CSG Retrospective – Twisted Metal
Seeing that I did a review for Twisted Metal: Black and Twisted Metal: Small Brawl, I figured I might as well take a look at the Twisted Metal series as a whole and throw in my own two cents about the franchise. I also think this retrospective is necessary because the series has been dead for quite awhile now. So I will take this opportunity to give the Twisted Metal series some more attention. Twisted Metal is one of Sony’s flagship franchises and it is revered as the eponymous vehicular combat game. Every game revolves around a tournament called “Twisted Metal” where contestants drive their cars around and obliterate each other with an arsenal of insane weapons; the goal of the tournament is simple: the last driver alive is the winner. The contest is hosted by a mysterious man named Calypso who offers to grant the winner any wish their heart desires. Oftentimes, Calypso deliberately misinterprets the wishes of the contestants causing them to backfire which greatly reinforces the idiom, “be careful what you wish for”.
Twisted Metal’s gameplay focuses solely on chaotic action. Battles transpire in arenas of varying sizes where you are pitted against a certain number of opposing vehicles. All you have to do to win a battle and move on to the next one is to kill the competition. Every arena is littered with a wealth of weapon pick-ups to blast foes away like missiles, gas cans, and ricochet bombs. On top of that, all the cars come equipped with their own special weapons that can be used to inflict extra damage. The special attacks are a real treat because they are flashy and very satisfying to watch. For example, Twister (the formula one race car from Twisted Metal 2) has one of my all-time favorite special weapons: The vehicle spins around rapidly like a mini-twister capturing all enemy cars in the vicinity then it tosses them aside like tattered rag dolls.
A majority of the Twisted Metal games excel on a narrative level as well. Don’t get me wrong, Twisted Metal is far from possessing the depth of games like Mass Effect or Half-Life, but many of the games, particularly Twisted Metal: Black, succeed in building a believable atmosphere. The developers could have easily taken the lazy route and turned Twisted Metal into a standard demolition derby featuring generic cars shooting at each other in a boring stadium. Thankfully, they did not do that, they went that extra mile by offering players a diverse selection of vehicles like a taxi cab, a cop car, and a hearse duking it out in residential suburbs or on top of city skyscrapers.
In addition, all of the vehicles have their own unique drivers complete with their own personalities and motives for entering the ‘Twisted Metal” contest. Needles Kane, better known as Sweet Tooth, is the most iconic Twisted Metal driver and is pretty much the mascot of the series. He is a demented clown with a flaming head who revels in destroying everything in sight; taking out other drivers in his signature ice cream truck. My favorite character from a design perspective is Axel, a man who is literally imprisoned in a contraption that consists of two massive wheels.
The Twisted Metal series is the brainchild of David Jaffe, a game developer who is also known for directing the God of War games. Apparently, Jaffe got the idea for Twisted Metal from people fantasizing about outfitting their cars with guns and missiles to plow through heavy traffic on freeways. Surprisingly enough, no one else had thought of this idea, so Jaffe and his team moved forward with the development of the very first Twisted Metal for the original PlayStation. Released in 1995, the game became a smash hit with players, being praised for its gameplay, music, and vehicle selection. Despite the first Twisted Metal’s wonky controls and short length, it gave audiences a more than healthy dosage of carnage that would only be amplified in its sequel.
Twisted Metal 2 came out the following year, immediately becoming a commercial and critical success; it is basically the Terminator 2 of the Twisted Metal series. Not only did it expand on the first game, it brought a whole new dimension of fun and enjoyability to the franchise. Twisted Metal 2 introduced updated graphics and new stylized designs for the characters, reminiscent to that of a comic book. Moreover, battles in Twisted Metal 2 took place in areas all across the globe from Hong Kong to Antarctica and each one is fully destructible. The most satisfying thing you can do in Twisted Metal 2 is blow the Eiffel Tower to smithereens in the Paris stage.
