Twisted Metal Demo Impressions: A Relic in Next-Gen Disguise

It’s been years since I’ve found myself playing a Twisted Metal game, my last dive into the vehicular combat series being the PS2’s golden child Black.  Before that era, if you had Sony’s magical gray system in your possession, you were sure to have a Twisted Metal in your library (probably the second game, you classy bastard).

Being Sony’s longest running franchise – and one of the few to have series veterans still behind the coding – it’s surprising Sweet Tooth and his merry band of plunderers have gone quiet this generation all the way up until now.  Actually, the car combat genre as a whole has been just as absent, which really places the question of relevancy on top of Twisted Metal’s head.  I’m glad Eat Sleep Play issued this demo – the developer’s showing us they’re not banking on nostalgia factor swaying your purchase, they’re hoping the product grabs you.

So does it?  Based on my playtime: not entirely, no.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean Twisted Metal isn’t up to form.  It’s just important to note that this is not a reinvention of the formula like many have come to expect after years of dormancy.  Despite bearing no number nor subtitle, the game handles like a direct sequel to the older titles:  Grounded vehicles carry those floaty, askew physics laid down in the PS1 incarnations.  You’re boxed in destructible arenas with a handful of ways to get lateral.  Your car still flips around end over end like a Matchbox toy when you take a heavy impact.  The gameplay feels more akin to Eat Sleep Play picking up right where they left off on Black rather than starting from scratch. ‘Reinvention’ and 'reboot’ have no room here; 'reintroduction’ is a better word for the gameplay.

Don’t mistake that to mean “dated."  The graphics are obviously today’s caliber.  And the game solidly displays large scale action without hideous frame-rate loss.  Even the very nature of the demo (mutliplayer demo, that is) presents Twisted Metal as an online contender geared towards the competitive by offering a sick twist on capture-the-flag called Nuke and the timeless Deathmatch.  It falls in step with today’s gaming scene, it just doesn’t play like a game from today.

Purists will have no problem getting behind the driver’s seat and, if that was the goal, mission accomplished.  But one change that’s sure to frustrate newcomers is the awkward, overloaded control scheme.  It feels as if the buttons were laid out for a keyboard first, then after somebody realized something was terribly ill, was hastily translated to the Dualshock.  It’s the only justification for R1 + L1 equating to jump or the right stick somehow being both 'aim upwards’ andreverse.  There’s three presets to screw around with but I stuck by the default and coped until I found it bearable, just never quite comfortable.

I probably wouldn’t even have noticed the hindrance if it weren’t for Twisted Metal being such a frantically paced gut-punch of action.  In order to keep up with other players online – or even the bots offered in the single player challenge mode – it’s a flight of fingers launching goddamned bombardments of missiles, bombs, and bullets while boosting away, or into, enemies.  The dogfights get vicious.  I found myself tapping the E-brake constantly in order to face an opponent tailgating me with rockets.  These split-second moments where you either make a successful getaway into a health reviving truck when you’re down to a sliver or when you daringly smash into a semi twice your size and belch flames into their windshield; these are the moments Twisted Metal brings back from days of yore and presents with a vengeance.

The issue I carry away from the demo is that these aren’t new moments.  I had these experiences back when polygons came by the dozen instead of the thousand.  This Twisted Metal replicates what I loved about the originals but misses out on topping them.  But hell if I’m going to indict the entirety of the game based on a demo – there’s plenty of features and modes not accounted for that may elevate Eat Sleep Play’s 2012 resurgence right over even my fondest memories of kicking ass and steamrolling towns in Black.

Twisted Metal crashes into stores February 14th, whether you gift it to your PS3 for Valentine’s Day or not, your sex life will be impacted either way.

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