issue isn't present in smaller lobbies, since you'll always spawn right by the action, but when the lobby is full you will be spawned randomly, and often in inconvenient spots. Also, there are lots of things throughout the battlefield you can destroy, and lots you can interact with, but one of the series staples is not that there's lots to destroy, but it changes the environment and causes sequences that open up totally new areas. Besides slamming through the doors to explore into some larger buildings, there is essentially nothing that opens up, or changes the environment. Hopefully some of the other levels will be more interactive in that regard, but I suppose we'll just have to see.
One of the things that really made the Twisted Metal games unique was the balancing of the vehicles. David Jaffe (you had to expect I'd bring him up at some point), who is essentially "the man behind Twisted Metal", considers the series to be a combination of a fighting game crossed with a first person shooter. It's a really accurate description, since the cars are so dynamically balanced like a fighting game, but has the overall essence of a first person shooter... just in cars. There really are no weak characters to play as (in the best games of the series). And the same goes for when you face those characters as AI opponents, as each character has their own strategies and tendencies based on their attributes, which you'll undoubtedly have to be knowledgeable of in order to stand any chance against the AI on the harder difficulties. Because only eight of the seventeen vehicle cIasses were available, I can't say much about the balancing at this point, but browsing the forums, I can say that almost every vehicle has its advocates, and there is no clear powerhouse vehicle. It does seem that Talon, the helicopter, is the weakest vehicle, but that's mostly because three of the other vehicles in the demo carry variations of a chain gun as a special, which they are very vulnerable to, and will likely be stronger against the wider variety of vehicles once the full version is out. I have always been someone who likes taking lightly armoured vehicles, or at least medium range, possessing more agility and stronger specials. So far my favourite vehicle is Death Warrant, which could be considered an all-around type of vehicle with fair performance, and fair armour, and a fair special; not necessarily powerful in any regard, but not weak in any regard either, and compliments my run n' gun styIe of play. It very much resembles Outlaw II from Twisted Metal 2, which is my favourite vehicle from that game.
There are many returning weapons, that have also been staples to the series. There are the three levels of missiles, being homing, fire, and power, which have different homing capabilities, but are more or less powerful accordingly. We also see napalms, remote bombs, ricochets, and swarmer missiles returning. A cast of new weapons make their first appearances, such as the shotgun that does more damage the closer you are to your opponent (and devastating damage if shot at an opponent's windshield), sniper rifles that can earn you an instant kill if you manage to shoot the driver, as well as stalker missiles and mega guns. Plus, for the first time you will be able to customize your machine gun sidearm, substituting your regular mounted guns for such weapons as sawn-off shotguns and laser pistols. But I'm sure you ask "What about freeze missiles, and the other advanced attacks?" No longer are they button combos, but now that analog is forced to steer your vehicle, on the D-Pad the up button is now used for freeze missiles, right will give you a temporary shield, left will drop a mine, and down will fire your selected primary weapon backwards. But like in previous games, they regenerate over time, so you need to make good use of them while you have them. There are also other actions you can perform through a variety of button combinations, such as L1 and R1 to jump, but the primary advanced attacks can now be used much easier.
The online portion of the demo featured two of the total seven modes that will be in the full version, namely Deathmatch and Nuke. Deathmatch is essentially mirrors the same mode in most first person shooters, requiring you to go after opponents and attempt to kill them to earn points, and the player with the most points at the end of the match is crowned the winner. It's a simple concept, but the scoring system works very well. Because vehicles have much more health than your average soldier in an FPS, to prevent kill steals as being the one and only tactic, the amount of points you are awarded for a kill is based on how much damage you did to victim. If you just had the final missile that sealed their fate, you'll likely only get a poach kill, and earn 25 points, as opposed to if you landed every single blow on an opponent, which would earn you a super kill and 125 points. You'll also be able to receive up to 75 points for assisting a kill, so scavenging off the players with low health, while still occasionally a smart tactic, is not necessarily the best strategy. As for Nuke, it's essentially a more complicated (and long) game of Capture the Flag, where you need to capture an enemy team's faction leader, and sacrifice them at a launcher to send out a nuclear missile which you then attempt to fly into the opposing faction's statue in order to score. I can honestly say that I spend little time with this mode, and spent the vast majority of my time playing Deathmatch. The online modes are an interesting spin on the Twisted Metal formula. Since it removes a lot of the conservative approach to battles, and forces you to get into the action in order to score. It undoubtedly gives the game a very different feel. But is it for the better? I can't say yet, but as long as the online experience isn't emulated in the single player, and the story mode holds true to the series' roots, it seems to be working fine.
There is little else to be drawn from the demo besides some miscellaneous observations. The matchmaking seemed rather shaky for most of the time the demo was up. I was returned with constant errors while searching for matches, occasionally up to twenty times before I managed to find a match. I also got punted from matches on occasion, and I understand that I was not the only one experiencing these issues. Hopefully such issues will not exist on the full version of the game. Also, when I initially started playing the demo, I tried sticking with the cIassic TM controls, which I had always been familiar with. But with the added and rearranged features, after trying out the Racing control styIe I found it to be much easier to use, and planning to stick with it.
The wait is not much longer. The full version release very soon, and I absolutely can't wait to get my hands on it. Just going to throw in a quick GS update to cap things off. Although it'll be nearly a month late, I have a half-written three year anniversary blog I'll hopefully push out at some point when I'm not playing Twisted Metal. My apologies for my lack of activity across the site the last couple of months; a lot of major things have recently occurred in my life, and I can't guarantee my activity will increase from where it is now. However, I'll hopefully compensate for my lack of activity on the forums by keeping this blog better maintained. I've got a lot I am hoping to write about, and will likely be channelling most of my time on GS into that. We'll just see how things play out. Thanks for reading. And make sure to comment with your thoughts of the Twisted Metal series.