After Twisted Metal 2, Sony delegated the development of all future Twisted Metal installments to 989 Studios following a contract dispute with Twisted Metal’s original developers. The switch in development resulted in the release of the lackluster Twisted Metal III (1998) and Twisted Metal 4 (1999). I admit, I was fooled when these games came out; I actually believed them to be the true sequels to the first two Twisted Metals. It was not until later when I was a little older that I realized that these games were nothing more than quick cash grabs. Both games had dumb vehicles driven by equally dumb drivers topped with a horrendous physics engine. Not even the licensed Rob Zombie music could save these two disasters. To be fair, Twisted Metal III and 4 are not god-awful, they just fail to capture the atmosphere and fun of the originals.
In June of 2001, Twisted Metal made a comeback on the PlayStation 2 with the darkest entry in the series yet, Twisted Metal: Black. Development on Black began when Jaffe and a majority of the old Twisted Metal team returned to Sony as the newly formed Incognito Entertainment. Black demonstrated that Twisted Metal can be edgy while still retaining the action packed gameplay of its predecessors. I still consider it to be one of my favorite Twisted Metal games that I continue play to this very day.
Black became a monumental success, steering the Twisted Metal series in a brand new direction. A sequel to Black called Twisted Metal: Harbor City was in the works as well; however, the project fell through and was eventually cancelled. What we got instead was a RC car spin-off called Twisted Metal: Small Brawl that was released in the fall of 2001 for the PlayStation 1 for some reason. Small Brawl had a lot of good ideas packed into it, I would love to see a future Twisted Metal game with a bunch of RC cars, but the game itself sucked. Small Brawl had a sluggish feel to it and bad graphics even for PS1 standards. It essentially felt like an unfinished game that desperately needed some more polishing.
With the gratuitous spin off out of the way, Incognito had the perfect chance to devote all their resources into continuing Black in some way. In a surprise move, they returned to Twisted Metal’s roots with a true sequel to Twisted Metal 2, Twisted Metal: Head-On (2005). Head-On was originally released for the PSP then it was later ported to the PS2 in 2008 under Jaffe’s new company Eat Sleep Play. The game rolls all of the best aspects of Twisted Metal 2 and Black into a nice little package. Head-On had the gameplay mechanics of Black mixed with the cars and setting players fell in love with in Twisted Metal 2. This meant I can blow up the Eiffel Tower all over again as well as devastate enemy cars with Twister’s insane special weapon.
Eat Sleep Play then went on to develop Twisted Metal (2012) for the PlayStation 3 and it was the closest thing to a sequel of Black that we were ever going to get. Twisted Metal (2012) brought back the cinematic story cutscenes from Black only this time they were reserved for four characters. Yes, you read that right, four. The four characters: Sweet Tooth, Dollface, Mr. Grimm, and the Preacher participate in Calypso’s “Twisted Metal” tournament, leading their own gangs into battle to get their wishes. The game made up for its extreme lack of characters by retaining a lot of classic Twisted Metal vehicles and throwing in a couple of new weapons like the Stalker Missile into the fray. Besides, the game is chock-full of the wanton destruction the Twisted Metal series is known for, so it is not a complete disappointment.
It has now been five years since the release of Twisted Metal (2012) and during that time span the PlayStation 4 was made available to the public. Now fans of the series patiently wait for the next Twisted Metal game, egging one other with loads of conjecture about what the next game will be about. Will they give us another reboot; will they remaster the first two Twisted Metal games; will they actually make a functional sequel to Small Brawl. No one can say for sure what is in store for Twisted Metal in the years to come, but one thing is certain, Twisted Metal isn’t going anywhere and I am positive it will make an explosive comeback like it has in the past.
If you want to learn more about the development history of Twisted Metal then I strongly suggest you check out the documentary called “Twisted Metal: The Dark Past”. The documentary is a bonus feature in the PS2 port of Twisted Metal: Head-On, but I will include it down below for your viewing convenience. The YouTube video was uploaded by greasyjoystick.