After a decade of lurking in the darkness just outside of gamers' views the evil clown rides back into town, guns blazing, engines roaring, and game reviewers rarin' for a shot.
In the world of car combat, Twisted Metal has reigned supreme since the original game hit the PC and PlayStation back in 1996. Potential usurpers have come and gone, but David Jaffe and Scott Campbell established a concrete rule about the genre in that early entry: Vehicular combat must have evil clowns. Without an evil clown, what's the point?
The new Twisted Metal for the PlayStation 3 is chock-full of evil clown, which is why it tends to get along modestly well with game reviewers. See how it fared while I field angry emails.
After a long sabbatical, one of Sony's most nostalgic franchises is back. Twisted Metal will be instantly familiar to the legion of gamers who spent hours orchestrating vehicular mayhem on their PSOnes. As it turns out, after so many years, very little has changed. Twisted Metal is a game that unabashedly services those old school gamers with its retro, arcade action, but it also unintentionally proves just how far action games in general and driving games in specific have come.
Although almost every Twisted Metal game exists within its own narrative bubble, this freshest iteration is as close to a full reboot as the series can get. The large cast of colorful characters, each with their own sick goals and personalized vehicles, has been tossed entirely out of the window in favor of one unified storyline. There are only four main characters — Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, Dollface and Preacher — all of whom are totally reimagined as darker and, dare I say it, slightly more grounded characters. At least, as grounded as a demonic serial killer clown can get. Their tales intertwine as they each sequentially enter the Twisted Metal tournament, hoping to win their ultimate wish from the nefarious Calypso — and suffer an ironic fate in the process.
There is still a large variety of cars, although they are now operated by generic "gang" members inspired by the four named drivers. Familiar rides such as Sweet Tooth's ice cream truck and heavily armored Warthog are joined by such unique vehicles as the Meatwagon (a bloodstained ambulance that fires explosive patients strapped to remote-controlled gurneys) and the Junkyard Dog (a pickup truck that flings entire taxis at opponents). While many cars are unlocked during the course of campaign play, some of the more elusive rides will take momentous feats to obtain, such as completing all the story challenges on Twisted difficulty ... and getting a gold medal in every one! Each car can also be given a custom paint job, for that all-important personal touch.
There's so much at your disposal, in fact, that getting the hang of it all can be a little tough. However, while there's a quick, optional training mode you can dive into (which we recommend, as the deceptively simple controls hide a ton of not-so-obvious functionality), there's no real tutorial in Twisted Metal; once you start, any learning you do will be through experimentation in the heat of battle.
It's an approach that fits in perfectly with the game's old-school, tough-as-nails mentality; while the visuals might be a little more colorful than previous Twisted Metals, the action is just as unrelenting and the difficulty is even more unforgiving. Especially when you're on your own.
Twisted Metal's story mode can be played alone or with a friend in split-screen, taking you through 18 total scenarios. In addition to standard battles, you'll have to wreck Juggernaut semis that regularly spawn enemies, and compete in battle races that require you to take first or die. There are also massive boss fights as well as cage matches that do a great job of keeping the fight close while giving you guided tours of specific levels. You can also set up custom single player challenges against bots, ranging from one-on-one battles to endurance matches with endless waves of opponents.
Thankfully, the multiplayer is pure Twisted Metal. Deathmatch modes place you in one of the game's numerous massive maps, and it doesn't take long for things to turn into an all-out warzone. Nuke mode is chaotic and entertaining, with two teams capturing their enemy's leader and launching him or her at a massive effigy of the opposing team. Hunted and Last Man Standing are also fun, but can't compete with the insanity of Nuke. Gamers irked by the "die five seconds after you spawn" experience from titles like Call of Duty should enjoy the longer lifespans of Twisted Metal's online play. On the other side of the coin, shooter fans used to extensive progression systems may be disappointed with Twisted Metal's bare-bones ranking system. Though it has an XP system, all you can unlock are sidearms, vehicles, and skins that are already offered in the story mode.
Twisted Metal doesn't seem overly concerned with the gross artificiality and assumed necessities that have risen in popularity and become and staples of the current generation. This isn't to imply Twisted Metal is mechanically dated or conceptually bankrupt, but rather that it feels like it was built from the ground up to grind fun out of learning and becoming proficient in its systems, rather than the modern positive reinforcement generator of racing toward the next unlock. Car combat is literally a lost art, a genre abandoned by a progression in game design that we all assumed left its concept antiquated and irrelevant. How wonderful is it for Eat Sleep Play to come along and show us their art can be just as vibrant, appealing, and, most importantly, viable in 2012 as it was in 1995?
Not bad for a game starring an evil clown.