David Jaffe and his people at Eat Sleep Play have been crafting a game so wild that no existing genre type fits it. It's sure as hell not a racer -- you'd be blown up before you could make it through a single lap in this world. 'Shooter' gets closer, but that doesn't really give the game enough credit, as Twisted Metal feels deeper than the modern shooter.
Jaffe says it's something like a fighting game, and I think that's a good fit. It's a fighting game where you move really fast, and where the weapons are key. It's a game that embraces competition wholly. It's pure competitive chaos on a disc.
Down to the Metal
Jaffe says that Twisted Metal does a good job of bringing forth the fantasy that the original team had for creating their game back in the 1990s. He says this is the first time they've been able to get close to achieving that original vision. I got a better appreciation of that when I saw how deep Twisted Metal could be, and just how much work the team has put into this game. On the surface there's these crazy vehicles and weapons, new modes, and online connectivity to impress you with. But underneath the hood you'll find lots of deep strategy and fine levels of polish on the control and balance. The end result of their work is the ultimate competitive playground.
Twisted Metal is so balanced that I can't find issue with any of the vehicles. You'd think that with so many different types of vehicles and weapons there would be an imbalance, but I couldn't find one. Granted, the game isn't finished yet, and there were a few types of vehicles we couldn't play with at this preview event, but from what I've seen there was no doubt that the development team spent a good amount of time making Twisted Metal fair and fun. Amazingly, despite this balance, no vehicle feels gimped. You truly feel like a badass with nearly limitless power in all of them.
The level of polish also shows in the vehicle control. In all my matches I never had to question steering or braking; it was never an issue. I loved being able to mash the X button to slam on the brakes, turn on a dime, spin around and send a missile right into the windshield of the guy that has been tailing me. That felt great every time. Knowing exactly where you'll turn, skid or stop goes a long way toward making this chaotic game fun, as with so much going on, it could have been a big, sloppy mess. Even the helicopter's controls felt like a lot of thought went into it. Hats off to the Eat Sleep Play on how much polish went into the balance and control in Twisted Metal. Maybe you could meet with some of the modern day fighting game makers and teach them a thing or two.
Beyond all of this, it's clear that so much thought went into making these vehicles play nice together. Just about every unique function of each vehicle seems to promote teamwork. Some functions are completely obvious, while others are uncovered after a bit of play experience. Those with a few battles under their belt can get incredibly deep into vehicle choices and uses in the different mode types.
It should be noted that David Jaffe addressed the level destruction in Twisted Metal. Some people had beef with the destruction model when the game was originally shown at last year's E3. Jaffe made it clear that this had been addressed since then. Now shit blows up real nice.
Much of the fun of Twisted Metal lies in the awesome selection of vehicle types. While there's a bunch of different modes in the game, all of them let you go nuts with your favorite vehicle type, and they all let you change your vehicles during a match. There's never a dull moment with so many choices. Even when I was getting my ass handed to me, I still was having a blast trying out all the different vehicle types.
Juggernaut is one of the most devastating vehicles in a game. A normal big rig with trailer would already do heavy damage on the road, but this particular one has quite a few advantages over a standard semi. The sides of the trailer open up to reveal giant mines that can be dropped on the road. Hitting one of these is deadly for just about any vehicle. In a very Spy Hunter fashion, the back of the trailer can be opened to hold up to two other vehicles. This comes in handy during team play. The teammates inside can then man either the top-mounted or rear turrets while being transported, making Juggernaut a moving fortress. There is a key weakness to this vehicle: Opening the back door to let cars in leaves the vehicle vulnerable, with damage counting up to three times normal when open.
Talon, the helicopter, is the first flying vehicle in Twisted Metal. Flying might sound unfair at first, but know that ground vehicles can just as easily take down this chopper with a missile. First time players may be surprised to find that the helicopter fits into the support class more than it does offensive. Its magnet can pick up other teammates' cars and haul them to safety. It can also bring them quickly to a conflict zone. That said, the same magnet can pick up an enemy car and drop it from up high, causing damage. It's also equipped with a Gatling gun that can be fired from a first person view. Talon was beautifully implemented and I found myself picking it more than any other vehicle.
I had the most fun with the ambulance called MeatWagon. There's guns and alternates to use in this car, much like the others, but the main appeal is MeatWagon's special, which fires off hospital patients on a gurney. They're strapped with TNT to become a rolling human missile. What's great is that you can use RC control to move this gurney in a first-person view and then blow it up at a key location.
Place: Sunsprings, California, Mode: Team Death Match
In Sunsprings you'll blow up movie theaters and grocery stores, crash through office building doors and run over innocent bystanders. Jaffe says he has always wanted the destruction to go down in a place we can all relate to. So this is like trashing your own hometown. You know you've always waned to do this.
The mode was the standard team death match. We played 10 minute matches in our first hands-on sessions to get a feel for all the vehicles. I was too busy testing all all the different car types and getting a feel for their control and weapons to pay attention to how bad I was doing. In the very first round of multiplayer, going up against other games press members, I came in dead last with one kill, eight deaths, and the highest amount of damage taken. A QA rep told me that I wasn't that bad. I told him he was full of shit.
