Demo Impressions: Twisted Metal (PS3)

 

The Twisted Metal demo heralding the beloved Sony franchise’s eighth game and its first current-generation bow doesn’t paint a pretty picture. In fact, it feels in places like a hot, chaotic mess.

Multiplayer vehicular combat is a fast-paced, chaotic genre by its nature. It’s not for those with poor reflexes, concentration that falters easily or who experience coordination problems manipulating multiple controller functions at once. That being said, it’s all the more reason any game of this style – especially not a standard-bearing genre series entry like this – should inflict shoddy controls, unbalanced combat and a look and feel that makes anything more than a Sony Entertainment Network download feel overpriced.

The full game hitting shelves Feb. 14 features characters and respective factions Dollface (The Dolls), Preacher (The Holy Men), Mr. Grimm (The Reapers) and of course, franchise face Sweet Tooth (The Clowns). For the purpose of the demo, you can spar in either the offline Challenge or Training single-player modes, or in the online multiplayer Deathmatch (an every-player-for-himself free-for-all) or Nuke (faction vs. faction) mode. Players can choose from any of eight vehicles reflecting various speed, armor, weapon balances and well as unique special weapons, driven by a member of any of the above listed factions.

The nicest thing that could be said so far is that with the structures making up the Sunsprings, CA environment being so destructible, the matches open up as they play out. It’s definitely a big, raucous playground, and backed by an apropos soundtrack littered with Rob Zombie, Judas Priest, Sammy Hagar, NWA and Sepultura, to name a few. It’s not a bad multiplayer soundtrack by any stretch, but here’s hoping the story modes maintain the more subtle ambient score of the acclaimed Twisted Metal: Black.

So at the very least, it feels like the makings of a great new Twisted Metal era.

Unfortunately, it quits being fun very quickly. Unless you feel like letting the barely maneuverable but heavily armored semi test your patience as your weapon of choice, get ready to feel like you’re enduring more damage than you’re doling out. Chances are, you will be. Gameplay can seem as unbalanced as the mumbling kid in high school that the science teachers wouldn’t let use the Bunsen burners unattended. The hit detection is pretty sound and grants considerable leeway on range, but special weapons aside, significant damage can seem tough to inflict.

The driving controls feel very loose for the small to mid-size vehicles like the Reaper motorcycle or Death Warrant Mustang, but can feel a little too appropriately clumsy and bogged down when driving bigger rides like Vermin exterminator van or the Meat Wagon Ghostbusters-style ambulance.  Combat can often feel more like a joust than anything, especially when dueling an oncoming opponent. Expect to repeatedly hit the brake and master timely turns to transition into a pursuit.

It really takes racking up kills past “thrilling” or “challenging, yet rewarding” and right into “frustrating” and “no longer fun.” It’s just a consequence of moving that fast while attacking.

If I had to guess, I’d blame the change in how speed is controlled between Twisted Metal: Black and this 2012 take. Black‘s control scheme had the left analog stick controlling steering and the right stick controlling speed. Here, the holding down the Square button hits the gas – providing no speed control except braking using X. Holding back on the right stick now reverses, while holding down R3 and holding back on it starts a turbo reverse. As a result, prepare to feel locked into a single break-neck speed the entire game.

Whereas Black was intuitive and kept simple as could be, this scheme just feels busy. The directional pad Down button fires off a mine. The Left button raises a shield. Taping Up and then the R2 shoulder button fires off a “freeze” weapon. It’s a big mess that’s been made of a once very idiot-proof set of instructions, and it hasn’t really made anything better for it.

Much could be said about the game’s textures and overall look . . . . were this a PlayStation 2 title, and the bar not set much higher since for the current generation. That’s a shame. Fans have probably wondered a while just what Jaffe and his debuting Eat Sleep Play development team could do with this generation’s pumped up horsepower. The apparent answer? “Stay the course.” Were this a Sony Entertainment Network exclusive priced at $39.99 and boasting only multiplayer, that would seem fair for expectations. But for a $60 full release, with an online pass that’s already engendered its anticipated frustration?

To be fair, it can’t all be put off upon Jaffe’s team. He wanted the aforementioned download-only title at that price point, multiplayer only. Sony demanded a single-player story mode. Jaffe begged that Sony reconsider the online pass, believing that for such a strong multiplayer release, it would only breed audience contempt. Though Jaffe disagreed with it, he understood Sony’s position behind including it brand new copies.

Still, it remains that Twisted Metal: Black was a grim work of stylized, bombastic art, kept simple to play but a treat to look at and hear for all its attention to things like lighting, textures and ambient sound. This Twisted Metal feels like a needlessly complicated to play, almost unnecessary sequel that takes steps backwards in mechanics and ignores the limits of what current-generation hardware can muster in its looks.

 

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