So much has been made of Twisted Metal's campaign, its bloody, live-action storyline and online multiplayer that it might be easy to forget the game's amazing, couch-playing roots.
An accident of publicity planning reminded me of that last week. When I showed up to check out Sony's offerings in New York, Drew Bradford, the game's producer, warned me that they weren't going to be able to show off the game's online multiplayer because of some local networking issues.
Instead I was going to have to make do with a little local challenge mode play.
"Basically, challenge mode is an offline practice mode where you can throw bots in there and play with your buddies with split screen," he told me. "This is where you are going to go back in time and feel like you're sitting on a couch with your buddy going crazy."
And it does feel like that old Twisted Metal I loved. That 1995 Twisted Metal was a game I played more than any other PlayStation title I owned at the time, despite its lack of online play or meaningful storyline.
I played it alone sometimes, but mostly with friends, sitting side-by-side on a couch, yelling at each other and laughing as we tore through the streets trying to explode one another.
Earlier this week, I played alone once more, facing off against a surprisingly skilled bunch of bots, but I still quickly found myself lost in the drive-and-gun gameplay of this new Twisted Metal.
I took on the collection of cars as Sweet Tooth, driving around the New York streets of the Metro Square map in the serial killer's weaponized ice cream truck. Metro Square is a fictionalized downtown New York perpetually in winter, complete with a subway system, stock exchange, Statue of Liberty, Times Square and, for some reason, elevated train tracks. Nearly everything on the map is destructible. You can even blow up Lady Liberty, knocking her head into the map where you can roll it around with your vehicle.
Gameplay takes a bit of getting used to, but once I got a handle on the intricacies of the controls, I could concentrate on peppering opposing cars with automatic weapons fire and the occasional missile, mine or special attack. The ability to turn Sweet Tooth's ice cream truck into a mech suit is a nice touch that adds quite a bit of depth to the game, creating a whole other set of controls and attacks that a player will need to learn how to master. But for the most part, I stayed in ice cream truck form, as I battled and learned the map.
Once I got past the controls it was easy to sink back into the familiar gameplay of tearing laps around the map's streets, trying to find enemies and avoiding those who slip in behind you. What I've always enjoyed about the Twisted Metal games is that they feel like dog-fighting on a 2D plane. I tended to spend most of my time maneuvering whatever vehicle I happen to be driving away from the sites of enemies and into the slipstream of enemies, where I can unload fire into their trunk. That's exactly what this new Twisted Metal feels like, but with better graphics and more depth.
The mode I played was a simple death match called Kill All Bots, but while watching Bradford set up the mode I noticed a number of other options including One Vs One Endurance and Max Cars Endurance. There were also options that allowed you to select the map you play on, which variation of the map you're using, the difficulty of the bots you're facing off with and the amount of traffic and pedestrians you'll find on a map.
"The main focus for the game is online," Bradford reminded me as I played. "But there is an offline story and this split screen stuff, the old-school beat-up your buddy mode."
A storyline and a chance to play online—those are great additions to the franchise, especially for people who never played the older PlayStation titles. But I'll be happy with this offline mode and its return to mindless blasting, cat-and-mouse driving and lots of explosions.