In a second try I sped around the city, avoiding the town center where all the action was happening. I snatched up power-ups and then came into the action fully loaded, spewing forth everything I could find at enemy cars. It was here that I really got to see how tight the steering controls are, as I had to dodge and hide from everyone that was out for me after they figured out what I was doing. This mode is Twisted Metal in its simplest form, but it's still a delight. I could have played this mode all night.
Place: Black Rock Arena, Mode: Team Last Man Standing
Black Rock Arena is insane. It's an underground battle arena out in the desert. It has a Mad Max vibe, with fire and electricity and metal tracks up high around the perimiter, surrounding a pit for lots of car bashing. The walls are sloped and it's easy to slip down into this battle pit...or worse. The level itself is alive, with moving platforms, ramps and walls that can rise or fall at any time. They'll reconfigure during gameplay, creating a sort of living maze. I had walls popping up in my face during matches that made me giggle at first, as they seemed to be playfully dickish. Going down a tunnel to find a wall pop up right before I could exit was a particularly good dick move. Later I found a ramp that popped up from the ground. I took the bait and took the ramp, and found out too late that it guided me right for a lava pit. In the ultimate dick move, lava pits have been placed at the ends of all platforms. Take a corner or edge too fast and you'll be molten metal.
The fun in this locale continues with spiked wrecking balls that swing right into the zone where the best pick-ups are. A room with spikes on the roof has you following a small, safe path very carefully. Floating health orbs that you can drive under will definitely save your ass in this level. The best power-up opportunity ever comes from a pad that you park on to charge up. Charged, it launches into the stands to bring pedestrians out into the course. Plow into these fans and you'll get health and item power-ups.
The mode Team Last Man Standing gives each team a pool of shared lives. This means that each life really matters, which is a great contrast to shooters where you'd just die and respawn over and over. The team still standing, with lives remaining at the end, wins. Making each life important really promotes team play. With communication you could use the helicopter to pick up a team mate and drag them to a healing orb. You could use Juggernaut to pick up vehicles and haul them to safety. A player using the tow truck could drop health for teammates.
With good communication, offensive team play really makes a difference. In my first play of this stage I was a helicopter, and I worked to pick off unsuspecting victims from up above. When word got out on the other team, I found that many of them respawned as choppers themselves, and they worked hard to take me out of the air.
On the ground this stage is absolutely nuts. I could almost feel the developers laughing at me as I frantically sped around in race car Spectre, with machine guns blazing, firing at nothing in particular. I felt like I was up against both the opposing team and the stage itself. I was happy to see that everyone else playing was just as lost as I was. They were all doing their best to boost out of lava pits or find their way off a wall that popped up out of nowhere. I'm sure the dev team had a great time creating this stage.
Place: Harbor City, Mode: Nuke
Harbor City is a gritty, industrial town. It features two factories, one on each side of town. It features dive bars and strip clubs, and there's plenty of gas stations and oil refineries to blow up. A large water canal runs down the middle of the level, connecting the two factories. It's the perfect stage for one of the most interesting and deep modes of Twisted Metal: Nuke.
In Nuke the goal is to destroy the opposing team's statue with a launched missile. This mode plays out in innings, with teams playing either offense or defense for a set time, and then switching. When playing offensive, you'll drive to quickly find the enemy's faction leader and "grab" him. Once kidnapped, you'll drag the faction leader behind your vehicle to a missile launch point. At this launch point, staying in the launch area safely for a set period of time will transform the captured faction leader into a sacrificial missile. You'll then fire this missile and take control of it, working to guide it to the enemy's statue without being shot down. A point goes to a successfully missiled statue, and two points go to taking one down. The team with the most points, after all the innings and rounds are complete, wins.
In these stages there are two missile launchers: one in the back of the factory and another that's mobile, and requires you to follow it to launch. Getting to either and staying there is going to be hard when the defensive team is out to get you and anyone that helps you. This all may sound pretty crazy, but helpful icons on the heads-up display make it easy to know what you're doing and where you're going. Playing offense, the location of faction leaders is always marked, telling you exactly where to drive to pick one up. Once you do, you'll follow another icon to the launch area. For defense, an icon will give you the location of your kidnapped faction leader. They've made it really easy -- you just get in and go.
Matches don't have to be coordinated, but they can be, and there's potential for very deep competitive play in this mode. There's much to be gained from careful planning of vehicle types and roles. For instance, each vehicle type has a different wait time before a missile can launch. Some vehicles are better suited for defense or support while others are better for snatching the faction leader up. Of course, you can also just go in and go nuts. It works nicely either way.
Twisted Metal expands upon everything that was great about the old series titles and then adds a bunch of depth, connectivity and creativity. Competitive gamers stuck in yet another war shooter will happily crawl out of the trenches for this game come October 4th. Eat Sleep Play have created a beast unlike anything we've ever seen.
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